Student financial aid for 2020 and 2019 debt appeals

29 January 2020 | From Kgethi

Dear students

Providing funding assistance to financially needy students who are academically eligible remains one of the key priorities for the University of Cape Town (UCT). To this end, the university uses its own resources, as approved by Council, within budget constraints. Other key funders – including the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), National Research Foundation (NRF), postgraduate bursaries linked to research programmes, South African corporate entities, non-governmental organisations, foundations, donors, alumni and university staff – provide additional contributions to increase funding opportunities for our students.

In addition to financial assistance for students, the university provides entrance and faculty scholarships annually to qualifying students. These scholarships are achievement based and include special achievement scholarships aimed at attracting applicants from historically disadvantaged areas and schools.

At undergraduate level, NSFAS has in recent years doubled its allocation to UCT. Despite this, and as is the case with many other universities, we have experienced some challenges with NSFAS. However, UCT has always been proactive and has worked with NSFAS to improve the administration of the scheme for the benefit of all recipients. We believe that NSFAS plays an important role and we have assisted where necessary to ensure that it meets its obligations to students.

In 2018 we announced that the university had committed over R1.2 billion from a variety of sources for both undergraduate and postgraduate financial assistance. I am pleased to announce that our preliminary (unaudited) analysis shows that for 2019 a total of close to R1.4 billion was made available: at undergraduate level we provided approximately R1 billion, while R400 million was provided at postgraduate level. We remain grateful to all our contributors, as without their generous contributions we would not be in position to assist the many students who benefit from the support they provide.

We are fully aware that the South African economy and government funding at postgraduate level has significantly decreased, making the task of maintaining past levels of financial assistance even more challenging for the university. At the same time, UCT is mindful of the need to ensure financial sustainability and as such is reviewing the current financial aid policy. Students will be consulted at the appropriate stage as part of this process.

While the review may have an impact on the appeals process in 2021, the status quo remains for 2020 assistance. Our plans for 2020 financial assistance and debt appeals for 2019 outstanding fees for students who meet the financial criteria and register good academic progress are explained below.

1. Undergraduate financial assistance

UCT financial assistance falls into various categories:

1.1 NSFAS funding for first-time-entering and continuing students

As of 2018 first-time-entering students who are eligible for financial aid must come from households with an annual income of no more than R350 000. For students who started their university studies before 2018, NSFAS still uses a household income of R122 000. Recognising the confusion created by these two funding categories, UCT decided to treat all students under the R350 000 threshold equally and provide them with benefits similar to the cohort funded by NSFAS from 2018, which now includes full cost of study.

First-time applications for NSFAS financial aid (as well as funding renewal for students who already receive NSFAS funding) are handled centrally via NSFAS. Although the student may have applied to study at several universities, only one financial aid application directly to NSFAS is required. While this has its own challenges, including reliance on NSFAS for confirmation of funding, we appreciate the effort by NSFAS that has gone into preparations for the 2020 academic year.

1.2 NSFAS funding status

Universities have received feedback from NSFAS on countless eligible students. However, some students may not yet have received a funding application outcome, which could relate to outstanding documents required to finalise the application. Students who have applied to NSFAS and are awaiting their funding outcome must engage the Student Financial Aid Office so that UCT can intervene on their behalf. Students must provide proof of their NSFAS application. First-time-entering students who did not apply for NSFAS funding can also visit the Student Financial Aid Office for advice.

1.3 UCT GAP funding

UCT also offers GAP funding, which is the university’s financial assistance programme for the “missing middle” – those students who come from families with an annual income above the NSFAS threshold (R350 000 household income) but no more than R600 000. All GAP-funding applications are managed via NSFAS, which provides UCT with the data to identify eligible applicants. GAP funding is exclusively financed by UCT. Therefore, UCTʼs financial offering extends substantially above the amount that government offers for students in financial need. Furthermore, the university makes allowance in GAP funding for families where siblings are concurrently registered for undergraduate study at UCT. Such families can approach the Student Financial Aid Office for details or consult the financial aid website for further information.

1.4 UCT sibling rebate bursary

The UCT sibling rebate bursary programme provides reduced tuition costs to undergraduate siblings who do not qualify for NSFAS financial aid or GAP funding. This is for students from families with a combined annual household income of up to R750 000 with two or more undergraduate siblings at UCT at the same time. Qualifying students are eligible for a bursary equivalent to 20% of the tuition fee for the year. The sibling rebate application form is available on the UCT website; applications close on 15 April 2020.

1.5 Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme

The Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP) is a private-sector-funded bursary which provides financial and wrap-around support to designated “missing middle” students (ie gross family income between R350 000 and R600 000) and students studying degrees in scarce skills professions. The ISFAP programme was implemented in 2017 for students studying medicine, occupational therapy, actuarial science and engineering. It now also funds students studying chartered accounting and computer science. The programme is now in its fourth year. UCT supports all initiatives that provide financial and other assistance to students who would otherwise not have had an opportunity to realise their academic ambitions.

1.6 Other funding

Funding from corporates, non-governmental institutions and sponsors is provided directly to eligible students but is administered with the assistance of UCT as the university provides all the necessary documents (ie academic transcripts and fees statements) and other information required by the funders. The requirements for academic and financial eligibility are determined by these funders and tend to vary according to programme of study.

2. Funding appeals

2.1 Appeals for 2020 funding that has been stopped due to poor academic performance in 2019

It needs to be emphasised that every financial-aid sponsor – including NSFAS, UCT, corporates and non-governmental organisations – has minimum standards that students must meet in order to be guaranteed continued funding.

NSFAS has traditionally required students to pass a minimum of 50% of their courses to secure funding for the following year, limited to N+2 years of funding (where N = standard years of the programme). This rule remains in place for those registered in higher education before 2018. However, at UCT we may fund financial-aid and GAP students for an additional year (ie N+3 years) if they are potential graduates for 2020, subject to academic and financial eligibility.

For students entering higher education for the first time from 2018, NSFAS will now apply an N+1 funding rule and academic progression requirements. This means that a student studying for a three-year degree will be given only four years of funding.

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.

Students on NSFAS, UCT financial aid or GAP funding in 2019 who failed to pass at least 50% of their courses, and are therefore not eligible for funding in 2020, must appeal to the Student Financial Aid Office. This includes appeals for NSFAS reconsideration of funding status for 2020, which will be managed by the Student Financial Aid Office for submission to NSFAS.

For all academic appeals received, consideration will be given to whether a funding concession was previously made where the academic progression requirements were not met previously. It is important that submitted appeals contain all information relevant to enable a proper evaluation.

What you need to do: Students can submit an online appeal by logging onto their PeopleSoft Student Portal. This function is only available to NSFAS, financial aid and GAP-funded students who did not meet the minimum academic progression requirements. Students who are within N+3 years of funding and who are 2020 finalists (ie will graduate if they pass all their courses in 2020) will receive UCT-financed 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, provided the student will be a potential finalist in 2020.

2.2 Students with fee debt from 2019 who were on NSFAS or GAP funding in 2019 and are academically eligible for NSFAS or GAP funding in 2020

UCT policies do not 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, students with fee debt from 2019 can approach the Student Financial Aid Office directly for assistance towards their fee debt. Students from higher-income households, who are expected to pay a higher expected family contribution (EFC), will be required to contribute a greater share towards their outstanding fees, while disadvantaged students may be assisted in full.

What you need to do: Financial-aid students with debt can submit an online appeal by logging onto their PeopleSoft Student Portal. Where the online appeal form is not available, please visit the Student Financial Aid Office for assistance.

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

Students who have outstanding 2019 fees, but have not been means tested, can appeal and this will be considered on merit and subject to budget availability. These appeals will be means tested, and successful students will be asked to pay their calculated EFC.

What you need to do: Visit the Student Financial Aid Office for assistance with applying.

If funding is awarded to enable a student with a fee block to register, the funding provided will be in the form of a repayable loan, and the forms will need to be signed when available. In the interim the student may be required to sign an admission of debt form. This will not be underwritten by the national Department of Higher Education and Training since the debt did not arise while the student was funded through NSFAS.

Please note that all appeals are considered on financial and academic grounds. Where academic information is not final, it will impact on the ability to finalise the appeal outcome.

All undergraduate appeals will close on 7 February 2020 and no late appeal applications will be accepted.

2.4 SADC and international students’ undergraduate financial assistance

Despite UCTʼs efforts to extend, as far as possible, the limited resources available, funding for undergraduate students goes mainly towards supporting South African students or those with permanent residency in the country. Unfortunately, UCT is not able to provide relief for international students, including Southern African Development Community (SADC) students, because of constraints to its own resources, and also due to restrictions imposed by funders, which often stipulate that only South Africans or students with South African permanent residency may be assisted with funding. No appeals from these students can be considered.

3. Postgraduates

For postgraduate funding, approximately R400 million (unaudited) was distributed in 2019. Although this is a substantial amount, it falls short of the total needed to cover all academically eligible students at the postgraduate level. Most postgraduate funding is administered through the Postgraduate Funding Office. Applications for most 2020 postgraduate funding have closed and information on those applications still open is available.

3.1 Postgraduate financial support for honours, masterʼs and doctoral students

The university has made additional financial aid available on a similar basis to undergraduate financial aid, using the same income thresholds for eligibility, starting with honours in 2018 and continuing with masterʼs and doctoral students in 2019 and renewing the masterʼs and doctoral aid in 2020. Funding through excellence awards for meritorious students is also available. This initiative serves to strengthen the university’s commitment to transformation at the postgraduate level.

3.2 International and refugee students at postgraduate level

A limited number of scholarships were available to postgraduates 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 the candidate. The scholarships do not provide full-cost support and all UCT international and refugee student scholarships should be considered supplementary. Thus, applicants must ensure that they have sufficient additional financial 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.

3.3 Postgraduate diplomas

Financial aid for postgraduate diplomas is dependent on donor funding. The funds received in 2019 have been depleted and UCT has not received donor funding for 2020 as yet. We will only be able to provide support if new donor funding is forthcoming. Should funds become available, students will be notified.

3.4 Postgraduate appeals

Appeals from funded students should be directed to the Postgraduate Funding Office. Postgraduates can submit an appeal based on legitimate reasons, as agreed by the Postgraduate Studies Funding Committee, including:

a) request reassessment of the 10a / changed financial circumstances
b) exemption from rule to hold awards concurrently
c) extension of funding tenure
d) request to hold funds that exceed maximum award limit
e) deferral of award
f) change to programme of study
g) late applications with legitimate documented reasons (eg medical reasons).

3.5 Postgraduate student fee debt 2019

UCTʼs postgraduate funding policy precludes the use of bursary and scholarship awards for historical fee debt relief. Fee debt accrued in 2019 may only be considered under exceptional circumstances as outlined in the appeals category (a) above. Unfortunately, there is no other form of funding available through the Postgraduate Funding Office for the relief of historical fee debt.

For more information on postgraduate funding please contact the office on +27 (0)21 650 3622 or email

More information about the funding provided by the Postgraduate Funding Office is available on their website.

I trust that you will find this information useful and wish you well with your 2020 studies.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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