Student 2020 debt appeals and financial assistance for 2021

15 February 2021 | Campus Announcement

Dear students

The provision of financial assistance to eligible students at undergraduate and postgraduate level is one of the key priorities of the University of Cape Town (UCT). The university has reported at length, over a number of years, on how undergraduate students have been assisted with funding from a variety of sources – which include the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), corporate sponsorships, donations and UCT’s own funds.

In respect of NSFAS funding, there has been a number of challenges experienced in 2020 and the Student Undergraduate Funding Office has worked tirelessly with NSFAS to try and resolve all outstanding matters. However, the final funding decision remains the prerogative of NSFAS. 

UCT has also made substantial investments in supporting postgraduate students, including additional UCT funds over the last three years. This investment is in addition to funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF), departmental scholarships and other external parties, and is meant to ensure a seamless transition of financial support as students move between undergraduate and postgraduate study.

In 2020, preliminary (unaudited) estimates show that a total of R1.4 billion went towards student financial assistance. This total comprises R970 million (undergraduate) and R460 million (postgraduate funding). UCT remains grateful for the support provided by all funders.

There is no doubt that 2020 had an impact on all students and their families, with some losing their livelihoods as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The university was also impacted in terms of its operations and responsibilities.

The budget approved by the UCT Council for 2020 had to be substantially reduced, impacted by students vacating residences, while others were given additional time to drop courses where they had challenges with managing online learning. Despite these financial and related pressures, UCT has made available limited funding to provide some financial assistance to students who still have outstanding fees for the 2020 academic year and who are at risk of being unable to continue with their studies in 2021. The university’s funding remains limited, and only students who meet specified eligibility requirements can be considered for funding.

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 new students (FTENS) 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 pre-2018 students under the R350 000 threshold equally and provide them with financial assistance.

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 a 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, UCT appreciates the effort put in by NSFAS in preparation for the 2021 academic year.

1.2 NSFAS funding status

Universities expect to receive feedback from NSFAS on eligible students when the National Senior Certificate (NSC) results are released. However, some students may not yet have received a funding application outcome, perhaps due to outstanding documentation required to finalise the application. It is therefore important that students take responsibility for tracking the status of their NSFAS application on the myNSFAS portal.

For applicants that are ineligible for NSFAS funding, but where the applicant can prove that their gross family income is below R350 000 per annum, NSFAS will have an online appeal process for a review of the application outcome. Applicant appeals on the NSFAS funding decision must be made directly to NSFAS using the online myNSFAS appeals platform.

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation has indicated that NSFAS will not accept late applications for funding. NSFAS will continue making funding decisions for students funded in 2020 as academic results are received and processed.

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 gross income above the NSFAS threshold of R350 000 household income per annum, but no more than R600 000 per annum.

All GAP funding applications are managed via NSFAS, which provides UCT with the data needed to identify eligible applicants. GAP funding is exclusively financed by UCT. Thus, UCTʼs financial support and commitment extends substantially above the amount that the state 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. Information on UCT’s GAP funding programme is available on the financial aid website.

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 between R600 000 and R750 000 per annum 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. Further information on the Sibling Rebate Bursary programme and the sibling rebate application form is available on the UCT website. Applications close on 15 May 2021.

1.5 Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme

The Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP) is a private-sector funded bursary scheme which provides financial and wrap around support to designated “missing middle” students (i.e. gross family income between R350 000 and R600 000 per annum) studying towards 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 (i.e. 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. All students remain responsible for their fee debt, so any delays with funding confirmations or pay-outs must be addressed directly by the students.

2. Undergraduate funding appeals

The university has actively fundraised and set aside limited funding from its own resources to assist students with fee debt or who have not met the academic performance renewal requirements for financial aid and GAP funding. Funds are limited and the criteria outlined below will be applied to ensure fair access to available resources.

2.1 Appeals for 2021 funding that has been stopped due to poor academic performance in 2020

It needs to be emphasised that every financial-aid sponsor, including NSFAS, UCT, corporates and non-governmental organisations, have 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, UCT may fund financial-aid and GAP students for an additional year (i.e. N+3 years) if they are potential graduates for 2021, subject to academic and financial eligibility.

For students entering higher education for the first time from 2018, NSFAS now applies 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 2020, who did not pass at least 50% of their courses and are therefore not eligible for funding in 2021, must appeal to the Undergraduate Funding Office. This includes appeals for NSFAS reconsideration of funding status for 2021, which will be managed by the Undergraduate Funding Office for submission to NSFAS.

For all academic appeals received, consideration will be given to whether a funding concession was previously made in respect of academic progression requirements not being met. 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 2021 finalists (i.e. will graduate if they pass all their courses in 2021) will receive UCT-financed aid or GAP funding, as per normal funding rules. N+3 students will automatically be processed by the Undergraduate Funding Office and need not submit any appeal, provided they will be potential finalists in 2021. These students’ funding will only be reinstated once 2021 academic information is available to confirm that they are finalists for 2021.

Due to budget availability and to ensure fairness of access to resources, appeals will not be considered for N+4 funding.

2.2 Students with fee debt from 2020 who were on NSFAS, UCT or GAP funding

UCT policies do not allow students to register for the following year of study if they have outstanding fees at the time of registration. However, students with fee debt from 2020 can approach the Undergraduate Funding 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.

Appeals may only be available to students that have a fee block to register.

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 email the Undergraduate Funding Office at for assistance to activate the online appeal tile in Peoplesoft Student Self Service.

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 2020 fees, but have not been means tested, can appeal and be considered on merit and subject to funding availability. These appeals will be means tested, and successful students will be asked to pay their calculated EFC. Appeals will only be considered where the gross family income is less than R600 000 per annum and an application for funding has been submitted to NSFAS for 2021.

What you need to do: Email the Undergraduate Funding Office at for assistance to activate the online appeal tile in the PeopleSoft Student Portal. If funding is awarded to enable a student with a fee block to register, this will be in the form of a repayable loan, and the appropriate documents 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 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.

Important date: All undergraduate appeals will close on 5 March 2021 and no late appeal applications will be accepted.

Students can expect a final outcome by 12 March 2021. It is therefore important to submit a detailed appeal with supporting documents as soon as possible so that decisions can be communicated early on. Complex appeals may take slightly longer, and students are kindly requested to limit email enquiries as volumes have increased significantly, thereby impacting the ability to respond to new requests timeously.

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 primarily 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 on its own resources and 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 will be considered.

3. Postgraduates students

Most postgraduate funding is administered through the Postgraduate Funding Office. Applications for most 2021 postgraduate funding has closed and information on applications that are 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 and using the same income thresholds for eligibility. This scheme has been implemented in 2018 and is still continuing. The scheme kicked off in 2018 supporting honours students, and continued with masterʼs and doctoral students in 2019. Masterʼs and doctoral aid was renewed 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 placed on academic merit and 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

No financial aid support is available for postgraduate diplomas outside the current scope of diplomas funded by NSFAS. Details about financial aid programmes which are covered by NSFAS and the university are available on the university website

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:

  1. request reassessment of the 10a / changed financial circumstances
  2. exemption from rule to hold awards concurrently
  3. extension of funding tenure
  4. request to hold funds that exceed maximum award limit
  5. deferral of award
  6. change to programme of study
  7. late applications with legitimate documented reasons (e.g medical reasons).

3.5 Postgraduate student fee debt 2020

UCTʼs postgraduate funding policy precludes the use of bursary and scholarship awards for historic fee debt relief. Fee debt accrued in 2020 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 historic 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.

UCT wishes all students success during this very difficult period and hopes the information provided will inform their next course of action. Should you require further information, please contact the relevant undergraduate or postgraduate office.


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