South Africa’s Funding of Higher Education: The Case of the University of Limpopo

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LIMPOPO, South Africa —“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela in a 2003 speech. Human capital investment has been a major priority for the democratic government of South Africa. The country aims to ensure that the black population, which was economically disadvantaged by the apartheid system, becomes economically savvy, skillful and employable, like the rest of the country’s populace. To achieve this, the South African government has launched efforts such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

The NSFAS is the South African government’s student loan and bursary scheme that provides loans and bursaries to students at all of the country’s 25 public universities and 50 further education and training colleges, or FETs. Since 1991, the NSFAS has spent over 32.8 billion rand (approximately $3.07 billion U.S.), and in 2013 alone, a total of 843,566 students were given either a loan or a bursary.

Funding such as that made available by the NSFAS is meant for students who are unable to pay for higher education. In South Africa, a significant chunk of this funding goes to youth who live in rural areas, as this section of society has some of the poorest people in the country. One such rural setting, where the NSFAS has so far set aside 89 million rand (about $8.4 million U.S.) for 2014, is the University of Limpopo.

The university hosts two graduation ceremonies each year. Between 2007 and May 2014, it had 21,125 graduates. Records show that approximately 90 percent of these graduates stay in rural areas, and over two-thirds received NFSAS funding during their studies.

Professor Nehemiah Mokgalong, the vice chancellor and principal of the University of Limpopo, explicitly informs future and existing students about the availability of government funding for those who cannot meet the expenses but qualify for enrollment. Mokgalong emphasizes the precedence of knowledge attainment over its affordability. This is a testament to the South African government’s policy on empowering youth to be more knowledgeable and more specialized in their choice of profession, as well as the production of such individuals in large numbers.

Recent graduates of University of Limpopo.

Student Reporter

Recent graduates of University of Limpopo.

We carried out a mini-survey at the university, where 500 students were asked to share their thoughts on the NSFAS. Of those interviewed, 95 percent credited their ability to meet financial expenses to government assistance. Over 80 percent of the participants singled out the NFAS as their source of funds, and 78 percent indicated that they could not have been students had they not been funded by the government. Ninety-eight percent were youth from rural areas. This 98 percent also said they believed that the government’s priority for educating the entire population was a long-term investment whose benefits far outweigh the costs.

Sibusiso Sibuyi, a fourth-year student in education studies at the university, spoke on marketability and other positive effects that NSFAS brings to the student body. “My mother could not afford to bring me to [the university]. She could not afford to pay all my fees, and NSFAS met her halfway, and that allows me to study for a degree. Government funding helps a lot of students from disadvantaged families and rural areas.

“Soon I will be a teacher and can impart knowledge and contribute to the country’s development,” Sibuyi continues. “The scheme is making education accessible to every student who qualifies to enroll at an institution of higher learning, regardless of where you come from.”

However, African Economic Outlookpoints out that in South Africa, there is a large gap between what the universities produce and what the industry needs. The assessment article further notes that the high unemployment rate for graduates shows that the universities’ training has little relevance to the market and industry needs.

Statistics South Africa estimates that the unemployment rate of South Africa is currently at 25.2 percent for both educated and uneducated youth. In 2012, 3 million young people not in education, employment or training (or NEET) and 600,000 university graduates were unemployed. Furthermore, the quality of education in South Africa came under scrutiny in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report,which ranks the nation 127th out of 148 countries this year.

Even more disconcerting is that the country has been steadily dropping in this ranking since 2006, when it was 71st out of 122 countries. This implies that the investment by entities like the NSFAS have yet to make the intended systemic impact and is not yet economically profitable.

Additionally, the slow growth of the South African economy in recent years has meant non-proportional fund allocations to students in need. Likewise, an increase in the number of NSFAS beneficiaries — for example, from 7,220 in 1991 to 199,470 in 2012— has meant reduced funds for individual recipients. As a result, some students have to struggle to acquire an education. This has also affected their chances of getting employment, since students have their diplomas withheld until they settle their loans.

Nokuthula Mthethwa, a second-level student, says that in her first year the NSFAS scheme covered her tuition fees, paid for her residence and also assisted with meals, which was necessary because her parents could not afford to send her to the university. However, this year the scheme can pay her only 19,000 rand ($1,800 U.S.), which does not cover the previous benefits she had. With her outstanding balance and lack of any other support, her parents cannot afford to pay the remaining balance, and so she is considering dropping out.

Although there are problems in the government’s education system, it is important to note that significant progress has been made and that people are far better off than in the pre-1994 period. The creation of the NSFAS in 1996 is a key example. South Africa has a long way to go to make the quality of its education system competitive globally, but the country’s economy and social structures have benefited immensely from this investment. It has ensured that the black population and rural residents have increased their involvement in the country’s economy and can contribute their expertise.

University of Limpopo student at the library.

Student Reporter

University of Limpopo student at the library.

21 thoughts on “South Africa’s Funding of Higher Education: The Case of the University of Limpopo

  1. I got to say this is a perfect story.we want writers likes u who write abt things that affects us and that we experience

  2. also i am the student at the university on limpopo so to that am facing the same problem with NSFAS. AS A STUDENT FROM RURAL ARE i have no one to give me funds and i also have an outstading balance that at the end of the year i will no have the power to pay for that. i strugle to get food from my friend as to that i dont have meals fund from NSFAS the government has to look much on this issue to be resolved now.

  3. NESFAS has helped whole lots of student to study for a degree and graduate in flying colours. university of Limpopo is one of the university populated by rural area student and with NESFAS at help this student now have a chance to open door to they success. the money that NESFAS issues out for student to study for they degree of choice is an investment to the country development, I give credit to government for investing into the youth of our country and giving us a chance to excel in the academic and training arena because is of paramount importance to us.

  4. A big round of applauds for good reporting.As the student populace of University of Limpopo,we must not be subjected to propaganda.We cannot afford to celebrate the good causes of NSFAS under the financial exclusion our students are suffering in the academic year 2014.I say no to R19 000,and I call it financial exclusion as it does not afford to cover fees in any faculty,not to mention books,residence and meals.Why does it seem like our University is the only one hit hard by this financial exclusions?Let us forget not that there are many more students who failed to register this year because of outstanding balances.The question remains,what will happen to our students in 2015 registration period,because almost all the beneficiaries of NSFAS have outsatanding balances?

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  6. My name is selowa Julia first entering student at the University Of Limpopo studying BA (Admin).it is very hard for me as i come from a very poor faminly in a rural area.i was so exicted about coming to university this year even thought my family cannot afford fees.i had hope that nsfas will provide me with books, meals, accomodation and fees,but now am dissapointed because nsfas could not meet my tuition fees with the 19000 that they are giving us.as for meal i struggle every month because my father is pensioner.i cannot afford to buy books.i think next year i will go to work so that i can repay the university the debt that i have so that i can be able to register.

  7. Indeed there’s big gap between what institutions produce in South Africa and what the industries need out there, that’s why we are having high unemployment good story I salute Mr Mkansi

  8. my name is Tinyiko a student at the university of Limpopo doing my first year in B.Admin(local government), coming from a family of 7 with only my father working but failing to send me and my other siblings to varsity. i applied for NSFAS a sit is meant to assist students like me who come from the vast rural areas of Limpopo but that did not happen as my application was not successful as the scheme doesnt have enough funds and that means me and many like me were supposed to go back and stay at home which led my father to visisting the local loan sharks so i could atleasrt attain my qualification
    looking at the current status of NSAFA and its coviring of 50% of students in the country which means that many of our brothers and sisters especially those from disavantaged families like that of mine are either owing loan sharks just like my daddy or they are seated at home like the millions of graduates who are sleeping on their qualifications as there is high unemployement in the country and im afraid thats where me and others like my are going.

  9. Im a 2nd year student at the University of Limpopo persuing a degree in BSc(Molecular and life sciences)using the NSFAS loan as i am from a disadvantaged family. on my first year the loan payed R26000,00 and I had an outstanding balance of R8000 which my father had to pay. this year is not the case however as the loan only ,managed to cover me with R19000,00 and i have an outstanding balance of R1043,00 which my father again has to work hard and under pressure to ensure that I do not have a credit.
    according to me and the way I view this issue of NSFAS and looking at the rate of poverty in rural areas I would sa NSFAS is failing to reach its mandate, as this ear a lot oftudents were turned back as the scheme is broke and im afraid next year it could get worse.
    i also think the government should also try to balance the distance and difference between the money they put for education and for employment looking at the fact that since 1994 the government has done almost its best if not its best to educate its nation with education that cannot stand in th same ground with the quality of the education offered in other countries.

  10. Well Spoken….. The Government Must Intervene In This Matter Before It’s Too Late. I Foresee A Disaster Waiting To Happen Next Year.

  11. thumbs up Mr Mkansi,i am student at UL too and am so greateful to see that we have such well talented writors in our varsity,especially writing about every student’s burden(finance/NSFAS).WELL DONE BROER.KEEP ON WRITING GOOD STUFF LIKE THIS,ONE AY YOU GONNA REACH THE TOPPEST OF GREAT THINGS BECAUSE OF THIS.MAY GOD BLESS YOU TO FULFILL YOUR GRETAEST JOURNEY AND GREEN PASTURES.

  12. As the matter is already published, I hope & believe the government will do something in order for each & every student to register next year. If the government is failing us to whom can we rely to?

  13. A great job you did, we urgently need government intervention on this matter or the university is heading for a disaster for the next academic year. Students will either be forced to go home or starts a major strike in hope to get their accademic needs heard, we acknowledge the great work did by the NSFAS scheme during the previous years but we feel it is deeply failing us and failing what they are meant to do and is very surprising as it seems like is only UL that is facing such an issue.

  14. A great job you did, we urgently need government intervention on this matter or the university is heading for a disaster for the next academic year. Students will either be forced to go home or start a major strike in hope to get their academic needs heard, we acknowledge the great work did by the NSFAS scheme during the previous years but we feel it is deeply failing us and failing what they are meant to do and is very surprising as it seems like is only UL that is facing such an issue.

  15. A lot of people might find what i am about to say a little insensitive but of-course truth turns to be interpreted that way more often than not. The Article speaks highly of the good Job NSFAS is doing and i agree to a certain extend. It is everybody’s God given right to receive education in South Africa but it is not a God given right to get financial aid. The government needs to strike some balance between education and employment with that being said its no use to have more supply of graduates than what the market demands, i am in no way saying people should be turned back cause of lack of funding but what i am trying to say is that if people like Nkuba Maponya are fortunate to get 70% to 95% of their fees covered they shouldn’t be the ones screaming the loudest,they should be appreciate getting something at all cause there are those who were not as fortunate, i am just saying it could’ve been worse. and there could be no one to sue or blame cause as i have mentioned before it is not anyone’s right to get funding. if the government decides to cover 90% of your fees it means a couple more people get the same opportunity as you to study out of the 10% shortfall you are experiencing. yes it sounds unfair but look on the bight side someone else gets a fair chance to education.

    As for Government people finish their studies with NSFAS loans ready to hit the job market to repay it, but as i have mentioned before that the supply of graduates is way more than the demand people end up being listed as slow payers for failing to repay the loan that you granted to study as they add to the number of unemployed graduates. The more affordable education becomes, the more graduates we have, a measure should be in place to meet the supply of graduates cause the current situation is not addressing that. I am not saying government must employ every graduate for Job Creation, but there should be a working partnership between government and private sector to address this issue. It could be in the form of subsidy, projects, entrepreneurship set-up etc.

    Thank you for a great article Mr Mkansi

  16. indeed nsfas plays a major role to south african students, today the country has lot of gradutaes because of nsfas. some of them were not going to pursue their dreams if it wasn’t for nsfas. since the government is expiriencing a shortage of money for nsfas, the government need to come with a remedy so that at the end of the day more students will be funded and prevent future student protest against nsfas.

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