Financial aid for 2018 and appeals for assistance regarding fees debt from 2017

07 February 2018 | From the VC’s Desk

Dear students

1. Financial aid at UCT

For many years the University of Cape Town (UCT) has made and fulfilled a commitment to fund every academically deserving undergraduate student in financial need. In 2016 a total of R626 million was provided for undergraduate financial aid at UCT. These funds came from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS); UCT’s own funds; and corporate, government and philanthropic sponsors. Furthermore, for 2017, in addition to financial aid for 2017 fees and support, UCT committed to assisting financial-aid students who had outstanding fees from 2016, if we judged them to be genuinely unable to clear their debts, and if they agreed on a payment plan. This covered students who were close to graduating, or could progress to the next academic year of study, but were prevented from doing so due to outstanding fee debt. Our preliminary analysis shows that in 2017 a total of R738 million was committed to undergraduate financial aid and assisting with historical debt, with the biggest increases coming from UCT’s own funds, funds raised from donors and corporate sponsorships.

1.1 The impact of the president’s announcement on free education

In December 2017 President Jacob Zuma announced that the household income threshold for government financial aid will be increased from R122 000 to R350 000 for first-time-entering students. The threshold for students already at university will remain at R122 000. Both these 2018 first-time-entering students and the NSFAS students admitted in earlier years will now receive grants to cover the full cost of study, whereas NSFAS previously provided loans at the national average cost of study. This is all extremely good news for poor and working-class students, and we will ensure that this policy is implemented at UCT.

UCT financial aid in 2018 now falls into two categories: NSFAS funding for first-time-entering students from households earning up to R350 000 and for pre-existing students up to R122 000; and GAP funding for households above the NSFAS threshold (R350 001 to R600 000) for first-time-entering students and above the R122 000 threshold for pre-existing students (in the GAP from R122 001 to R600 000). The GAP funding is exclusively funded by UCT. Therefore, the UCT financial offering still extends substantially above the amount that government offers for students in need. Furthermore, UCT offers a sibling rebate for households who earn up to R750 000 if there is more than one student studying at UCT. As a result of the timing of the president’s announcement, which came long after the closure of NSFAS applications, NSFAS will accept late applications from first-time-entering students, but these have to be submitted via the universities. The Student Financial Aid Office will assist first-time-entering undergraduate students with applications if they have not yet applied to NSFAS. Application forms can be collected from the Student Financial Aid Office in the Kramer Building or at the Sports Centre during the registration period.

NSFAS will not accept late applications sent directly; all applications must be managed through the Student Financial Aid Office. The closing date for submission of application forms to the Student Financial Aid Office is 22 February 2018.

1.2 Government funding to cover 2018 fee increases

Government, through the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), will subsidise the fee increase, which was capped at 8%, for all qualifying registered students with gross family income up to R600 000 per annum in 2018. Both undergraduate and postgraduate South African students may claim this credit to cover the fee increases. The DHET grant will cover the 8% increases in 2017 and in 2018 (tuition and university-managed accommodation only). This grant will reflect as a credit note on student accounts once eligibility has been determined and validated. 

All students who are eligible for NSFAS funding or for UCT’s financial aid, or received the 8% credit in 2017, are automatically eligible for this grant and will not have to apply (these students have already been means tested). In addition, students from quintile 1, 2 and 3 high schools will automatically be eligible for the grant. All other students who believe they are eligible will have to apply for the grant on a DHET application form. The application form must be completed and sent back to the Student Financial Aid Office with supporting documents.

Qualifying criteria for the DHET grant are available on the grant application. Note that no retrospective applications can be made.

What you need to do: Please complete the DHET application form...

1.3 Laptop project for undergraduate NSFAS students

In 2017 UCT introduced a programme to provide laptops to all NSFAS-eligible first-time-entering students (GAP-funded students were not included). In view of the announcement by the president raising the income threshold for NSFAS funding, in order to maintain consistency, laptops will now also be available to first-time-entering students who are funded by NSFAS up to R350 000. Additional laptop orders have been placed with various suppliers, and we hope that by end of February 2018 all identified NSFAS first-time-entering students will have their laptops. Eligible students will receive an email to inform them of the laptop collection details.

1.4 The Ikusasa student financial aid programme

The Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP) is a partnership between government and the private sector to provide financial and wrap-around support to designated “missing middle” students (ie gross family income of less than R600 000). The ISFAP pilot programme was implemented in 2017 for students studying medicine, occupational therapy, actuarial science and engineering. For 2018 ISFAP will include physiotherapy students. The programme will assist approximately 180 students in their first and second years of study at UCT. The university supports all initiatives that provide financial and other support to students that would otherwise not have had an opportunity to realise their academic ambitions.

2. Appeals for funding in 2018 that have been stopped due to poor academic performance in 2017

It needs to be emphasised that every financial-aid sponsor – including NSFAS, UCT and corporate sponsors – have minimum standards that students must meet in order to be guaranteed continued funding. NSFAS in particular requires students to pass at least 50% of their courses to secure funding for the following year. Furthermore, NSFAS only funds students for what is referred to as N+2 years (normal duration of the degree plus an additional two years). However, at UCT we may fund financial-aid and GAP students for an additional year (ie N+3 years) if they are potential graduates in their last year of study. As academic performance is a crucial requirement stipulated by most funders, it is therefore important for students to ensure that they can demonstrate their efforts and commitment to improving their academic performance to secure continued funding.

If a student on NSFAS in 2017 failed to pass at least 50% of their courses, and is therefore not eligible for NSFAS funding in 2018, they must nevertheless appeal to NSFAS in the first instance to have their funding continued, provided they have not exceeded the N+2 limit.

What you need to do: Submit the NSFAS appeal form to the Student Financial Aid Office at UCT. The appeal form will be made available on the financial aid page on the Department of Student Affairs website.

If a student was on GAP funding and failed to pass at least 50% of their courses, they should also fill in the appeal form and submit this to the Student Financial Aid Office.

Students who are within N+3 years of funding and who are 2018 finalists, ie will graduate if they pass all their courses in 2018, will receive UCT-financed financial aid or GAP funding, as per normal funding rules. N+3 students will automatically be processed by the Student Financial Aid Office, and need not submit any appeal.

3. Appeals for undergraduate students with outstanding fees at the end of 2017

UCT does not normally allow students to graduate or to register for the following year of study if they have outstanding fees owed at the time of graduation or registration. However, if students are unable to clear their fee debt in time for registration, they may appeal to have the debt converted into a loan in order to register. This is not automatic and is considered on an individual basis. In some cases a grant may be made to cover part of the debt. Students will usually have to sign an acknowledgement of debt form. For students who were on NSFAS in 2017, the DHET will underwrite the acknowledgement of debt based on their own due diligence procedures.

3.1 Students with fee debt from 2017 who were on NSFAS or GAP funding in 2017 and are academically eligible for NSFAS or GAP funding in 2018

Students with fee debt from 2017 can approach the Student Financial Aid Office directly for assistance towards their fee debt. NSFAS students from higher-income households who are expected to pay a higher expected family contribution (EFC) will be expected to contribute a greater share towards their outstanding fees, while poorer students may be assisted in full.

What you need to do: Students must visit the Student Financial Aid Office where staff will assist them based on qualifying criteria. If funding is granted to enable the student with a fee block to register, the student will have to sign an admission of debt agreement, underwritten by the DHET.

3.2 Debt appeals for students not previously on financial aid or GAP funding (including appeals from students who have not been means tested)

Students who have outstanding 2017 debt, but have not been means tested, can send an appeal which will be considered on merit and subject to budget availability. These appeals will be means tested, and successful students will be requested to pay their EFC.

What you need to do: The financial aid appeals form is available on the financial aid page on the Department of Student Affairs website. All completed forms must be submitted to the Appeals Committee via by 14 February 2017 at the latest. Students should mark the subject heading as “Non-financial aid / GAP student appeal” followed by their student number. If funding is awarded to enable a student with a fee block to register, the student will be required to sign an admission of debt form. This will not be underwritten by the DHET since the debt did not arise while the student was funded through NSFAS.

4. SADC and international students undergraduate financial assistance

Unfortunately, undergraduate financial aid appeals are not available to international students, including Southern African Development Community (SADC) students. All NSFAS and UCT financial aid is geared towards supporting South African students.

5. Postgraduate students

For postgraduate funding, a total of R353 million (unaudited) was distributed in 2017. This money came from many sources, including UCT’s own funds, academic department allocations, the National Research Foundation, postgraduate bursaries linked to research programmes, and donated funds. Although this is a substantial amount, it falls short of the total need and, unfortunately, we are unable to commit to covering all academically eligible students at the postgraduate level. Most postgraduate funding is administered though the Postgraduate Funding Office. Applications for postgraduate funds (via form 10a) closed on 30 November 2017 and no further applications will be processed since all the funds have been allocated.

5.1 Postgraduate honours

The university has realised the difficulty that many financially needy South African students have in accessing sufficient funding to enter study towards an honours degree. Effective from 2018, the university is making available significant financial aid on a similar basis to undergraduate financial aid, using the same income thresholds as undergraduate financial aid. However, the pool of funds available will not cover all financially eligible honours students. This initiative serves to strengthen the university’s commitment to transformation at the postgraduate level.

5.2 Postgraduate appeals

Appeals from funded students should be directed to the Postgraduate Funding Office. Postgraduates can submit an appeal based on legitimate reasons agreed by the Postgraduate Studies Funding Committee and these include the following:


Request re-assessment of the 10a / changed financial circumstances


Exemption from rule to hold awards concurrently


Extension of funding tenure


Request to hold funds that exceed maximum award limit


Deferral of award


Change to programme of study



6. International and refugee students at postgraduate level

A limited number of scholarships are available to postgraduate students who are residents of countries other than South Africa. These are awarded on a competitive basis with emphasis given to academic merit and to the seniority of candidate. The scholarships do not provide full-cost support. All UCT international and refugee students scholarships are supplementary. Applicants must ensure that they have sufficient support for their studies. The scholarships are renewable for the duration of the course of study subject to satisfactory progress being maintained – up to a limit of one year at honours level, two years of master’s study and three years of doctoral study. Applications for funding cannot be processed unless applicants apply for admission through the UCT Admissions Office or the relevant faculty office. For more information, students are encouraged to visit the Postgraduate Funding Office.

7. Conclusion

The financial-aid budget at UCT is generous, yet insufficient. We encourage students who are appealing for debt relief, or continuation of funding that has been stopped for reasons of academic non-performance, to apply as soon as possible to ensure that their appeals can be considered before registration closes. UCT is pleased to have established such a generous financial-aid system, which, with the new support from the DHET and NSFAS for 2018 financial aid and dealing with historical debt, should considerably ease the financial pressures on poor and working-class families.

Yours sincerely

Dr Max Price

Read previous communications:

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.