2024 Academic Year: NSFAS & stakeholder preparations; with Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

29 November 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhwatshwa (ANC) & Mr T Letsie (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The meeting held on a virtual platform provided an opportunity for the Portfolio Committee to hear from various stakeholders involved in higher education on their state of readiness for the 2024 academic year. The stakeholders present were Universities South Africa (USAf), the South African Public Colleges Organisation (SAPCO), the South African Union of Students (SAUS), the South African Technical and Vocational Education and Training Students Association (SATVETSA), and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Many of the stakeholders referred to the delays and issues that existed within the NSFAS, which collectively affected their own productivity and readiness. The Committee commented on the lack of collaboration and individual responsibility of each of these entities to identify their own roles within the wider higher education sector, and to perform their role without placing the blame on other entities.

Issues that remained to be resolved included the annual issue of student debt, National Treasury budget cuts for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and the decrease in subsidies for universities, the delays in the registration and appeals processes, and factors such as load-shedding that affect information communication technology (ICT) productivity and processes.

The Committee was not offered a comprehensive plan for the 2024 academic year, and many Members felt that the stakeholders had merely identified the challenges, as opposed to offering solutions.

Meeting report


The Chairperson commented on the general lack of readiness of the higher education sector for the start of each academic year, and emphasised the need for all stakeholders and organisations within the sector to work together to create a successful start to 2024. She acknowledged how important engagements with these stakeholders would be to ensure that the year would start more smoothly than it had done in the past.

The meeting would hear from Universities South Africa (USAf), the South African Public Colleges Organisation (SAPCO), the South African Union of Students (SAUS), the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and the South African Technical and Vocational Education and Training Students Association (SATVETSA).

She clarified that although the Committee was meant to have heard from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), they had rescheduled the meeting for the following week, after it had engaged with the relevant stakeholders.

She then handed over chairing responsibilities to Mr T Letsie (ANC), as she was not feeling well.

Mr Letsie greeted the Committee as the appointed acting Chairperson, and welcomed the Deputy Minister, Mr Buti Manamela.

Deputy Minister Manamela said the Department was in the process of conducting its own consultations with stakeholders, and stressed the importance of these consultations to facilitate seamless teamwork and collaboration. He was cut short by a bad internet connection, and the Chairperson thanked him for his brief contribution.

Universities South Africa

Ms Phethiwe Matutu, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Universities South Africa (USAf), said the contents of this presentation included going through the state of readiness for 2024 in enrolments, calendar planning, application and registration processes, and teaching modes.

For 2024, the following was projected:

  • New enrolments expected to be around 210 000;
  • Total enrolment expected to be around 1.1 million;
  • 35% distance learning, 65% on site;
  • 40% male and 60% female enrolments.

A consistently reported higher number of applicants versus enrolments across universities in South Africa indicates limited capacity. Furthermore, eight universities had reported shortages in student accommodation capacity. Most universities did not accept walk-in and late applications, barring a few institutions. All universities have been reported as having wifi on campus and in residences. Only a few universities had made provisions for distributing data to students -- the University of Fort Hare (UFH), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), the University of Limpopo (UL), and Witwatersrand University (WITS).

The reported remaining issues were related to student funding, debt and NSFAS, and Ms Matutu outlined them in detail.

Lastly, the issues that remained outside of the student funding model were listed. These were:

  • The Department of Higher Education’s limited budget.
  • The possibility of a delayed release of matric results.
  • The political climate at universities amidst election year.
  • The sustained issue of load-shedding.

See attached for full presentation

South African Public Colleges Organisation

Prof Dipiloane Phutsisi, President of SAPCO, said the aim of this presentation was to outline the state of readiness for the 2024 academic year in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

The presentation went through the issues carried over from the previous year, new issues, and the state of readiness province by province. She said overspending in some colleges had affected the entire sector. Posts unfulfilled had left certain colleges unstable, and 36 colleges had been requested to fill critical posts with the aid of the DHET to fast-track these processes.

NSFAS was involved in engagements with SAPCO. Applications were open and outstanding payments were being finalised. There were efforts in place to fast-track the accreditation of private accommodation., and 40 000 beds had been accredited. Efforts had also been made to ensure that allowances paid by NSFAS to TVET college students were the same as those paid to university students.

Following the signed Gazette stating the phasing out of N1-N3 programmes in August 2023, SAPCO has been engaging with the DHET on how to do so in 2024 and beyond. Colleges were in the process of upskilling and absorbing the teachings of N1-N3 programmes into new occupational qualifications programmes.

Lastly, Ms Phutsisi took the Committee through the state of readiness of each teaching institution by province. Some of the problems that remained within these institutions were listed as:

  • Delays in payment of NSFAS allowances;
  • Challenges in application form access;
  • Incomplete applications or missing documentation in applications;
  • Load-shedding affecting registration processes;
  • The late release of results causing classes to start later than anticipated;
  • Students not having access to data and electronic devices for regular contact; and
  • Insufficient funding and accommodation

See attached for full presentation

South African Union of Students

Mr Lukhanyo Daweti, Secretary-General, SAUS, identified the largest issues currently affecting students within the higher education sector, and provided recommendations for the various stakeholders on how best to solve these issues.

Some of the largest issues identified included:

  • Shortages in safe, affordable, and university-accredited housing;
  • Governance challenges within the universities, such as the collapse of the recruitment process at the University of the Western Cape (UWC);
  • Funding of the "missing middle;"
  • The intended 10% budget cut for NSFAS;
  • The limited funding available for postgraduate degree programmes; and
  • The ongoing challenges within NSFAS, including the direct payment of allowances, information communication technology (ICT) issues during application and registration periods, and the appeal process.

The recommendations suggested by SAUS included:

  • The Portfolio Committee must remain vigilant and available during the registration period to identify issues and provide solutions;
  • NSFAS must work with an alternative service provider, or avoid a middleman service provider, so that students are not dealing with bank charges upon receiving their allowances;
  • The implementation of a comprehensive student funding model;
  • A funding increase to allow the support of the "missing middle;" and
  • Provide a long-term solution to the issues identified in the NSFAS appeal process.

See attached for full presentation

South African Technical and Vocational Education and Training Students Association

Upon conclusion of the presentation by SAUS, the Chairperson invited SATVETSA to present on their state of readiness to the Committee. It was established, however, that senior members within the SATVETSA team were traveling, and the noise of the airport prevented them from presenting. The Chairperson suggested that Members of the Committee note the presentation which had been circulated.

See attached for full presentation

National Student Financial Aid Scheme

Mr Ernest Khosa, the Board Chairperson of NSFAS, introduced Mr Masile Ramorwesi, the Acting CEO of NSFAS, who took Members of the Committee through the presentation.

In opening the floor for Mr Ramorwesie, Mr Khosa commented that NSFAS did not wish to contribute to this meeting and instead requested that they present the following week, as some more issues would have been concluded by that time. He agreed that these consultations and reports were important to ensure a working collaborative environment. Further, he reminded the Committee of the responsibility the universities themselves had to find solutions.

He updated the Committee on the progress pertaining to the removal of the former CEO of NSFAS from office. The former CEO’s contract had been terminated, and Mr Ramorwesi had undertaken the role of acting CEO. The former CEO had decided to take NSFAS to court to challenge this decision, and these processes would continue to unfold. He clarified that these changes, amongst others, should not be regarded as causing instability within NSFAS. Rather, the appropriate consequence management had been enforced to continue to allow NSFAS to fulfil its duties.

Mr Ramorwesi presented the state of readiness for the 2024 academic year, which included the state of readiness in the application, registration and disbursement processes, and student support. The following has been done to ensure the readiness of these various stages:

  • To prepare for the application processes, staff members were taken through awareness sessions and live demonstrations;
  • An updated user guide has been uploaded to the website;
  • The website itself had been updated;
  • A new query management format has been put in place;
  • NSFAS had committed to pay tuition and accommodation costs upfront for both TVETs and universities before 31 January; and
  • TVET monthly allowances would be paid on the 25th of each month, and university allowances would be paid on the last day of each month.

NSFAS also presented the 2023 number of applications received and their status. It had provisionally approved 703 043 applications, with a total of 537 317 rejected applications. The presentation outlined the money disbursed to each funded university for 2023 thus far, and included the outstanding payments still expected to be paid out.

In response to the decrease in the TVET funding budget by National Treasury, it was projected that this would result in a R 749.2 million shortfall for TVET colleges in the 2023 academic year. NSFAS said that reserves would be required to service institutions and supplement shortfalls. The projected risks that could occur due to the budget cut included material shortfalls in supporting students, an increase in protest action, NSFAS may not be able to pay allowances on time, and an inability to fully fund students and allow for appeal processes within TVET colleges.

The projected number of students affected by the budget cut was calculated at 120 976 students left unfunded.

Lastly, NSFAS provided an update on the 2024 funding policy:

  • The NSFAS eligibility criteria and conditions for financial aid were reviewed annually;
  • The key performance indicators  (KPIs) were required to be updated before the start of the new academic year;
  • Some sections required improvements;
  • Inputs had been received from various stakeholders, and the board had met to review the recommendations;
  • The policy had been sent to the legal unit for a final review.

Mr Khosa closed the presentation by commenting on how terrible the impact of further cuts in the budget allocated to NSFAS would be. No further plans to deal with this potential outcome were discussed.

See attached for full presentation


The Chairperson opened the floor to allow Members to pose questions to the stakeholders present in the meeting, and said that questions directed towards SATVETSA would be noted and answers would be received in writing.

Mr B Pillay (ANC) posed his first question to USAf. Noting the delays they had experienced in the higher education qualification framework and in replacing the advanced diploma qualification, the higher education sector had seen a decrease in enrolments, impacting the achievement of targets. What caused these delays? Would this continue to impact student enrollment in 2024? What measures have been put in place to mitigate these factors?

He requested clarification on the percentage increase in tuition fees and accommodation costs for 2024.

The SAPCO presentation mentioned the phasing out of N1-N3 programmes. Where is this process currently at TVET colleges?

Mr Pillay noted that in the USAf presentation, the date that the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) intended to start its 2024 academic calendar had not been provided. What was the reason for this? Furthermore, which particular universities had reported shortages in student accommodation?

Referring to the NSFAS presentation, in which a reported 97 000 students had withdrawn their applications, he raised concern and asked why the number was so high.

Lastly, he commented that the disbursements reported by NSFAS were vastly different to to the institutions' figures. Was NSFAS aware of why such a large disparity existed?

Mr M Shikwambana (EFF) requested clarity on the individual roles played by each stakeholder, and how they contributed to minimising the raised issues. He asked USAf to clarify the projected increase in fees at universities and which universities would be allowing free registration processes for students.

He raised concerns about the application processes requiring internet connectivity, electronic devices and electricity. Many universities had not allowed students to complete walk-in applications, despite the high level of load-shedding South Africa was currently experiencing.

He said that NSFAS, SAPCO and USAf had all collectively failed to mention the issue of student debt. This issue remained an issue each year, and each year, students could not graduate, have access to their results, or register for the following year. These stakeholders must provide the Committee with a long-term solution.

Referring to the NSFAS presentation, Mr Shikwambana raised the issue of late payments. The middleman companies put in place must be removed so as not to unnecessarily charge students upon receiving their allowances.

A student from the University of the Free State was reported to have been wrongfully taken to the lawyers of her landlord due to being affected by NSFAS "N+2" rule regarding degree completion. He mentioned this single case and requested that the contact details of this student be directly passed on to NSFAS so they could correct it, but mentioned that this was one case amongst many.

Lastly, he expressed concern at the slow progress of the NSFAS appeal processes, late payments, and budget cuts. He made an impassioned plea to the people of South Africa to note the helplessness of these organisations, and to consider this when voting in the upcoming 2024 election year.

Ms C King (DA) commented that beyond the budget cut that NSFAS was experiencing, the National Treasury had further cut the budget for university subsidies. That meant that enrolments would be further affected. Considering that there was already a considerably higher number of applications than available spaces, would the decrease in enrolments necessitate a fee increase and subsequently reduce the number of "missing middle" students who were able to register?

Regarding the direct payments to service providers, would these service providers continue to act as middlemen in paying allowances to NSFAS-funded students? These service providers had made claims that should they be removed, they would be taking NSFAS to court. What was NSFAS’s plan or provision for 2024 concerning this issue?

What provisions had been put in place to ensure that should protests arise, the police and other private security companies would be involved so as to not delay registration processes further?

Mr S Ngcobo (DA) commented that NSFAS had projected that the period within which they received the most applications was January. Was NSFAS ready to receive a high volume of applications, and had the online platform been readied for this high volume?

In the NSFAS presentation, they mentioned the implementation of an internal and external communication plan. What did this plan entail, and how would it effectively ensure that students were receiving clear and timely information and updates from NSFAS?

Lastly, he asked NSFAS for clarification on the withdrawn applications. Had these applications been withdrawn by the students, or by NSFAS?

Ms King followed up by asking NSFAS about their funding policy. Would the updated funding policy have any effect on the 2024 intake of students, and had the eligibility criteria been implemented for this year’s cohort of applicants?

The Chairperson noted the time spent by USAf in identifying current issues within NSFAS, as opposed to identifying their own issues and providing solutions. USAf had to play its own role in contributing to the success of higher education. He told the Committee a story of a student who had not received funding due to incorrectly being perceived as being registered at two institutions. He believed that in this case, USAf had a responsibility to step in, instead of the student being told to fly to Cape Town to speak to NSFAS.

He also noted the rush of many institutions and stakeholders to place the blame solely on NSFAS and not create solutions in the multi-layered sector of university governance. He expressed his disappointment in the presentation format, which failed to identify progress and the remaining issues to be resolved before the start of the 2024 academic year. He also made an impassioned plea for each institution to quantify the issues materially accurately.

In reference to the presentation given by SAPCO, the Chairperson mentioned another case in which a shack in the Capricorn region had been wrongfully accredited as student accommodation. Had this case been brought to the attention of SAPCO and investigated? Was the appropriate consequence management implemented in this case?

He expressed his disappointment at the presentation given to the Committee by SAUS. He accused their presentation of lamenting as opposed to stating their own state of readiness. He again emphasised the need for each stakeholder to realise their purpose and fulfil it.

Referring to the NSFAS presentation, he requested confirmation of the number of applications received per week, which were reported as being 205 000. How many of the approved applications were SASSA beneficiaries?

Last year, the Committee ventured to the NSFAS offices to see the new system it had implemented. This system continued to have system issues throughout 2023, including students who were able to submit applications without identity documents (IDs), or with missing documentation. What updates were being made to this system, and how were these issues being remedied? This continued to cause delays in the finalisation of applications and affected late registration.



Mr Daweti said he had noted the comments made by members of the Committee regarding SAUS. He admitted that there were areas to which the presentation could have responded better.


Ms Phutsisi denied the accusation that shacks were being accredited as student accommodation within the Capricorn region of Limpopo, but admitted that there was such an issue raised at the Letaba TVET college. A report on this case had been compiled, though the principal of this college had confirmed that accreditation processes remained the responsibility of NSFAS.

She welcomed the call by Members of the Committee to ensure that equal living and accommodation allowances were provided for students in TVET colleges as were provided to those in universities. The funding scope must extend to include the allocation of funding for infrastructure and other issues within TVET colleges.

In response to the issue of walk-in applications raised by Mr Shikwambana, SAPCO confirmed that many colleges had agreed to allow walk-ins should this become necessary. This was limited by the resources available to colleges during the registration and enrolment periods. She assured the Committee that colleges were required to open their computer laboratories to allow students with limited access to connectivity and electronic devices to apply.

Regarding the phasing out of the N1-N3 programmes, she confirmed that no new students would be allowed to apply for these programmes, and colleges would merely be ensuring those in the current pipeline of these programmes were able to complete their studies.

Lastly, Ms Phutsisi confirmed that there would be an upcoming funding summit at which various stakeholders involved in TVET colleges could brainstorm on ways to ensure the sector continued to be sustainable.

Mr Xolelo Phike, Secretary-General, SAPCO, added to the responses given by Ms Phutsisi. In response to Mr Pillay, he said the phasing out of N1-N3 engineering programmes was a decision made by the Minister. In order to ensure an effective transition, the Quality Control Council was to be brought in and the content would be redesigned according to the recommendations made by the council. He assured the Committee that some individual courses and subjects would continue to be offered on a standalone basis.


Ms Matutu requested that the answer to Mr Pillay's question on the enrolment issue be provided in writing.

She confirmed that decisions on tuition increases and accommodation cost increases lie with the individual university councils, guided by recommendations given by the DHET. Therefore, USAf did not currently have access to the individual decisions made by each university.

The UNIZULU report on the starting date for their academic calendar was not received by USAf. The university had not responded in time to the request made by USAf to provide these dates.

The universities that had reported shortages in student housing capacity were Stellenbosch University, UWC, UKZN, UNIZULU, and the Venda University of Technology (VUT). The University of Pretoria, the University of Limpopo, and Walter Sisulu University (WSU).

Ms Matutu clarified the role of USAf, which Mr Shikwambana had raised. USAf was a representative council of all 26 universities across South Africa, and the board consisted of Vice-Chancellors from these universities. All decisions made on behalf of USAf were discussed by this board and then published by USAf. She claimed that thus far, there had been few complaints such as those raised by Mr Shikwambana.

She also informed Mr Shikwambana that there was no clearly set out plan for free higher education, and free access was, and would continue to be for the near future, allocated to students who had identified themselves as financially needy.

Historic debt had been acknowledged as an issue that worried everyone. A Committee had been established with vice-chancellors from a few universities to investigate the possibilities, but the report had yet to be taken to Cabinet.

In response to the issues raised by Ms King on the cut in university subsidies, the National Treasury had requested a written motivation to be provided by USAf, clarifying why the decision to cut university subsidies was a catastrophic decision. The report clarified that cutting these funds would directly negatively impact salaries, money for infrastructure and repairs, and the level of available student support. This motivation has since been provided.

The number of enrolments was clearly governed and enforced by the DHET, and USAf had no choice but to follow this mandate. This plan outlined the requirement that quality control enrolled students be taken into account, to ensure the ultimate success of these students. Decreased funding lay with the individual universities resorting to third and fourth streams of income from external donors to ensure they remained compliant to allow the maximum number of successful applicants.

She acknowledged that criminal and administrative failures must be prosecuted. Individual universities must investigate these activities, using their internal and external auditors and investigators. Regarding the student at the University of the Free State, Ms Matutu requested that this information be forwarded to USAf to ensure that the internal structures required to investigate these issues had done so effectively and offered this student sufficient support.


Mr Ramorwesi responded on the withdrawal of applications, and said the withdrawals were done by the students, and not by NSFAS. This remained a concern for NSFAS, as an investigation had not yet been carried out to ensure that students were not withdrawing their applications as a result of facing technical errors.

Given the budget cuts, NSFAS had been forced to look into alternative collaborations to ensure other sources of income, and this remained an issue that members of NSFAS were aware and conscious of.

Delays in the appeal processes had been reduced by staff conscientisation and through improvements in the NSFAS online system and communication.

NSFAS had attempted to engage the DHET and National Treasury to appeal to them to reconsider their decision to cut the NSFAS budget, though this had been unsuccessful to date.

Student eligibility had not been affected for current or former students, and nothing in terms of the application processes had been affected, considering that eligibility required only the training of current NSFAS staff members.

Mr Ramorwesi explained that the internal and external communications plan had included training staff in the administrative and communications department and introducing campaigns that promoted clarity and transparency.

He denied the claim that IDs and other documentation were not required for the initial application. Applications had been delayed only due to students submitting unverifiable or incorrect documentation. Verification processes happened in collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs.

The cap on accommodation funding had been communicated to all institutions, to which only some of these universities complied. Despite some universities requesting a higher cap be considered, NSFAS cited their budget constraints prohibiting this from being a consideration.

Mr Khosa responded to the two remaining questions. Concerning direct payments, he assured the Committee that all recommendations from the Werkmans report would be taken into account, including direct payments. The owners of the direct payment systems were called in to consult with NSFAS. NSFAS must ensure that cutting ties with these service providers was done legally and ensure that there were no comebacks that they could pursue.

He assured the Committee that NSFAS had never made any effort to accredit shacks. Further, it distanced itself from any involvement in many of the NSFAS scams and other falsely advertised NSFAS accommodations.

The Chairperson offered the Committee the opportunity to respond to any of the answers given by the stakeholders, before providing closing comments. No one in the Committee indicated interest in raising any further comments.

The Chairperson clarified that the following week, Members of the Committee would be meeting to hear from the Department of Higher Education and Training.

The meeting was adjourned.


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