Recent unrest sparked by students at universities about inadequate NSFAS (National Student Finance Assistance Scheme) funding have brought the question of support for students into sharp focus. In a country where the vast majority of tertiary students cannot afford university education, NSFAS is an important student financial aid intervention.
Though key, the relationship between universities and NSFAS must not be conflated. In terms of current arrangement, universities act as intermediaries between NSFAS and the student. The student enters into an agreement with NSFAS and not the University. UJ, as all other universities, gets an annual allocation from NSFAS to administer on their behalf. Universities have no influence on the amount allocated to them to administer. NSFAS provides rules which has to be applied in this administration process, the two overarching parameters are financial need and academic achievement.
This year, as with previous years, universities did not receive sufficient funds to assist all students who qualify for NSFAS funding.
Under these circumstances, universities have become an easy but inappropriate target for blame. However, the efforts of national government, through NSFAS, to assist needy but academically deserving students should not be scoffed at. While it is disappointing that the NSFAS funding is inadequate for all who need it, we know that without this assistance, a major part of the student population would not be able to afford post-school education.
Universities play their own role, alongside government and NSFAS to provide further and additional support to students. Below a brief illustration of the extent and type of further assistance that UJ provides.
UJ has apportioned the NSFAS allocation and in doing so the University assisted 7 463 students. 4 378 students who met the requirements and have an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) equating R0 could unfortunately not be assisted. This includes returning and first time entering students.
Says Mr Jaco van Schoor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Finance at UJ; “The University is deeply concerned about the significant number of academically deserving students that are excluded because of inadequate funding. To this end, UJ has positioned itself to be able to accommodate as many students as possible with available funding. Average fees at UJ are far lower than at peer institutions, and also lower than the maximum amount allocated by NSFAS per student. This means that the University is able to assist more students than our peers for the same amount allocated by NSFAS.”
The University is aware that socio-economic circumstance could hamper the successful studies of students. Hence, UJ puts tremendous effort in trying to mitigate these circumstances. This year, UJ augmented NSFAS funding with R 25 mil to assist qualifying NSFAS students who failed to receive funding from NSFAS due to the shortfall.
UJ has a very strong focus in obtaining more bursaries for students and continuously engages corporates, the SETAs, local and national government departments and the City of Johannesburg to fund students, in 2014 an amount of R209 mil was obtained for bursaries, R30 mil more than in 2013.
The University has a meal assistance scheme in partnership with Gift of the Givers, where the UJ Trust allocates R11 mil to provide approximately 2 100 students with a balanced meal, twice a day.
The University further contributes R15 mil to a free inter-campus bus service that allows students to commute between UJ’s four campuses.
The University, over and above the financial assistance mentioned, supports students’ academic needs through innovative teaching and learning initiatives. UJ’s First Year Experience Programme (FYE), with the emphasis on more than 1 300 student tutors mentoring fellow students, is designed to assist the school-to-university transition.
Due to the FYE programme the success rate for first-time entering undergraduate students was an astounding 84.4 % in 2014.
Our academic support programmes are bearing fruit and according to the South African Institute for Chartered Accountants’ (SAICA) Initial Test of Competence (ITC) results of 2014, UJ obtained a 95% pass rate. UJ’s candidates account for 15.5 % of the first time passes, making UJ the largest residential contributor of Chartered Accountant candidates in the country, a figure that has seen a steady growth year on year. UJ is also currently the biggest contributor of first time African Black candidate chartered accountants in the country with UJ’s students counting for 27% of the total successful African Black candidates.
The Next Generation Scholars Programme, funded by UJ, is a support initiative that enables postgraduate students to succeed at their studies without the distraction of financial anxieties. Upon completion of their studies, they are appointed as academic staff at the University.
The vast number of needy UJ students from previously disadvantaged communities and UJ’s continued supplement to NSFAS funding as well as academic support is testament to the University’s dedication to provide quality higher education access to all students, regardless of the communities and schools they come from