There was both good and bad news when Finance Minister Tito Mboweni presented his revised Medium Term Budget Policy Statement. The policy document outlines the budget that the government has for the tax it expects to collect over the next three years, and it’s plans on how best to spend that money. The impact on the economy has been severe with many business sectors having to close for an extended period to ensure social distancing.
The Finance Minister presented the government’s reviewed income and expenditure plans to parliament today.
The plans confirm that the post-school education and training sector will receive R118.7 billion in the current financial year. This will increase only very slightly to R119.7 billion next year, then R123,0 billion and R124,9 billion in the following years.
Such a low increase doesn’t seem to even include space for a cost of living salary increase for employees.
Minister Mboweni confirmed in his speech that the spending allocated to the Student Housing Fund will continue and that is expected to benefit 300 000 students.
However there was a subtle reference in the Minister’s policy statement to a review of the funding available to university and college students. This was not mentioned in the Minister’s speech.
“To ensure sustainability of the post-school education and training sector, changes in the pace of enrolment at universities and TVET colleges, as well as the coverage of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme bursaries, are likely”.
Previous policy announced by the government had projected only a modest increase in university numbers over the coming years from the 1 070 000 currently to 1 094 000 in the 2021/22 financial year.
TVET College numbers had been projected to stay the same, but the number of those students who were receiving financial support was budgeted to increase from 484 111 to 569 380.
Since 2017 those who qualify for a place at a university or college, and who pass the financial means test, are eligible for full funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
Another impact of the increase in funding for students has been a significant increase in young students enrolling at Unisa. While the university was originally intended for older students who are employed elsewhere while they are studying – Unisa has become very popular with Matrics who have just left school but couldn’t secure a place at a full-contact university. There are currently more than 407 000 students registered at Unisa.
Minister Blade Nzimande announced in July this year that an investigation into Unisa and its role with younger students was underway, looking into what was referred to as the ‘mission drift’ at the institution.
Any changes to student funding will not impact the current class of matrics who will start writing their final exams within a week. Applications for funding from NSFAS for the coming financial year are currently open and those wanting to study next year have until the end of November to apply online for funding.
Medium Term Budget Policy Statement:
National Department of Higher Education and Training:
The more you understand yourself, the more silence there is, the healthier you are. —Maxime Lagacé