Higher education minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS
Higher education minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

The additional funding requirements for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to cover extra student costs in 2020 due to the Covid-19-induced delays to the academic year has been revised downwards from R4.6bn to R2.5bn.

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande said this was because some universities and colleges would still be able to complete the academic year before the end of 2020. Initial estimates for additional funding were based on a three-month extension across the higher education sector with all institutions completing the academic year in the first quarter of 2021.

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.

The funding scheme had expected to disburse R28.5bn in normal grant funding in 2020. When the country went into lockdown in late March, most tertiary institutions had to close their doors. Some suspended learning altogether while others moved to online teaching.

In a written reply to a question from the DA published in parliament at the weekend, Nzimande said in July his department requested the NSFAS, to model the additional costs for living and accommodation allowances to quantify the additional funding that may be required to support Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college and university students for the additional months.

“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 affect of the Covid-19 pandemic. The initial financial affect of the extended academic year was estimated at R4.6bn, based on a three-month extension across the sector as at July 30 2020,” Nzimande said.

The NSFAS originally modelled the increased costs based on a full extension of living and accommodation allowances for the additional months of the academic year. This was therefore the maximum amount that could be required.

“With revised plans and registrations received after July 2020, it has become clear that some institutions will complete the year within the normal time frame, and together with the annulment of trimester 3 for TVET colleges, the additional cost has now decreased to an estimated R2.5bn.”

Last week, the minister said SA’s universities, which were reduced mostly to online learning during the earlier phases of the national lockdown, will now return to full capacity and complete the current academic year.

Ten universities aim to complete the academic year before the end of the 2020 calendar year, four plan to end in January, seven in February and five in March 2021.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za ​

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