Budget cuts mean the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation will spend less on infrastructure grants and operational subsidies at TVET colleges and universities, a parliamentary committee heard on Tuesday.

The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation told the higher education committee on Tuesday that about R4-billion has been reallocated “towards Covid-19 activities”.

With the reopening of campuses, institutions have had to redirect funds to ensure that there are enough screening stations on campuses and residences and that students who require laptops and other learning materials in rural areas are able to access them.

The department’s chief financial officer, Theuns Tredoux, told the committee that about R6-billion was suspended from the department’s budget. From R6-billion, R4.9-billion was reallocated. The R6-billion had been earmarked to go towards TVET operational subsidies, university block grants, and infrastructure grants for TVET colleges and universities.

“The purpose of the reallocation of funds is to cater to the reprioritized expenditure towards addressing Covid-19 related activities, including student support,” Tredoux told the committee.  

Of the R4.9-billion, R2.5-million will go to NSFAS subsidies, particularly towards devices for students, R2.1-million will go towards university block grants, R162,000 will go towards TVET college operational subsidies, R210,000 will go to university infrastructure grants and R10,000 will go to TVET new campus operations.

The cut in infrastructure grants means some projects at universities will have to be postponed, which will delay student infrastructure programmes in future.

For TVET colleges, the cut won’t immediately affect the infrastructure programmes.

The department is also having to reallocate funds with a reduced budget. A month ago, the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, tabled the Special Adjustment Budget.

National Treasury then indicated to the department that it would have to reduce its budget by 20%, said Tredoux. This would have required the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation to cut R19-billion from its budget.

The department explained to Treasury the implications that such a huge cut would have on the entire higher education landscape, not just on institutions but on students as well, said Tredoux.

This input from the department resulted a final reduction of 8%, which amounts to R9-billion.

The cuts will mainly affect travel, accommodation and venues in the department.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) also gave a presentation on the impact Covid-19 has had on its budget allocation.

According to the NSFAS’s acting chief financial officer, Prakash Mangrey, R28-billion has been allocated for university students. So far, R15-billion has been paid to students in universities.

The NSFAS estimates that the R28-billion allocated towards university students will be fully utilised by the end of the academic year.

Furthermore, “the Covid-19 pandemic puts pressure on the allocation with the potential extension of the academic year,” said Mangrey.

If the 2020 academic year extends to next year, the NSFAS would require R4.3-billion to cater to university students. This estimate would be to pay for student allowances, and doesn’t include tuition fees, said Mangrey. For TVET college students, it would be R300-million, excluding tuition. DM