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The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training has identified at least six key areas that the Department of Higher Education and Training needs to deal with in order to address insufficient student funding and limited access to tertiary education.

This emerged when the department and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) briefed the portfolio committee in Cape Town on Wednesday.

The committee said the department needs to take immediate action to increase NSFAS funding from the current R9.5 billion allocation for 2015; exercise control over university fees; investigate cost drivers at institutions of higher learning; monitor infrastructure development at universities and improve student enrolment processes and systems.

The meeting was attended by, among others, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana and NSFAS CEO Msulwa Daca.

The department briefed the committee on the enrolment and registration processes for the 2015 academic year, while NSFAS briefed them on the allocation of funds for students.

Portfolio committee chairperson Yvonne Phosa commended the department on the increase of funds for higher education and training. She, however, noted that the budget was still insufficient.

“While we agree that there has been some progress made with regards to both student access and funding at tertiary institutions, regardless of the challenges that have confronted the department, we are saying that this is a new year and we need to make further progress,” Phosa said.

She also stressed the need for the department to have some level of control over university fees.

“The fee structures of some universities are a stumbling block as the more fees grow, the more students cannot access higher education opportunities. Furthermore, we would like the department to speedily look at the cost drivers at universities because this leads to high fees.

“We would also like to have the department closely monitoring infrastructure development at universities. There needs to be infrastructure expansion so that universities can take more students in the coming years and such students have to be accommodated at university residences.”

Phosa said NSFAS must have an effective fundraising strategy. She also called for the timely payment of funds from the department to NSFAS and from the financial aid scheme to institutions.

“We would like to have NSFAS providing us with their fundraising strategy because we will use it as a measuring tool to monitor this area and to determine progress as far as fundraising is concerned.

“All these gaps need to be closed and we trust that the department will find a way so that we can have smooth running of the higher education system.” –