Blade swats away demand for extra money for failing students

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Blade swats away demand for extra money for failing students

Union wants NSFAS funding policy scrapped for those who don’t complete studies within the stipulated time

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Angry students carry a cardboard coffin to burn outside parliament in Cape Town in 2016 during Fees Must Fall protests.
Gravely serious Angry students carry a cardboard coffin to burn outside parliament in Cape Town in 2016 during Fees Must Fall protests.
Image: Gallo Images/The Times/Esa Alexander

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande has rejected demands by a student organisation that those who fail to complete their studies within the stipulated time be awarded a further two years of funding to complete it.

In a memorandum of demands submitted to Nzimande on January 16, the South African Union of Students (SAUS) said it rejected “the exclusionary policy of N+1 and we call for the reinstatement of N+2 when it relates to NSFAS funding eligibility”.

The N+1 policy means that a student receiving funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has to complete his qualification within the required time plus one additional year. For example, a NSFAS beneficiary pursuing a four-year degree will receive funding for a maximum of five years only to complete it.

The N+1 policy has been implemented since 2018 after government’s fee-free education for students from poor and working-class backgrounds was implemented, while the N+2 policy, which was in operation before 2018, involved students being awarded a loan that was repayable.

Responding to SAUS’s demand, Nzimande informed its secretary-general, Lwandile Mtsolo, that the decision to provide N+1 years of funding to students was “carefully considered, taking into account available funding and the fact that the new bursary scheme provides a fully subsidised bursary to students”.

“Given the improvements throughout and the greater levels of support being provided to students across the university system, a limit of N+1 years of fully subsidised funding is considered a fair decision.”

An NSFAS beneficiary pursuing a four-year degree will receive funding for a maximum of five years only to complete it.

He said the department was providing substantial funding to universities to support capacity development in the area of teaching and learning to ensure students are able to access appropriate academic support.

“We need to ensure that funding is made available for new students coming into the system.”

​The administrator of NSFAS, Randall Carolissen, echoed Nzimande’s sentiments, saying the N+2 policy “would limit the spread of funding to other deserving students”.

“The N+1 is an acknowledgement of the fact that we sometimes deal with young people who come from underprepared schools and therefore we allow the extra one year.”

According to the NSFAS, of the 289,265 students who are returning to university in 2020 to complete their second or subsequent years of study, 30,890 would not receive funding because they did not meet academic requirements.

The government will provide R34.5bn to the scheme to support students at technical and vocational education colleges and universities.

According to the department’s enrolment projections, the scheme would fund about 513,614 students at colleges and 469,978 at universities.

SAUS is also demanding that universities that increased fees above the inflation rate without consulting student representative councils, reverse their decision as a matter of urgency.

Stellenbosch University and Unisa increased their tuition fees by 6.2% and 6.09% respectively despite the “agreed compact for tuition fees” being 5.4%.

Nzimande said his department “will engage with the few universities who have increased tuition fees outside of the agreed compact”.

Meanwhile, SAUS has called for a national shutdown of all universities until Nzimande responds positively to its 15 demands.

At least five universities have so far heeded the call to embark on protest action, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Unisa’s Durban campus, the University of Fort Hare, the Central University of Technology, and North West University’s Mahikeng campus.

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said the Mahikeng campus was closed on Monday after a group of students prevented people from entering the campus.

A group of senior students had also assaulted other students and damaged university property.