Government has announced additional funding for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to address the funding shortfall for the 2021 academic year.

Although the government says protests by Wits students did not force it to release more funding, Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande says they have agreed to prioritise funding for all deserving first year students.

Students at Wits University have been protesting against the financial exclusion of poor students and threatened to shut down the institution until their demands were met, including that all students with historical debt be allowed to register for the 2021 academic year.

Wits University earlier said that if it continued to accept students who had historical debt, the institution would become financially unsustainable. The university said it was owed R1 billion in outstanding fees accumulated over the past seven years.

Post Cabinet briefing, tertiary education funding update:

Wits University said it has made available R20 million for students who are facing financial hardship and R100 million has been allocated to financial aid through bursaries and scholarships.

Wits University Spokesperson, Shirona Patel, says the so-called missing middle remains a challenge.

“These are students who have accumulated debt because they cannot pay and they do not qualify for NSFAS. (They) accumulated debt over the years. If we continue to accept students with this historical debt it means that the university will become financially unsustainable.”

“We do not want to be bailed out by the government. We want to be a financially sustainable organisation. Yes, we want to keep the doors open for as many people as possible, but we do have limited resources. What this means is calling on the private sector and public sector to support those students in the missing middle,” explains Patel.