The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology has welcomed the new funding guidelines for postgraduate students. The Department of Science and Innovation and the National Research Foundation (NRF) briefed the committee and revealed that funding was not sufficient to cover all of the department’s objectives.

The committee heard that eligible students were not funded solely due to the lack of funds. It also heard that the current guidelines aim to fund 1% of students with disabilities. The original target was 4% and was reduced to 1% after an analysis of the data showed that of all the applications received, only 0.8% were from students with disabilities.

The Chairperson of the committee, Ms Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, said the committee welcomed the interventions to ensure that black South African students are funded. “We commend the department and the NRF for achieving this. It is a progressive stance that financial need had been factored into funding this group of students. As a country, we are not in a point where we could shy away from the triple challenges of oppression.”

Ms Mkhatshwa said the funding policy needs to be intentional and progressive in order to effect the required transformation of the sector. It is important to mainstream demographic representation, she said, adding there needs to be a political intervention from the ministry to ask the National Treasury to increase funding. “The demand for postgraduate funding will continue to increase, as the outcomes improve from undergraduate. We are conscious of the difficulties in terms of the budget.”

On the drop from 4 to 1% on funding of the post graduate students with disabilities, Ms Mkhatshwa wanted to know if the problem was attributable to the lack of demand or unawareness about the funding. The NRF and the Department of Science told the committee that there is more to be done to identify these students. The department committed itself to working closely and directly with universities for the identification of these students and to encourage them to apply.

The Director-General of the department, Dr Phil Mjwara, told the committee that the department will develop a better strategy and plan to meet that target.

The committee heard about various funding programmes, including the Black Academic Advancement Programme, the New Generation of Academic Programme (nGAP) and Thuthuka. It heard that the priority to award full cost of study bursaries is to ensure that financially needy and academically sound students are able to finish their studies from undergraduate degrees. It is to retain these students in the system and not lose them due to financial constraints. The intention is to fully fund postgraduate students, but this is not possible and necessitates partial funding.

The committee heard that centralisation of funding under one roof and clearing of student debt needs some thinking and political intervention. The funding framework will be shared with the committee in a follow-up engagement and that there will be interactions with the funding entities.

Dr Mjwara said the department took note of the issues and said they did not have answers to some of the committee’s questions at the moment. NRF’s Chief Executive Officer, Prof Fulufhelo Nelwamondo, said there were limitations on the funding side. “We do not have resources to take us where we want to be.” Entities undertook to submit written responses within seven days to questions that were not responded to at the meeting.

Sibongile Maputi
6 September 2021