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As universities across the country gear up for the start of the 2021 academic year, one of the major issues the higher education sector is grappling with is that of funding.

Earlier this week, higher education institutions were met with news that the National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) did not have enough funding for new students, which is why  the financial aid scheme has not been able to confirm funding eligibility for new students.

Cabinet has since announced additional funding towards Higher Education, which will help mitigate the ongoing funding crisis, particularly for first-time entering students.

This has caused quite a bit of anxiety among students meant to be registering for this year’s studies, and affects institutions’ ability to finalise their admissions and registration processes. As guided by the DHET, universities will be extending their registration period to accommodate the funding delay.

At Nelson Mandela University, there is ongoing work to try mitigate the impact of the funding delays as far as possible, and to the best of the institution’s ability. Assurance is given to admitted first- year students that their placement at the University will be held, with the hope that the funding challenges will be ironed out in due course.


The University is mindful of the anxiety that the funding challenge is causing prospective students and their families.  All new students are connected to a FYS (First-Year Success) Buddy, who is a senior student in the same faculty as the first years. As first years accept the final admissions offer or register, they are connected to a FYS Buddy who will link them to orientation opportunities that assist them to adjust to university studies. Furthermore, each FYS Buddy group is connected to a Digi Buddy who will assist first years on an ongoing basis in the first term to get to grips with the technologies used to learn online and engage in virtual lectures.  Faculties also have a variety of initiatives to orientate new students. In this way, first years will not be disadvantaged by registration and funding delays as they will have access to a range of online and academic assistance as well as to FYS and Digi Buddies.

Academic activities for first years from 15 March include continuing with orientation activities and preparing them for online and mask-to-mask learning. Most of these activities will be online, so there is no need for first-years to come to campus unless their lecturer indicates this or the students need to book a space in a general computer lab to participate in these activities. More formal academic work will commence from the 23rd March onwards. Lecturers will communicate to students how this will work and if they must attend any mask-to-mask activities on campus.

Faculties are communicating with senior students regarding what academic activities will start from the 15th March. Unregistered senior students should check in with faculties and lecturers if they are not receiving communication.

Unregistered admitted new students and senior students are encouraged to participate in the academic activities until they are able to register, as they will be granted temporary access to the University’s learning sites and technologies. A further Memo will follow in this regard.

Laptops, data and WiFi

The University’s student laptop initiative, which has assisted many students with accessing a computing device, will continue. This will enable students to partake in online academic activities and learn remotely. The University is engaging NSFAS regarding the NSFAS student device programme, through which financial aid students have been able to access devices, to seek clarity on this for new students.

An additional 1 000 laptops, over and above the 6 292 made available to students in 2020, are presently being distributed countrywide, to enable additional students to work remotely.  The monthly 30G data provision to all students is ongoing, while extensive improvements are underway on and off campus to improve the quality of WiFi for all students living on campus and in accredited off-campus residences.


The University is not accepting any late applications. Those still seeking placement in higher education institutions are encouraged to use the DHET’s Central Application Clearing House (CACH), which is a centralised system assisting prospective students to access the pool of available spaces at higher education institutions countrywide.

The Admissions Office is finalising the ‘change of course’ applications for those admitted students whose final matric results did not qualify them for their desired course. These applications closed on Friday, 12 March 2021.


Online registration is ongoing until 05 April 2021, with late registration to continue until 16 April 2021.

With assisted registration for first-year students having opened on Friday, 05 March 2021, the University is aware that many students awaiting funding confirmation from NSFAS are unable to register.

In the interim, students are encouraged to participate in the ongoing orientation opportunities until they can register. Arrangements will be made for students to also partake in academic activities when lectures start, should the matter not be resolved by then.

For returning students, current issues include some students’ failure to meet the financial aid scheme’s funding criteria, which has resulted in a number of students losing their financial aid. These students have been encouraged to submit their appeals directly to NSFAS, as the financial aid scheme is the only one at liberty to make decisions on this issue.

For “missing middle” students, a number of concessions have been made available. These include the rollover of student debt within certain parameters and a down-payment exemption, which enables a student to proceed to registration without making the upfront payment after signing an acknowledge of debt form. This can be paid off over the course of the year. Although this is not financial assistance in the form of a bursary, it does allow the students to pay off the fees within an agreed timeline, at the credit and cash flow risk of the university.


Mandela University is resolute in its efforts towards student access for success. It remains committed to working with all relevant stakeholders towards ensuring that no deserving student in left behind.

To this end, the University has been, and will continue, liaising with NSFAS towards a speedy resolution to the funding challenges.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777