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Financial Aid

On 16 December 2017, the President announced that government would be introducing “fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South Africans” and that this would be provided through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to first year students in 2018.

In order to give effect to the President’s announcement, the current DHET General Fund for poor South African students to access university education administered by NSFAS, has been strengthened, extended and converted into a bursary scheme for poor and working class South Africans. The DHET Bursary Scheme will be phased in over a period of five years starting in 2018.

The President announced that “government will now introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South African undergraduate students, starting in 2018 with students in their first year of study at our public universities”.

What this means is that in 2018 the DHET Bursary Scheme will only be introduced for new first time entry students (FTEN) into undergraduate studies at public higher education institutions.

Over the five-year period from 2018 through to 2022, the scheme will be phased in to cover all years of study in undergraduate degrees.

In 2018, the FTEN students will benefit fully from the new scheme. Each year going forward, the next group of FTEN students will benefit from the scheme. Within five years, students in all years of undergraduate study in all programmes will benefit from the scheme.

An FTEN is a person who has never been registered at any university in the system before, and is entering the university at an undergraduate level for the first time and for their first undergraduate qualification.

This person may have studied at a TVET college and been supported for that qualification before.

There is no age restriction on being an FTEN student. Anyone with the required academic background who is admitted to study in a public higher education institution and meets the criteria for financial assistance will receive funding.  

Note that a firm offer of a place to study, which requires an application to a public university, is a critical prior condition for qualifying for funding. Only students with firm offers can be considered for bursaries.

From 2018 onwards, prospective South African FTEN university students who have received a firm offer of a space at, or confirmation of admission into, a public higher education institution and who meet the criteria for financial assistance as coming from a “poor and working class” family, will be eligible for funding.

Prospective students must be South African citizens to be eligible.

Prospective students must have received a firm offer from a public higher education institution, and must accept that offer to register for a first tertiary qualification, in order to qualify for funding.

“Poor and working class” means that the prospective student comes from a family with a gross household income of up to R350 000 per annum.

The “household income” is calculated only in terms of the direct family income (i.e. parents, legal guardians or spouse) of the prospective student. It does not include the income of extended family members (e.g. brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents), if these are not their legal guardians.

The relevant family members (i.e. parents, legal guardians or spouse) of any prospective student who applies for the DHET bursary funding will be required to give consent for NSFAS to undertake a means test to verify that the prospective student qualifies for funding, before the award can be made.

All eligible students will be provided with a bursary that covers the actual cost of their tuition, plus a NSFAS determined allowance for prescribed learning materials.

The actual cost of tuition means the tuition fee for the specific programme that the student is registered for at an institution; these tuition fees differ depending on the field of study (e.g. engineering, medicine, art, history, etc.) and the institution attended.

Prescribed learning materials includes the learning materials required for the actual courses taken – for example, a fine art student may require paint/brushes/canvasses; a graphics design student may require a laptop with a specific software package; a pure mathematics student will require a textbook, etc. Institutions will work with NSFAS to define the packages for different fields of study. The amount provided per student will be capped. It is expected that the prescribed materials will be the minimum needed by the student to enable their success; students will access additional and desired learning support material through university libraries and additional resources available to registered students, such as online open-learning materials.

DHET bursary students may be eligible for subsidised accommodation and living costs including meals.

If a student is eligible, this will be awarded as part of the bursary.

Subsidised accommodation and subsistence refers to the following: government provides the cost of accommodation, meals and basic living requirements capped at a specific amount for those who require it based on the policy implemented at an institutional level.

Accommodation will be capped at defined institutional accommodation rates. Where meals are not included in the cost of accommodation, a separate standard allowance (determined by NSFAS) will be made available to cover food and basic necessities required to support the students’ studies. Accommodation will be provided in terms of the university housing policy.

Universities are best placed to make a determination on the applications for travel, subsistence and accommodation allowances. Eligible students who have obtained accommodation in university managed student accommodation (including operational leases for student accommodation between the university and a service provider) will automatically qualify.

Qualifying students who have been identified as eligible for student housing in terms of the university’s student housing policy, but due to limited residence space cannot be accommodated in university managed accommodation, may be eligible for an allowance for suitable off-campus private accommodation after official confirmation from the university that the student qualifies. NSFAS may require confirmation from the university that the accommodation is suitable for student use.

A set of criteria will be applied at each institution to identify which of these students will qualify to receive subsidised accommodation and food and/or transport.  

In general, qualifying students whose home address is within a radius of 30 kilometres from the university campus would not be considered for an award for an accommodation allowance. These students may be considered for an award for travel and/or subsistence allowances. However, it is recognised that some students whose home address is within this radius may require accommodation where living conditions are not conducive to support effective study. Universities will identify these students for support in terms of their housing policies.

If a prospective student qualifies for a bursary, they will have to sign a contract with binding conditions.

Accepting DHET bursary funding will not require a beneficiary to pay back the funds in monetary terms. However, it does require that the beneficiary meets and maintains certain academic conditions/criteria, as well as service requirements for the duration of the study period, as well as a commitment to the country over the longer term.

Any graduate funded through the DHET Bursary scheme who wishes to emigrate to live in another country will be required to pay back the funds before they leave the country.

Some of the conditions are:

·         In the first year of study, it is the responsibility of the student to focus on their studies and to acclimatise themselves to university life in a responsible and disciplined manner;

·         In the first year of study and every year thereafter, the student must comply with the following academic requirements:

o   Attend and participate in lectures, tutorials and academic support programmes as required by the institution;

o   Complete all set assignments and/or tasks as required in terms of the due performance requirements of the Institution;

o   Undergo all tests and examinations (written and oral) as required in terms of the due performance requirements of the institution;

o   Obtain satisfactory results for the above-mentioned assignments, tasks, tests and examinations; and

o   Meet the progression requirements of the institutions, as well as passing at least 50% of all courses in the first year of study, and passing sufficient courses in subsequent years to enable them to complete their studies in the minimum number of years plus one year (n + 1 years of study) [i.e. maximum of two years of study for a one year higher certificate; three years of study for a two year diploma; four years of study for a three year degree or diploma; five years of study for a four year degree; seven years of study for a six year degree].

·         In their second year of studies and all subsequent years until completion, students will, in addition to their academic studies, comply with the following service requirement:

o   Participate in a minimum of 10 days (80 hours) of community service or special project work, of the student’s own choosing from a wide range of possibilities, the purpose of which is to inculcate a culture of giving back and working towards the betterment of our country.

o   The service could include, but is not limited to, volunteering to participate in an environmental clean-up project; volunteering to assist at an ECD centre by reading stories/playing games with young children; assisting early grade teachers by listening to young children read; volunteering to visit an old age home and spending time conversing with older citizens or any other tasks required; volunteering at a hospital or clinic to assist the nursing staff with whatever tasks required as an extra pair of hands; volunteering in a library to assist with any tasks required; volunteering to participate in a community watch programme to ensure the safety of citizens, etc. This service will be offered free of charge.

o   The student may undertake this work at any time during the year, in their vacation time, over weekends, or during the term time in afternoons or mornings where they do not have classes or tutorials to attend.

o   The student must submit a report confirming participation, signed by the manager of the programme supported, once a year.

o   Confirmation of participation is a requirement for continued funding in the following year.

·         In addition to the above, the student, once they have completed their studies and graduated, must undertake to remain in the country and participate in the economy in whichever way is most opportune for them, for at least the number of years they have been funded. Students who wish to undertake further studies in another country may be permitted to do so, as long as they commit to returning to South Africa and work for at least the length of time they were funded. Any graduate funded through the scheme who wishes to emigrate within this time frame will be required to pay back the funds before they leave the country.

NSFAS will apply a means test to determine the financial need of a student. The means test takes into account the combined direct gross household income of up to R350 000 per annum. The means test will be undertaken through the consent of the applicant and his/her parents/legal guardians/spouse for NSFAS to verify the household income.

Prospective students from families who are recipients of child support grants or disability grants administered through SASSA will automatically qualify for funding and will not have to undergo a means test.

All other students, no matter which school they attended, will be assessed using the NSFAS means test to verify that the applicant is eligible for the DHET bursary.

Yes you may be eligible for top up funding, if you meet the academic and financial eligibility requirements.

Government and NSFAS encourages the private sector and other funders, including foundations, other national and provincial departments, etc. to continue to provide bursaries and scholarship to students studying in the university system.

First time entry students in 2018 who come from households with incomes of up to R350 000, who have been awarded bursaries or scholarships from other funders, will not qualify for full NSFAS bursaries. However, NSFAS will consider financial aid to these students on a ‘top-up’ basis if they are not fully funded through their bursary or scholarship. NSFAS will work with universities to ensure that these students are effectively funded and that there is no “double dipping”.

NSFAS will not be reopening applications. However, NSFAS and universities have put a process in place to ensure that students with firm offers from universities identify themselves to the university as a student from a family earning a joint gross household income of up to R350 000 per annum.

You need to go to the financial aid office at your institution and identify yourself.

Each student will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis between universities and NSFAS.

You will be required to submit all relevant supporting documentation as per the NSFAS’s criteria. If found eligible, you will be funded.