Student debt appeals for 2021 and financial assistance for 2022

11 January 2022 | VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng Read time >10 min.

Dear colleagues and students

1. Introduction

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has always believed that students in financial need but with academic ability should be assisted with funding within the parameters set by the university’s policies. To this end, we work with all key funders from government, corporates, non-governmental organisations, donor, alumni and other key parties to raise funds for students. At the end of December 2021, we had received R1.7 billion for undergraduate and postgraduate financial assistance. On average close to 50% of undergraduate, and 35% of postgraduate students receive funding support on an annual basis.

One of the most important funders for undergraduate students, is the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The 2021 academic year presented one of the most difficult challenges for the higher education sector. At the beginning of the academic year, NSFAS had not confirmed funding for first time entering students (FTENs). This meant that students who were joining universities for the first time in 2021 and had applied for financial aid were uncertain about their funding. The NSFAS funding was subsequently confirmed in March 2021.

However, NSFAS without prior notice, informed the sector and students who were in selected higher education diplomas, that no funding will be provided for these programmes. Given that the students in these previously funded programmes were unfairly impacted by a late NSFAS decision, the UCT executive made the decision to provide once-off funding for all the students who had applied for NSFAS and were eligible for funding but had been unduly impacted by the NSFAS decision. We anticipate further challenges from NSFAS in the 2022 academic year as the ability of government to fund all NSFAS eligible students is severely under strain – a risk that UCT has identified on its 2022 strategic register.

Universities have already seen similar challenges with the funding at postgraduate level, with a 36% reduction in the amount of postgraduate funding received from the National Research Fund (NRF) in the last four years. UCT in turn extended its own financial assistance to cover the gap.

Under the current COVID-19 pandemic, all higher education institutions have faced new and significant challenges that require innovative approaches to learning and student support. As a result, COVID-19 has placed further financial strain on the sector. There is no doubt that within its existing financial resources, UCT will be unable to cover all these funding shortfalls. However, the university remains committed to trying to assist current financially needy students in good academic standing to complete their studies within our approved financial aid policies. We have therefore set aside a fee debt appeals budget for this purpose.

As a guide, appeals are considered from undergraduate South African or permanent resident students that meet the following criteria:

  • gross family income under R600 000
  • are potential final year of study in 2022 within the N+ rule; and
  • have not met the 50% pass of academic courses but are on track to complete their studies within the N+ rule.

Appeals from funded postgraduate students should be directed to the Postgraduate Funding Office. Postgraduates can submit an appeal based on legitimate reasons, listed further below.

2. Undergraduate financial assistance

UCT financial assistance falls into various categories:

2.1 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.

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 put in by NSFAS in preparation for the 2022 academic year.

2.2 NSFAS funding status

2.2.1 Applicants

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.

Students who are financially ineligible for NSFAS will be considered for GAP funding. These students will be sent a UCT GAP funding application to provide proof that the gross household income is between R350 001 and R600 000 per annum.

NSFAS has extended the closing date to submit applications to 21 January 2022. Applicants that have not yet applied, are encouraged to apply ahead of the closing date to ensure any further documents required can be submitted timeously.

2.2.2 UCT NSFAS Funded students in 2021

NSFAS will continue making funding decisions for students funded in 2021 as academic results are received and processed. Students can track their NSFAS funding eligibility on the myNSFAS portal. The results for students that are writing supplementary and deferred exams will only be submitted to NSFAS towards the end of January when results become available.

NSFAS will manage all academic appeals directly. Details on the NSFAS appeal process are provided under section 3.1.

2.2.3 Transferring students

Students who have transferred to study at UCT and were NSFAS funded previously must verify their eligibility for continued funding and remember that the N+1 funding rule still applies, as all years of study at a university are counted (including study at UNISA).

UCT is unable to take responsibility for students whose funded years is exceeded due to changing their programme of study or transferring from another university and starting a new programme at UCT.

2.3 UCT GAP funding

UCT 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.

GAP funding is exclusively financed by UCT. Therefore, UCT’s 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 web pages.

Students who are financially ineligible for NSFAS will be considered for GAP funding. These students will be sent a UCT GAP funding application to provide proof that the gross household income is between R350 001 and R600 000 per annum.

For postgraduate students with debt, appeals 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.

2.4 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 UCT’s Department of Student Affairs website.

Applications close on 16 May 2022.

2.5 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 (those with a gross family income between R350 000 and R600 000 per annum) and students 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 fifth 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.

2.6 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 (academic transcripts and fees statements) and any other information required by the funders after registration. The requirements for academic and financial eligibility are determined by these funders and tend to vary according to the 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.

3. 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.

3.1 NSFAS appeals for 2022 funding that has been stopped due to poor academic performance in 2021 or the N+ rule

The NSFAS will manage all appeals directly on the myNSFAS portal. Students that have not met academic renewal requirements or the N+ rule, must submit an online appeal with the required supporting documents by logging onto their myNSFAS portal and submitting the appeal directly to NSFAS.

NSFAS appeals will open on 24 January and close on 23 February 2022.

It is important to submit your appeal early to ensure that any additional documents required can be submitted timeously.

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 to be guaranteed continued 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 in their academic performance to secure continued funding.

3.2 Academic Appeals for UCT funded students

Students on UCT financial aid or GAP funding in 2021, who failed to pass at least 50% of their courses, and are therefore not eligible for funding in 2022, must please appeal to the Student Financial Aid Office.

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.

Pre-2018 students who are within N+3 years of funding and who are 2022 finalists (those who will graduate if they pass all their courses in 2022) will continue to 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 information is available that the student will be a potential finalist in 2022.

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

The funding for students that exceed the N+ rule will be a UCT Student Loan and top up bursary funding subject to approved cost of study.

3.3 Students with fee debt from 2021 who were on UCT financial aid or GAP funding

UCT policies do not allow students to register for the following year of study if they have outstanding fees owing to UCT at the time of registration. However, students with fee debt from 2021 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.

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 for assistance to activate the online appeal tile in Peoplesoft Student Self Service.

3.4 Students with fee debt from 2021 who were on NSFAS Grant funding

NSFAS Grant students are required to sign their DHET Acknowledgement of Debt (AOD) for the shortfall in approved study costs. The DHET AOD has been sent to students. Once the form is received the fee block will be lifted, provided it covers the outstanding fees.

All charges on the fee account that are not related to academic activities must be paid for, and an appeal for such debt will not be considered. Note that students may register with a debt under R1 000.

3.5 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 2021 fees, but have not been means tested, can appeal and be considered on financial need and academic 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 2022.

What you need to do: Email the Student Financial Aid Office 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, the funding provided 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, and the loan agreement forms will be processed later. This assistance 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 the ability to finalise the appeal outcome.

All undergraduate appeals will close on 9 February 2022 and no late appeal applications will be accepted.

Students can expect an outcome by 15 February 2022. 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 repeated email enquiries as volumes have increased significantly, thereby impacting the ability to respond to new requests timeously.

Financial Aid and GAP funded students that require any assistance regarding appeals can contact the Student Financial Aid Office for advice.

3.6 SADC and international students’ undergraduate financial assistance

Despite UCT’s 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 can therefore be considered.

4. Postgraduate students

Most postgraduate funding is administered through the Postgraduate Funding Office. The call for applications for most 2022 postgraduate funding has closed and information on those applications still open is available.

4.1 Postgraduate financial support for honours, master’s and doctoral students

In 2018 UCT made additional financial aid available, on a similar basis to undergraduate financial aid and used the same income thresholds for eligibility. This is continuing. 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.

4.2 International and refugee students at postgraduate level

A limited number of scholarships are 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 consider securing supplementary funding. 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.

4.3 Postgraduate diplomas

No financial aid support is available for advanced diplomas, the postgraduate certificates, and postgraduate diplomas.

NSFAS has withdrawn funding support for the PGCE, PGDA and post-degree law programme (LAWP01).

4.4 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 (eg. medical reasons).

4.5 Postgraduate student fee debt 2021

UCT’s postgraduate funding policy precludes the use of bursary and scholarship awards for historic fee debt relief. Fee debt accrued in 2021 may only be considered under exceptional circumstances as outlined in the appeals category (a) in the list 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 the PGFO pages on UCT’s Department of Student Affairs website.

We wish all our students’ success in funding their studies and hope the information provided above will inform their next course of action. Should you require further information, please contact the relevant undergraduate or postgraduate offices.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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