Blade Nzimande says NSFAS budget will exceed R43bn this year

A positive step in affirming government’s commitment to poor and working class to provide free higher education, says minister

Higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande. File photo.
Higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande. File photo.
Image: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

Funding for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is expected to surpass an all-time high of R43bn in the 2021/22 financial year, minister of higher education and training Blade Nzimande said on Thursday.

This was a positive step in affirming the government's commitment to the poor and working class to provide free higher education, he said. 

Nzimande made the announcement in the National Assembly, where he unpacked his department’s budget for the 2021 financial year — a budget which was met with mixed reactions among MPs.

“Irrespective of the challenges we had earlier, NSFAS funding has increased more than fire-fold just in six years, from R5.9bn in 2014 to R34.7bn in 2020. In the current financial year, NSFAS funding is expected to reach more than R43bn, a further increase of nearly R10bn in just two years.

“Indeed, we are leading our commitment to the poor and the working class of our country to provide free higher education,” he said. 

Nzimande said the budget for the post-school and training sector was just over R115bn, the budget for the TVET college sector was R13bn, for career development systems it was R230.7m, while community education and training would get R2.422bn and R504m would go for administrative responsibilities, among others. 

The EFF rejected the budget as “nothing but an endorsement of failure”.

“Year after year there is supposedly consultation within the higher education sector and civil society on what needs to be done to improve access to higher education while promoting academic excellence and quality research. Seemingly though, all of these consultations are for show, because none of these proposals manifest themselves pragmatically,” said MP Sinawo Tambo. “There needs to be a substantial increase in the funding allocated to this sector, and this will not happen through dependency on foreign direct investment or that which seeks to make us a colony of IMF and the World Bank."

The DA, through MP Chantel King, echoed similar sentiments — while shifting the blame to former president Jacob Zuma. 

“Zuma left the department with major issues which have become tricky to fix. His surprising announcement on December 16 2017 of free higher education has left the NSFAS in a financially crippling crisis by raising the expectations of students.

“The government should have noted that the following academic year would be critical and should have prepared accordingly for the fallout which ensued,” said King.  

IFP MP Mthokozisi Nxumalo supported the budget on condition that various concerns be addressed.

ACDP MP Marie Sukers said many undergraduate qualifications did not open doors for graduates and this needed to change.

“Students always have to embark on postgraduate studies, therefore either first years are being sold a lie when they enrol unless you also fund postgraduate education for low-income students as well,” said Sukers.

Nzimande announced that the government would finally kick-start the process of establishing two new universities, as previously announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“It is planned that the university of science and innovation will be in the Ekurhuleni metro and the detective academy will be north of Pretoria in Hammanskraal.

“To improve efficiency and success within the public university system, we will intensify the implementation of the University Capacity Development Programme to improve student success, and the quality of teaching, learning and research to support curriculum renewal in universities. This includes a focus on entrepreneurship development in higher education,” he said.

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