Class of 2022: Increase in demand for places, financial aid

Universities in South Africa are finalising first-year applications as, on 16 January, the quality assurance body, Umalusi, approved the results of the school-leaving examination written at the end of 2022.

The results have been electronically and confidentially released to higher education institutions to move the process forward quickly as the official announcement by the South African Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, has been scheduled for 19 January, and individual results of the Class of 2022 – the largest cohort to date in South Africa – will be released at examination centres on Friday, 20 January.

Umalusi said that, although there were incidents of cheating, its evaluation found there were no systemic irregularities that would compromise the credibility or integrity of the examination results.

Umalusi chairperson, Professor Yunus Ballim, announced that the National Senior Certificate examinations administered by the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute, Independent Examinations Board, and the South African Department of Basic Education had met Umalusi evaluation criteria.

Umalusi sets and monitors standards for general and further education and training in South Africa in accordance with the National Qualifications Framework Act No 67 of 2008 and the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act No 58 of 2001.

Rush for university places

The size of the cohort – 921,879 pupils made up of 753,964 full-time and 167,915 part-time candidates – is expected to increase the demand for places at universities and technical and vocational education and training colleges (TVETs), alongside an increased demand for financial aid.

In November 2022, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the financial support scheme for tertiary students in South Africa, said it had forecast a 7% increase in bursary applications for 2023.

But the student financial granting body also expects a shortfall of ZAR1.5 billion (US$89.6 million), it said at the time.

In a presentation to the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation, the fund said it had budgeted ZAR40 billion for 559,226 students at a cost of ZAR69,987 per student in the new year. Of these, 394,115 will be applications from continuing students, and 165,111 from new applicants, including 156,080 new first-time students and 9,031 senior students.

Regarding TVET colleges, the fund expects 337,224 students to apply for bursaries in 2023, costing ZAR8.8 billion, with a R1.9 billion shortfall.

The fund expects to provide bursaries for 250,000 students at 50 TVETs and 26 universities, with about 550 000 beneficiaries at 26 public universities.

Fintechs to help with payments

NSFAS will make direct payments of allowances into student bank accounts via four fintech companies engaged to assist with the disbursement of funds.

For the university sector, three institutions – UNISA (the University of South Africa), the University of Fort Hare and the University of Limpopo – were approached by NSFAS for a pilot to test the system.

But NSFAS said that the current challenges, related to the existing methods, require mainly the use of beneficiaries’ personal information and contact details to function.

Beneficiaries were subsequently targeted because of available and unlawful ways to obtain such information.

Thus, challenges became prevalent: unauthorised access to beneficiary allowances. Fraudsters solicited beneficiary information through social engineering, malicious websites and social media pages, with insufficient cyber security resulting in exposed beneficiary data and theft of allowances.

To streamline the process of allowance payments, the scheme sought a secure solution to ensure that all NSFAS beneficiaries receive allowances directly from NSFAS, ensuring they are paid on time. The process is in place and will commence soon.

Student unrest

Professor Marianna Phutsisi, the president of the South African Public Colleges Organisation, said it was concerned that NSFAS still has no plan to pay a project management fee to colleges to administer student allowances, which could result in student unrest.

Student unrest during the start of the academic year has become a feature of the South African tertiary landscape, often due to a lack of financial aid for poor students.

The South African Union of Students (SAUS) said Students Representative Councils had raised concerns regarding NSFAS’ preparations for the 2023 academic year.

These include delays in getting systems in place to implement changes in the NSFAS process – and the timely release of student allowances.