During his first Budget Speech in Parliament on Wednesday, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene announced a R2.7bn funding increase to the National Student Financing Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
NSFAS is the South African government student loan and bursary scheme, which provides loans and bursaries to students at all 25 public universities and 50 public TVET colleges throughout the country.
Funding to the NSFAS is expected to increase by R2.7 billion by 2017/18. The fund is projected to spend to R11.9 billion in 2017/18, up from R9.2 billion in the current year. The 8.8% average nominal growth in NSFAS over the period is expected to support an increase in enrolments in the tertiary sector to 2.2-million students in three years, from the current 1.7-million students.
Overalll, education receives the biggest slice of the 2015 budgetary pie at R265.7 billion.
The announcement comes after a string of bad publicity sourrounding NSFAS. Last week, Education Minister Blade Nzimande ordered a forensic audit into the NSFAS fund, acknowledging that alleged fraud and corruption could be contributing to the scheme’s inability to fund all students who qualify. At the start of the academic year, Wits and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) saw their classes disrupted during protest actions over the shortfall in NSFAS funds.
The Finance Minister stated that the funding increases would support a further increase in university enrolments and technical and vocational colleges.
While regarded as welcome news in the higher education sector, some analyists are skeptical that the increase will be sufficient. Says City Press writer Mamello Masote, "If the current funding is not enough for students, chances are it won’t be enough in two years’ time either".