Universities South Africa (USAF), the umbrella body of higher education institutions, says it will be watching with concern the Budget Speech on Wednesday, hoping for no further cuts in university subsidies.

Chief Executive Officer Professor Ahmed Bawa says there has been a steady decline in student funding by the government for the past 10 years.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni is tabling his Budget on Wednesday with an expected deficit of up to 13%.

In an environment of the FeesMustFall movement, student demands for non-payment of registration fees, and students struggling to commit to payment of fees, government funding on the other hand has been declining.

USAF says its other mandate is to advocate and campaign for an adequately funded higher education sector.

Bawa says they hope for no further cuts in the budget.

“There are four areas we are anxious about, the first one is the cut of subsidies to universities. We are hoping that the subsidy levels will not be cut this year. There was a slight cut for 2020/21 and we are hoping for 2021/22 that there won’t be any further cuts. This is particularly important because in the last 10 years or more, the subsidy levels for students have been on a slight decline, and therefore, we are deeply concerned that there should be further cuts on the subsidy.”

Last year, 5 000 students who were previously funded by NSFAS were taken off the system: 

Economists say the government is generally expected to reduce spending to affirm its fiscal consolidation path, therefore, sending a good signal to investors that it is serious about stabilising the debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio.

Economist at the University of the Western Cape, Professor Johannes Sheefeni has warned institutions of higher learning to expect a declining allocation from government.

“The sector will not receive the same amount that it has received pre-COVID-19 or the previous years when COVID-19 was not known to us, and so this also then calls for institutions of higher learning to reprioritise their spending, their in-house spending. Most institutions, in fact, started doing that last year. So, they must continue on the same path so as to help make the foundation of sustainability moving forward.”

There has been an increase in the number of students who have applied for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) at Universities and TVET colleges for the 2021 academic year with 750 000 students having applied. On its website, NSFAS says this is an increase of 185 000 students.