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Statement on student funding, financial aid

- Wits University

Statement from Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal:

The higher education sector is at risk due to a lack of substantial funding from the state and other societal actors. The amount of funding available for students in South Africa wanting to pursue tertiary education is inadequate and well below that of international norms in similar developing countries. This is a national, systemic problem that should be addressed at the highest levels of government if we are committed to investing in the future of our country.

We recognise that the funds allocated by the state to the National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has quadrupled over the last five years to R9.5 billion. Despite this, the demand for financial aid still outstrips the availability of funds dedicated to higher education study.

Wits, like other higher education institutions in the country, administers funds on behalf of NSFAS. The amount of money allocated to universities from NSFAS in 2015 is limited and universities have been explicitly instructed not to overspend on the amounts allocated to them.

For 2015, Wits has been allocated R179 million by NSFAS, of which approximately R152 million has been offered predominantly to returning students. The R152 million has been offered to approximately 2 090 returning students and 330 new, first year students. It is anticipated that by the completion of registration in mid-February that Wits will have offered NSFAS funding to about 450 additional students. In total, NSFAS packages will be allocated to about 2 870 students at Wits this year.

The University will continue processing NSFAS applications as registration takes place over the next few weeks.

Wits has consistently awarded the most number of bursaries and scholarships in the country to its students, according to data collected by the Ministerial Committee on the Funding of Universities. Last year, Wits administered about R828 million in student funding which it obtained from various internal and external sources including NSFAS, bursaries, scholarships, governments and the private sector.

The University must also stress that it informed students several times last year that they should prepare to pay their fees should there be insufficient funding from NSFAS. Other issues which are surfacing are that many students did not apply, or did not apply on time, while others submitted incomplete information which resulted in their applications not being processed timeously.

There is definitely a need for more financial aid for students throughout the country and rather than directing misguided anger towards universities, we should be approaching NSFAS, government and other sectors of society to collectively invest in developing the high level skills that our country and continent desperately requires.

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