Plea goes out for boost to varsity funds

Zandile Mbabela and Mkhululi Ndamase

THE Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University is on a mission to talk the financially ailing National Student Financial Aid Scheme into funding more of its students.

The move follows a notable drop in the number of students granted study loans by the government scheme this year.

The university is concerned that only 15% of first-year students who applied for financial assistance were successful, while 72% of returning students secured continued funding.

NMMU’s first-year students headed to registration halls yesterday amid a national call by the SA Students’ Congress (Sasco) for a mass protest over the lack of funds from the government scheme.

Sasco president Ntuthuko Makhombothi said on Sunday the organisation was not happy with the funding allocated by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Sasco also vowed to disrupt registration at universities this week.

NSFAS has conceded that they are buckling under the pressure to fund students in the country’s 25 universities and 50 FET colleges, saying it was difficult to meet the increasing demand for funding.

Executive officer Msulwa Daca said despite an increase in funding this year, the organisation would still be able to fund only half the number who had applied.

“Even though our budget has increased dramatically from R3.1-billion in 2009 to R8.3-billion in 2013, this is still not enough to keep pace with the number of students who need assistance,” he said.

Daca said for last year’s funding, the scheme ended up R2.6-billion short on student funding.

“Our 2014 budget will be over R9-billion for more than 430000 students at all public universities and FET colleges.

“The rise in fees, which is decided by each university, causes further problems in a context where funds are limited,” Daca said.

While NMMU’s registration went ahead hassle-free yesterday, there were disruptions at four of Walter Sisulu University’s seven registration venues across four campuses.

NMMU Sasco president Luzuko Ntshongwana said although members there would not take part in the mass protest, they fully supported the call and would submit a petition to Sasco.

It would then be handed to Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande and the NSFAS.

NMMU spokeswoman Roslyn Baatjies said out of the university’s 2394 first-year applicants, 365 were granted funding from the R20-million budget allocated to the university for first-year students.

For senior students, 3231 out of 4481 students could continue their studies on the scheme.

“NMMU is concerned by the decrease in the number of students who are being assisted by NSFAS.

“We hope that by continuing engaging with the scheme, more of our students will get the financial assistance from them that they applied for,” Baatjies said.

There were also students who qualified for financial aid but were not funded, she added.

WSU Sasco regional chairman Misheck Mugabe said the executive was waiting for students to give them direction on how to proceed after heeding their call and disrupting registration.

He said Sasco “cannot rest until student issues are attended to”.

The universities said complaints about the financial aid scheme came through every year.

WSU spokeswoman Angela Church said NSFAS funding always fell short of demand at the university, which had received 14500 NSFAS applications.

University of Fort Hare spokeswoman Zintle Filtane said of more than 10000 applications for funding received, 6151 had so far been processed. Of these, 5068 had been granted loans.

“There have been problems [with the scheme annually] and we are currently dealing directly with NSFAS in order to solve these problems,” Filtane said.

Registration at Fort Hare went ahead with no disruptions yesterday, the university’s Sasco East London branch chairman Oscar Jamaar said.