A total of 408,000 applications for full study funding have been received, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) told MPs on Wednesday.

Briefing Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, NSFAS officials said more than 90% of received applications have been validated.

A total of 258,000 applications were received from those wanting to study at universities while 149,000 potential students applied for bursaries to study at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

NSFAS confirmed and communicated funding for 117,000 students. A further 113,000 students have been assessed to meet funding criteria, pending confirmation of admission from the institutions.

The new funding arrangement, which will see students from households with an income of less than R350,000 receive free higher education, will be phased-in over a five year period for university students with the full cost of study being paid for student entering university for the first time.

Loans of existing students with a household income of less than R350,000 would be converted to bursaries, in line with a new mandate by government.

“Students who are admitted to TVET colleges and who meet the admission criteria in terms of performance and who are from a family earning less than R350,000 per annum will not pay tuition fees from 2018 onwards. Returning students wouldn’t need to apply to NSFAS, data to be exchanged between NSFAS and the Institutions,” a document submitted to Parliament by NSFAS said.

All students qualifying for funding will not be required to pay upfront fees. These fees would be paid as part of the first payment towards the tuition fee.

“Funding includes the actual cost of tuition”

In addition, all students who qualify for bursaries will sign a contract which will have binding obligations such as academic requirements and service requirements.

“The criteria of financial and academic eligibility will still apply in the new funding arrangement and academic eligibility implies the student has met the academic progression requirements and is accepted at the public higher institution of learning.

“Funding includes the actual cost of tuition, prescribed study materials, cost of accommodation, meals and basic requirements capped at a specific amount. Students may qualify for subsidised accommodation and living costs based on need determined by policies implemented at the institution level.”

Responding to concerns from MPs on outstanding debt by returning student, NSFAS said “debt institutions will be requested to register all NSFAS continuing students who have university debt in 2018”.

“A due diligence will be conducted to quantify the amount of debt owed by NSFAS students to the university. Subsidised accommodation and subsistence refer to the provision of the cost of accommodation, meals, basic living requirements capped at specific amounts according to policies defined by institutions,” said NSFAS.