Less students get NSFAS
This week’s budget held up R16.3 billion in “reprioritised” state money to pay for some concessions made to the #FeesMustFall movement. The R16.3 billion is for three years and consists of:
R5.7 billion (over three years) to make up the loss of fee income due to the 0% increase concession. This goes straight to the 26 universities as an increase in their annual subsidy.
R2.5 billion (one-off) to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) to pay the debts of 71 753 students who studied between 2013 and last year.
R8 billion for Nsfas to improve its support for “underfunded” students already in the system.
A key part of the plan to avert the conundrum of underfunded students who get left in the lurch halfway through their studies is to simply fund fewer students.
Those who do get funding from Nsfas will, however, get more comprehensive support.
Among the expenditure estimates released with the national budget this week are Nsfas’ projections through to 2018.
The number of university students it supports this year will drop by 13% from 225 648 to 195 458.
The number of students at Vocational Education and Training colleges who get Nsfas aid will likewise drop by 10% – from 267 991 to 240 074.
This flows from “revised and more accurate forecasts on the number of students likely to be funded for full cost of study [including tuition, accommodation, books and meals] from available funds”, reads the document.
The intention is to start growing the number of supported students again, but the numbers will stay lower than last year beyond 2018.
Pravin Gordhan’s budget does try to fill the gap by proposing better tax breaks to employers who give bursaries to their workers or workers’ children.
Previously, tax breaks applied if the employee earned less than R250 000. Now it will become R400 000 – addressing the “missing middle”.
The tax break will apply to amounts up to R40 000 instead of R30 000 previously.
A comprehensive solution to the core demands for free university education is, however, far away, with proposals set for delivery next year.
A small part of the R16.3 billion came from the unspent cash pile of the Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas).
The Setas’ inability to spend the billions they receive from the Skills Fund makes them an obvious piggybank to tap for university funding into the future.
The Budget Review suggests this is exactly what might happen – just as the Seta system is undergoing a reform to centralised control of funds in national government.
“Government is examining whether the levy is the best way to support skills development, and whether funds raised can also be used to improve access to on-the-job training and post-school education,” reads the Budget Review.