Comprehensive student funding model for PSET; Funding of postgraduate students; with Ministry

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

21 February 2024
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science, and Innovation was briefed by the Minister, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and its entities on implementing Phase 1 of the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. The Minister expressed how the National Institute of Humanities and Social Science (NIHSS) came into existence, and this was primarily rooted in concerns put forth by various university deans of the humanities and social science disciplines. Establishing the independent statutory body marked South Africa as one of the few countries actively investing in Humanities and Social Science research. Since its launch, the NIHSS has received an increase in funding and audits have also established that there have been no accounts of irregular expenditure since 2018.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) showed a decline in the number of students being funded for their postgraduate studies, which was attributed to a cut in the budget allocations since 2017. However, the entity was able to improve its budget management as the number of students who had been denied funding decreased from 8403 in the year 2022 to 6822 in the year 2023. To improve the pending situation, the entity further nurtured international relations to ensure that international opportunities are made available to doctoral and postdoctoral students

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) reported on the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. The presentation touched on the constitutional provisions, the MTT recommendations, the outcomes of the model, Phase 1 implementation plans, and the targeted beneficiaries. A ministerial task team was also appointed and tasked to envision a sustainable funding model for higher education. The terms of reference included short- and long-term changes and policies, and to identify sustainable funding sources.

The Comprehensive Student Funding Model was met with much discomfort from many Members of the Committee. What Members highlighted was that the missing middle are struggling specifically since they are cut off from NSFAS bursaries and the proposed solution did not seem to want to guide students out of debt and poverty. Another concern was whether NSFAS was administratively capable and ready to take on additional funding components to its existing model, as is it often criticised for its inability to effectively deal with its required administrative processes.

Members were generally not pleased with the conduct of the Department, citing that changes to the agenda should be communicated in due time. There were also concerns about the Department's seemingly “non-caring” conduct as the presentation contained many grammatical errors and mistakes, including the recommendations in the presentation which did not mirror the recommendations listed in the distributed report.

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened the meeting and indicated that the Committee would be receiving briefings from the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), the National Research Foundation (NRF), and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) on the implementation of Phase 1 of the Comprehensive Student Funding Model according to the recommendations provided by the appointed Ministerial Task Team (MTT).

The Committee secretary read out apologies before the Chairperson suggested an amendment to the agenda, which was to hear presentations from postgraduate funding stakeholders first and end with the Department on the comprehensive funding model.

Minister’s opening remarks

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, greeted Members of the Committee and all stakeholders present in the meeting. In addressing the issue of the remuneration of Vice-Chancellors, he stated that he has not been able to present the report to the Council formally. He indicated that the meeting with the Council had been set to take place the week following the current meeting with the Committee and therefore requested the postponement of the discussion.

The Minister briefed the Committee on establishing the National Institute of Humanities and Social Science (NIHSS) to give Members a contextual understanding of its role. He indicated that he was initially approached by university deans of the humanities and social science disciplines on their concerns that these research fields were receiving decreased attention and would potentially die among STEM disciplines. It was after this engagement that Dr Nzimande opted to form the NIHSS. He confessed his pride at the establishment of the institution. He stated that South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that provide investment in humanities and social science research.

He also made remarks on the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. He noted that the model must take into account all ways in which the government subsidises universities directly through undergraduate and postgraduate funding. He stated that at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, funding is not limited to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the National Research Foundation (NRF). There are a multitude of bursaries and scholarships available at a national and municipal level and funding as a result of international cooperation with Russia and China. He said that the Comprehensive Student Funding Model must be able to take account of all spending and income streams.

The Minister acknowledged that the reason for the need for a Comprehensive Funding Model was due to the large burden that student debt has on students and universities. While it would be ideal to announce that student debt will be cleared each year, he mentioned that this is not a viable possibility. Thus, an alternative solution has been pioneered through the funding model. He highlighted that the presentation would introduce the first phase of the Comprehensive Student Funding Model which directly deals with the issue of the missing middle.

The Chairperson expressed her concerns at the lack of planning of the Department and their last-minute request to delay the discussion regarding the remuneration of Vice-Chancellors.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) echoed the sentiments shared by the Chairperson on the lack of communication from the Department. He emphasised that when the programme of the Portfolio Committee is shared in advance to receive comments and concerns from all stakeholders, this opportunity should be taken.

Mr M Shikwambana (EFF) requested that the Committee be consulted before a decision is made on the postponement of an agenda item. He agreed with his colleagues that the Minister’s team has had much opportunity to respond timeously to request the postponement of the agenda item.

Ms C King (DA) requested that the Minister provide the Committee with a concrete timeline as to when they would receive a full report on the matter.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) noted that there was no need to further discuss the matter as the Minister had clearly stated that it could not be discussed at present. She then requested Members to keep their contributions on the matter to a minimum, so as not to take away from valuable discussions that are still to be had.

Ms N Chirwa (EFF) accused the Minister of not taking his commitment to the Portfolio Committee seriously. She added that the Department does not respect the time of Committee Members, and this is shown through the lack of readiness and the inability to inform the Committee on time.

The Chairperson summarised the views of the Committee for the Minister and requested that the act should not be repeated in the three remaining months of the Committee’s term. To continue with the proceedings of the meeting, the Chairperson clarified that the report received by Committee Members was not to be shared on any platforms until a discussion was held between the Committee and the Minister.

Presentation by the NIHSS

Ms Auriel Niemack, Executive Manager, National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), provided an oversight on the goals and achievements of the entity.

Mr Tumelo Mokoena, Chief Financial Officer, National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), indicated that he would present the financial model used by the NIHSS.

  • Since the establishment of the NIHSS, funding allocation has increased.
  • A recent fluctuation in funding has occurred due to the NIHSS tapping into allowing scholarships for Masters students.
  • Internal audits within the department have shown a consistent effectiveness rate of 100% since 2017 and consistent adequacy rates of over 70%.
  • Audits have also established that there have been no accounts of irregular expenditure since 2018 and fruitless and wasteful accounts for less than 0.23% of total expenditure.

Ms Niemack concluded by emphasising that according to the presentation given, the NIHSS has been successful in achieving the mandate it has set out to achieve.

See attached for full presentation

Presentation by the NRF

Mr Mosa Moshabela, Chairperson of the Board, National Research Foundation (NRF), thanked the Portfolio Committee for allowing the entity the space to present its funding model. and handed over to Mr Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, Chief Executive Officer, National Research Foundation (NRF).

Dr Gugu Moche, Deputy Chief Executive Officer: Research, Innovation and Impact Support and Advancement (RIISA), National Research Foundation (NRF), highlighted the following points on performance over the past few years:

  • The NRF began in 2017 by supporting 13 599 students, effectively decreasing to 7 732 students funded in 20221.
  • The percentage of students supported by the NRF has also experienced a proportional decrease in the number of enrolled postgraduate students from 9.1% to 5.1% between 2017 and 2021.
  • During the 2022 academic year, a total of 8 403 students were denied funding due to budget constraints.
  • During the 2023 academic year, a total of 6 822 students were denied funding due to budget constraints, which showed improvement in budget management by the NRF.

The NRF has ensured that a number of interventions are put in place including:

  • Sourcing funding from alternative sources. This has been successful in a number of cases including the memorandum of understanding (MoU) established between Sasol and the NRF as well as DAAD and the NRF.
  • The NRF has further nurtured international relations to ensure international opportunities are available to doctoral and postdoctoral students.
  • Some of these international opportunities include the Fulbright Foreign Student Programme (FFSP) in the USA, NRF-MINDS mobility programme in Africa, NRF-Mitacs mobility Programme in Canada, the NRF-DAAD mobility programmes and research grant programmes in Germany, and the Young Scientists Summer Programme (YSSP) in Austria.

With this oversight provided to the Committee by Dr Moche, the presentation was concluded.

See attached for full presentation

Presentation by the DHET

Mr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), indicated that he would be presenting the report on the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. The presentation touched on the constitutional provisions, the MTT recommendations, the outcomes of the model, Phase 1 implementation plans, and the targeted beneficiaries. He mentioned that the constitution of South Africa outlines the right to basic and higher education through reasonable measures. He said a ministerial task team was appointed and tasked to envision a sustainable funding model for higher education. The terms of reference included short- and long-term changes and policies, and to identify sustainable funding sources.

Some of the recommendations made by the task team include:

  • Establishing a model to be implemented in a five- and ten-year plan, outlining the necessary transitional arrangements to be made.
  • Status quo funding must continue in the interim.
  • A structure of engagement must be established for the period of maturation of this funding model.
  • A loan component must be added to the existing bursary and scholarship models to fund the education of the missing middle. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme would be expected to oversee the loan component
  • Provision of interim government-guaranteed commercial bank loans.
  • Alternative funding models for the missing middle should continue to be explored, including targeted support from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) for children of public servants.
  • The maintenance of the availability of full subsidies for students from poor or working-class backgrounds.
  • The development of a more nuanced tool for determining financial eligibility.
  • A comprehensive model should include loan funding availability for those attempting second qualifications.
  • Incentives must be created to ensure that those students completing their studies in the minimum time required are awarded funding for further postgraduate funding.
  • Comprehensive student models must also include the creation of a database to access post-school education and training funding opportunities.
  • Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges should receive their tuition fees, and this process should not have to be bypassed by NSFAS.
  • Caps on student accommodation must be put in place according to availability, conditions, and locations.
  • Comprehensive funding should include the regulation and oversight of tuition fee increases by government.
  • Postgraduate funding must form part of this comprehensive model. This model will effectively be a hybrid between the state and other relevant funding sources.

Mr Sishi emphasised that a comprehensive model must look into more than just the funding, but must ensure the overall success of the students. This includes the prevention of gender-based violence, the training of sufficient life skills, and the availability of career guidance. 

Model outcomes were presented in three varying scenarios according to the recommendations given by the MTT, including option one which maintained the status quo and was deemed unsustainable. Option two required NSFAS to continue to maintain a loan scheme as done before 2018 alongside fundraising initiatives and bursary schemes provided by the government. Lastly, option three suggested the reduction of funding over time using moderate controls over time such as the current N+1 and 60% pass rate rules which have been largely unsupported. In the process of implementation, the Department would have to rely on existing structures and front-end stakeholders such as NSFAS for guidance.

See attached for full presentation


The Chairperson acknowledged the decrease in funding reported by the NIHSS for postdoctoral students but welcomed the increase in funding for Masters and PhD students. This would allow a greater influx into the postdoctoral pool of applicants. She requested clarification from the NIHSS on the decline in funding and the difference between the amount paid and the amount allocated on slide 14, in the year 2020. She inquired if this was as a result of COVID-19.

In response to the presentation given by the NRF, the Chairperson asked whether the strategic interventions listed were currently being implemented or whether they were existing intervention strategies. Further, she asked if the NRF had done any studies on the funding of the remaining postgraduate students, considering that the NRF-funded students only account for between five and ten percent of the total registered postgraduate students. She stated that this spoke to the need for a centralised funding database, as was recommended in the presentation given by DHET.

The Chairperson also asked if there is a tangible understanding of whether the allocated funding matches the Masters Skills Plan and how the split in funding is determined. She expressed concern about whether the NRF and other stakeholders were redirecting students who have been denied funding to other funding opportunities such as those presented by other government departments.

Mr Shikwambana responded to the comment made by the Minister on the impossibility of fully resolving the issue of student debt. In such a case, he said that universities should be allowing students to graduate and receive their certificates so that they can go get jobs and pay back the exorbitant student debts over time. He stated that this would only be an interim solution until the government can consolidate a more concrete plan.

In response to the presentation given by the NRF, he asked about the number of applications received for the 2024 academic year, as many students had not yet received confirmation of funding. He expressed concern about delays in communicating funding outcomes and requested that the NRF provide the Committee with an estimated time for finalising such decisions.

He strongly expressed his disagreement with the Comprehensive Student Funding Model and how the Department plans to solve the issues regarding subsidising studies for the missing middle. He suggested that the only solution to this issue without taking funding away from other deserving and needy students is to promote free higher education, which can be funded through appropriating land without compensation.

Ms King agreed with the comments by the Chairperson regarding the flaws of the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. To further this sentiment, she noted that all the recommendations made by the MTT mirrored calls made by the Democratic Alliance (DA) since 2018. She stated that the need for a database is considerable, noting that many students believe that NSFAS is the only available funding scheme for students at the undergraduate level. Ms King also commended the MTT's recommendation, stating that loans will be contingent on income. For those students who have signed loan agreements under Phase 1 of the implementation process, it is unclear as to what criteria were used to assess the income of the students and what loan amount each student was offered.

Ms King strongly supported the notion that the accommodation cap should be scrapped in the future. The cap has only resulted in limiting the safe, affordable, and available accommodation for NSFAS students and has resulted in many landlords refusing NSFAS students’ accommodation. This has been brought to the attention of the Committee by various accreditation institutions that have engaged landlords, who have expressed that NSFAS has been shortchanging them and providing landlords with late payments.

She referred to the hybrid scheme or option two as presented by DHET on the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. She noted that, in the past, direct payments to stakeholders have caused issues in the payment processes of loans and bursaries. According to this option, she inquired about the plans put in place to ensure that payments are not going through a middleman but are being timeously and effectively paid out without eating into the funds.

Mr S Ngcobo (DA) highlighted that the Comprehensive Funding Model did not mention any Community Education and Training College (CET) colleges. In response to this, he expressed concern that this specific education sector was not being included in the funding model and asked the Department whether an alternative funding model was being crafted specifically to fund students in the CET college sector.

In response to the presentations given by the NIHSS and the NRF, Mr Ngcobo asked two questions. Firstly, he noted that both institutions would be receiving budget cuts for the 2024 academic year and asked what the impact of these budget cuts would be on the two specific institutions. He further asked if there were plans in place to curb the shortfall and the specific programmes that these budget cuts will most severely impact. Furthermore, Mr Ngcobo requested clarification on whether both of these institutions have been able to put measures in place to prevent double dipping.

Ms N Chirwa (EFF) highlighted that, as previously mentioned by Mr Shikwambana, students at various universities are experiencing delays in receiving their funding outcomes. She asked if the NRF has done investigations into understanding why these delays are occurring. She inquired whether plans were put in place to resolve these delays. Secondly, she requested clarification on the number of students currently funded by the NRF and how many of the new students would be rejected due to proposed budget cuts.

The Comprehensive Student Funding Model was met with much discomfort from many Members of the Committee, including Ms Chirwa who took it upon herself to express such. According to the assessments done by the government, households that earn under R 600 000 a year have been shown to not effectively afford the costs of tertiary education. The missing middle are struggling specifically since they were cut off from NSFAS bursaries and thus it is evident that this solution, too, may prove as unsustainable as the loan system was within NSFAS before 2018. Ms Chirwa suggested that the priority of the Minister is misguided. She stated that if the goal of providing students with the opportunity to go to universities is to guide them out of debt and poverty, then the proposed solution directly contradicts this goal and instead places students back in debt.

Mr Lestie began by accusing other Members of the Committee of not listening and instead focusing on campaigning for their political stance. He stated that the Minister and other members of the Department were clear that the loan system being implemented was a suggested first stage of the development of the plan. This did not mean that should the loan system prove ineffective; it would not be redesigned to better suit the needs of students within the capability scope of the Department. Mr Letsie thanked the Minister for bringing forward the solution and implementing the Comprehensive Student Funding Model.

He asked the Department if they would be able to provide the Committee with a rough estimate of the number of students who are rejected from NSFAS annually, due to their household income falling between R 350 000 and R 600 000. Comparatively, he asked about the number of students currently able to be funded through the new loan system. He mentioned that the comparison should guide the Department on the allocation of funding towards this initiative.

He mentioned that the Department’s presentation on the Comprehensive Funding Model also included a plan under option two that in the short term (2024-2025) the model would require a credit enhancement of R 1.5 billion from the National Skills Fund (NSF) and R 2.3 billion from Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).

Mr Letsie asked the Department where the R 1.5 billion from NSF comes from, whether it is sourced from their 2023 budget or their reserves, and the same question was posed about the R 2.3 billion. He said that this would directly impact the annual reports and plans of these stakeholders.

He requested the Department clarify how it ensured that double dipping was not occurring. This was raised as a concern considering the numerous government bursaries available at the municipal and national levels. He added that many students apply to multiple bursary schemes and without a centralised database, there is no verification and monitoring process in place.

Mr Letsie asked about the long-term plans for the loan scheme interim option. He said that, currently,

it is effective in ensuring more opportunities in the immediate term for the youth, but in the future, he inquired if it would continue as a bursary scheme or if it would be phased out. He asked whether the ultimate goal was to ensure that the missing middle is afforded full bursary coverage through NSFAS.

The Chairperson thanked the Members for their contributions and went through her questions on the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. She assumed government had ideologically concluded that free education should be attainable for the poor and missing middle. She noted that the ten-year plan presented by the Department did not allude to the same conclusion and asked whether the MTT operated with this ultimate goal in mind. She inquired about the long-term goal of the comprehensive plan and whether it would undergo consistent review processes to ensure that the mentioned goal is not lost within this process. The Chairperson acknowledged that the long-term goal does not take away from the progress that NSFAS has made from its inception until the present time.

She expressed concern as to whether NSFAS was administratively capable and ready to take on additional funding components to its existing model. She indicated that the entity has often been criticised for its inability to effectively deal with its required administrative processes. As a result, there is a general fear that with this added component it will struggle more to handle the administrative burden.

The Chairperson also noted that the presentation given by the Department contained many grammatical errors and mistakes, including the recommendations in the presentation which did not mirror the recommendations listed in the distributed report. She indicated that this concerned Members of the Committee, and requested that more time and detail go into the presentation before it gets passed on to Parliament.

The Chairperson then allowed NRF to respond to the questions posed.



Ms Niemack responded to the questions regarding transformation within the NSI. She acknowledged that research done has proven that 66% of graduated alumni were employed within the university space, 6% were employed in the private sector, 9% were working for the government and 3% were employed within NGOs.

NIHSS contracts between themselves and their students are very specific about limiting any form of double dipping. These same rules and guidelines are applied within the university space, where some universities will not accept funding from multiple sources for a single student’s tuition. This has helped limit double dipping amongst NIHSS-funded students.

Mr Mokoena responded to the limited funds received in 2023/2024. He confirmed that two lots of funding was received from DHET and NSF. In 2023, the funding allocated to NIHSS from DHET was received, and they are awaiting the funds allocated to them from the NSF. This concerns the NIHSS as roughly 300 students would be affected, but the NIHSS is resolving this issue through conversations with DHET.

He acknowledged that COVID-19 was not a great concern to the NIHSS regarding their funded students. The debt resulted from continuous budget cuts between 2018 and 2021, which stemmed from a directive from the NSF. Further, in the 2020/2021 year, the funding agreement between the NIHSS and the NSF was delayed and thus payouts did not occur timeously. This was, however, later resolved.

A question was posed as to why there was a significant difference between the allocated and the paid funds reported. Mr Mokoena clarified that the allocated funding was the funding approved from an Annual Performance Plan (APP) perspective. The NSF cannot totally match this and thus this is the reason for the difference between the two reported numbers.

The budget cuts that the NIHSS will be enduring would potentially affect 300 students but they are actively looking into solutions to reallocate funds from other programmes towards affected students to ensure less of a negative impact.


Mr Moshabela clarified that the interventions presented by the NRF were existing interventions, while he acknowledged that there was another entire category of planned interventions that were undergoing rigorous inspection by various stakeholders such as the Minister. He said the report would be made available once it was finalised by the team curating it.

He acknowledged that in ensuring redirection of students to other sources of funding, there is an institutional mandate for the individual universities to communicate directly with students and redirect them to other sources of funding.

In response to the question posed by Ms Chirwa on the specific number of students funded and the number of students rejected, Mr Mokoena assured her that his colleagues would be able to provide her with the exact numbers. Generally, the NRF has historically only been able to fund 35% of deserving applicants. The NRF does ensure that the 65% who would not be able to receive funding directly from the NRF receive intervention from other funding sources or are redirected to other bursary schemes.

He assured Mr Letsie that as soon as budget cuts are reported to the NRF, they are received, and processed, and then the new budget is immediately incorporated into the annual plan. He stated that the NRF does respond to the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) with a proposal on how to minimise the budget cuts and ensure that targets are only minorly affected but oftentimes, the target outcomes do have to change accordingly.

Mr Nelwamondo proceeded to answer some of the remaining questions forwarded by the Committee. He acknowledged that in times of difficulty, the NRF relies on the support of the DSI and the Minister to source other funding alternatives when they have faced budget cuts or shortfalls. The NRF greatly values these relationships. This includes the announcement of the Presidential PhD Initiative made by the President in 2023 which has taken a large burden off the NRF and has actively increased the funding available for PhD students. The interventions, as mentioned by Mr Mokoena, are existing interventions. However, this has not stopped the NRF from reviewing them and ensuring higher standards are consistently set for the NRF to perform.

Mr Nelwamondo agreed with the sentiments shared by Mr Letsie that students are prone to apply for a number of different bursary schemes. To prevent double dipping, students are required to provide proof that they have either accepted or rejected other funding opportunities before a final decision is made by the NRF on their status of funding. He acknowledged that this line of communication does create delays in funding outcomes.

Mr Bishen Singh, Chief Financial Officer, National Research Foundation (NRF), responded to the questions posed about budget cuts within the NRF. He acknowledged that, much like other government entities, the NRF was not spared from the budget cuts. The total reduction in budget being provided to the NRF amounts to R 354 million or just above 13%. The parliamentary grant received by the NRF, which covers the operational costs of the NRF across the country, amounted to R 60 million. Human capacity development amounts to R 226 million, broken down into R 113 million, directly affecting student funding. Of the R 226 million, a further R 42 million will impact researchers, and another R 66 million will affect the South African Research Chairs Initiative. There are further smaller cuts that will affect sea life projects as well as infrastructure projects. He mentioned that the NRF is actively working to bridge these gaps created by budget cuts.

Dr Moche spoke to the points raised on the delays in releasing the outcomes in funding and noted that there have been issues with specific universities. This includes specifically the University of Mpumalanga, where delays in communication between the university and the NRF have been experienced. This has become an issue, particularly at the Honours level, whereas Masters and PhD students have received their outcomes much sooner. She stated that the turnaround time at the NRF can be processed swiftly, considering that the NRF makes block allocations earlier in the year and funds are quickly released according to the data received from specific universities.

The Chairperson then invited the Minister to answer questions posed to him and make closing remarks.

Minister’s Responses

Dr Nzimande allowed the DHET team to answer the questions posed to them directly. He wished to answer some of the general issues raised throughout the engagement. He noted the amount of work, progress, and transformation that all the entities have been able to report upon. He hoped that upon leaving the engagement, Committee Members would walk away, having recognised the great strides being taken to ensure that students at the tertiary level are taken care of. He further noted the mention of the Presidential PhD Initiative which has allowed a total of R 1 billion to be injected into funding PhD students in South Africa.

Dr Nzimande assured the Committee that the goal of the DHET has always been to promote progressive access to higher education which must begin with the poor and has now moved towards funding the missing middle. He fundamentally, however, disagreed with the notion that those who can afford university should be funded by government funds.

He denied the allegation made by Ms King that the DA championed any of these policies and accused her and other Members of falling back on campaigning tactics. He further accused Ms King of holding problematic views on pension funds.

The Minister went on to deny the claims that accommodation should not be capped. He noted that it would not be viable to allocate as much funds to students as they demand.

He confirmed that the recommendations given by the MTT and presented to the Committee speak to the short-term and medium-term as well as aspects of the long-term goals of this comprehensive funding model. He further acknowledged the need for increased capacity at NSFAS to manage the increased responsibility. He indicated that the various stakeholders at DHET have noted and acknowledged all the concerns brought up.

The Minister then excused himself from the meeting.

DHET’s Responses

Dr Marcia Socikwa, DDG: University Education, informed the Committee that R 39.86 million was transferred to the NIHSS and the balance of R 9.9 million was paid out in January. This accounts for an increase in funds made available to the NIHSS as of 2024.

She explained that the loan period is fairly flexible from student to student, considering how circumstances change over time. In the current year, 31 800 students have been funded through the loan program, and this accounts for 47% of needy and deserving students. Almost 100% of these students will be covered as this number doubles.

She stated that NSFAS was identified as the loan scheme manager and that no other scheme would be involved in the process. The NSF may not be used due to certain regulations put in place, as of yet, the DHET cannot identify a more convenient alternative solution to handle the administrative and commercial aspects of the loan scheme. She said that other stakeholders were proven not to have the appropriate licensing to handle the scheme. She added that it was worth noting that many staff members at NSFAS were privy to the loan scheme that was in place before 2017 and could thus contribute to ensuring that the scheme was successful. Ms Socikwa indicated that funds have been allocated to ensure that NSFAS can increase its institutional capacity.

She indicated that for the 2024/2025 financial year, the NSF has been reallocating funds from the 2023/2024 financial year, which should be concluded before March. This is where the funds are emanating from to contribute to additional funding to ensure the success of the process. She explained that these were unused funds, in the case of SETAs, and more concrete answers would be provided after consultations with individual stakeholders.

Dr Socikwa echoed the views of the Minister and stated that there are currently no plans to ensure that the Comprehensive Student Funding Model will be transformed into a bursary scheme in the next ten years. Further, there are no current plans to change the funding brackets in the near future, and therefore the missing middle will continue to be defined as those with household incomes between R 350 000 and R 600 000. This all may be subject to change in the future but exists with no current predictions as to when and how it will change.

Mr Sishi assured the Committee, much like the Minister and Ms Socikwa before him, that everyone in DHET is well aware of the institutional weaknesses and lack of capability in each of its entities, including NSFAS. However, considering its historical role in funding tertiary education, NSFAS has proven more effective at administrating loans than grants. He also noted that new staff additions to the NSFAS management team have aided in ensuring consequence management and that other systems are strengthened.

He also confirmed that, in consultations with the student populace, the general response to the loan scheme has been supportive. This differs according to the racial and political makeup of certain SRCs, but generally, the view is supported.

In response to the concerns raised by Mr Ngcobo about the absence of CET colleges being included within this funding model, he confirmed that there will be an alternative funding model released within the near future that will deal with this issue.

Mr Sishi referenced the accommodation policy in response to the concerns raised by Ms King on the cap on university accommodation funding. The policy states that all undergraduate students must be accommodated with existing and available institutional accommodation. These students are a priority in the Department and it is only at the postgraduate level that accommodation caps become a direct issue. In reality, however, not all university students are being accommodated by their institutions. Furthermore, over 70% of tertiary institutions within South Africa support the notion of capping university accommodation.

He assured Mr Shikwambana that the policy disallowing students to graduate with student debt is largely unsupported by the Department. The policy states that universities are required to issue statements to their eligible graduates regarding the completion of their degrees. This should allow students to receive employment after graduation until they can repay their debts.

Dr Socikwa responded to Mr Letsie by explaining the allocation process. She indicated that the DHET allocated funds according to NIHSS and this amount ended up being R 39 million and in the new year, this has been confirmed as R 41.65 million. She added that the NSF is currently processing the funding request as per its usual processing procedures, and will receive the requested funds by the end of the current financial year.

Mr Sishi assured Mr Letsie that the process of distributing funds to the NIHSS is in its final stages.

The Chairperson concluded the meeting by summarising the discontentment with the Minister’s delay in the presentation regarding the remuneration of Vice-Chancellors. She added that the Committee has shown concerns regarding the lack of allocated funds reaching the NIHSS timeously. She expressed her disappointment at the answers shared by members of DHET on questions posed concerning the future of the Comprehensive Funding Model. Without a greater plan in mind, and considering the general view that most regard the funding scheme as working towards being a bursary scheme, she said that there is little evidence that the Department is planning for the scheme to reach greater heights.

After concluding those comments, the meeting was adjourned.


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