The government has finally agreed to provide free tertiary level education, but what is the practical effect of this move?
Contrary to the concerns of many, the short-term effects of the increased tertiary level education grant is not all bad. Many students who were previously unable to receive funding are now able to receive just that. So the prospects for their future get that much brighter. Winning! The overall effect is positive, both in the short and long term. However, there are some negative consequences that you should be aware of.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme
While the exact figure is yet to be announced, it is understood that the amount set aside in the budget for tertiary level education is set to increase significantly. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is now funding students whose annual family earnings is up to R350 000 where the limit was previously R122 000. This increase, however, has to come from somewhere. This is where the great story of free education has some glitches. One of the major negative impacts that has resulted from the provision of free education is the increase in tax (VAT from 14% to 15%). This was a move made in order to fund this new expenditure. It makes sense as increases in government spending are funded in one of three ways:
- The reduction of spending in other areas
- The increase in taxes (as we know too well)
- The issuing of debt
Rural Educational Access Programme (REAP)
Another negative impact this has had is it’s redistribution of funds away from government sponsored organisations. One of these organisations is the Rural Education Access Programme (REAP). REAP is an initiative that focuses on helping matriculants from rural communities get a tertiary level education. In the past they have been spear-heading this area by providing funding for students, however with the shift to free education their role has had to change. As they no longer receive as much funding from NSFAS, they now focus on providing support for these learners in the form of mentorship, workshops, counselling etc.
In order to apply to the programme, you will need to meet the following requirements:
- Learner from a rural school
- Your average Grade 11 mid-year results are 55% and above
- Total annual household income is below R122 000 (before tax and deductions)
- Be a South African citizen
- Be looking to study at a tertiary level institution
Applications for REAP support open annually in September and close on the 31st of January. This would be for people looking to start their studies the following year. Therefore students should start applying while they are in Grade 11. This is so that REAP may be able to assist students through their matric year, in deciding what and where to study.
The new process, where funding is done directly through NSFAS as opposed to through REAP, has both pros and cons. It is more efficient, as it effectively cuts out the middle man. Where REAP would previously receive funding from NSFAS and use these funds to give out bursaries, students are now able to receive this funding directly from NSFAS.
Where REAP helped students from poor rural areas, the additional funds allocated to NSFAS allow them to help all poor students. They are now able to fund the education of more students than they previously were able to and the accessibility seems to be just as good, if not better. A key question to ask is whether this reallocation has specifically disadvantaged rural students.
A key way in which rural students may now be negatively impacted is the lack of individual attention. Previously, students who performed well would be approached by volunteers who would assist the potential candidates with application and career advice, etc. While NSFAS provides similar opportunities for students, the key difference would be the scale, as doing this on a nation-wide level versus specific rural communities is significantly more difficult.
How the NSFAS Process Works
- Decide what and where you would like to study
- Apply for the NFSAS grant online, or at an institution. Preferably online. If you are unable to apply online then you can apply through an institution.
- Apply to REAP once you are at an institution to get access to a small stipend
Based on your household income you may be given a full grant that caters to all costs including:
- Book Allowance
- Travel Allowance
If your parents earn above a certain amount, there will be an EFC (Expected Family Coverage) involved. This is where NSFAS covers a portion of the costs and the rest would need to be paid by the student/ student’s family.
Applicants who do get accepted to an institution and receive NSFAS funding get to go on to apply with REAP to receive a small stipend. This stipend would be to give the learner a little extra spending money. The main benefit of applying to REAP would be the personalised attention received through the mentorship, counselling and workshops. Despite the fact that free education has had an impact on the funding system, programmes such as REAP still have significant value to offer learners.