Student aid scheme under financial strain

By Ashley Malepe

The extension of the academic year for tertiary institutions was made official in August by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, to end in March 2021. The extension was highly anticipated both by students and tertiary institutions as one of the possible ways to save the academic year lost due to the Covid-19-induced delays. Minister Blade Nzimande has told public universities and colleges that students should not be expected to pay any additional accommodation and tuition fees that will incur for the remaining three months. “The cost for university-leased accommodation remains at the same level for the 2020 academic year, regardless of its length, subject to an agreement that the original fee would be paid for both the 2020 academic year and 2021 academic year (with an agreed inflation-linked increase for 2021),” he said.

However, most students that rely on bursary donors and government aid will still need funding for food provision and necessities. With nearly 700 000 students relying on NFSAS, the financial aid scheme had to revise its funding requirement. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) calculated the required funding for the extended months to be at R4.6bn. “At that time, it seemed likely that the academic year would be extended to a thirteen-month year, [end February 2021], depending on the epidemiology and effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. The initial financial effect of the extended academic year was estimated at R4.6bn, based on a three-month extension across the sector as of July 30, 2020,” Nzimande said.

Moreover, some tertiary institutions are confident that they would still be able to complete the academic year before the end of 2020, prompting NSFAS to bring down the required funding to R2.5bn.

BusinessDay stated that “The additional funding required by the NSFAS, though now reduced, will put more pressure on government finances which are already in a dire state due to the health crisis.”


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