NSFAS Receives More Funding Than Universities in South Africa. Language serves as a fundamental pillar of education throughout all age groups in society. In a nation characterized by its multilingual diversity, the need to accommodate indigenous language-speaking learners in South African schools and tertiary institutions remains a paramount concern within the education sector.
Budget Allocation in the Education Sector
In May of this year, Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, presented the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) budget vote in Parliament. He announced an allocation of R133.8 billion for the entire education sector for the 2023/24 financial year, reflecting an annual average increase of 5.3%.
NSFAS: A Transformative Bursary Scheme
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was initiated in 1991 with an initial budget of R21.4 million, benefiting approximately 7,000 students. Fast forward to 2023, and NSFAS is now supporting 1.1 million students with a budget allocation of R47.6 billion for the academic year.
Shift in Funding Dynamics
Remarkably, 2023 marks a historic shift in South African government funding. For the first time, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) receives more financial support—R47 billion for undergraduate students—than universities themselves. This revelation, as reported by Universities South Africa (USAf), raises potential opportunities for enhanced efficiency.
Dr. Marcia Socikwa, Deputy Director-General (DDG) at the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), who has prior experience in the university sector, acknowledges areas of potential inefficiency. This shift in funding prompts universities to explore third-stream income sources to bolster their financial stability.
Multilingualism Role in South African Education
Language’s pivotal role in education extends to South Africa’s multilingual society. The Department of Basic Education continues to address the legitimate concern of accommodating indigenous language-speaking learners in South African schools.
Traditionally, most schools in South Africa teach all subjects in English, disadvantaging children who primarily speak African languages at home. An amendment to the Basic Education Law Bill aims to rectify this by introducing indigenous African languages as subjects taught in schools after Grade 3. Additionally, changes in legislation seek to grant the government more authority over language policies in schools.
Debates on Viability and Cost
While the benefits of multilingual education are evident, debates persist regarding its viability and associated costs. Developing a bilingual curriculum and recruiting qualified instructors are among the challenges. Dr. Xolisa Guzula, a UCT academic, counters the notion that multilingual education is prohibitively expensive and cites efforts in the Western Cape experimenting with a bilingual science curriculum.
Higher Education and Language Barriers
The language barrier may persist into higher education, posing challenges for non-English speaking students.
International Investment in Multilingualism
Professor Mbulungeni Madiba, Dean of Education at Stellenbosch University, emphasizes the financial resources needed for universities to successfully implement multilingual programs. Dr. Socikwa discusses the DHET’s allocation of R70 million, initially for 2024 to 2027, to be administered by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) for the implementation of language plans. This budget is subject to allocation based on the feasibility of university-developed plans.
Dr. Socikwa emphasizes an evidence-based approach to secure additional funding, particularly from international partners like the European Union. Collaboration with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) on Humanities-related projects is also explored as a possibility.
language role in education, both at school and university levels, remains a significant concern in South Africa, with shifting funding dynamics and a commitment to addressing multilingualism’s challenges and opportunities.