NSF Places A Premium On Previously Disadvantaged And Entrepreneurs
The high cost of tertiary education has posed major challenges for a country faced with an escalating unemployment rate. Since its inception in 1999 as part of the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS), the National Skills Fund (NSF) has been acting as a counter mechanism to the cost challenge.
The fund prioritised institutional learning linked to occupationally directed programmes between 2011 and 2020, says Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Dr Blade Nzimande. He further indicates that NSDS III upheld the growth of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges to address the scourge of skills shortages in the country.
“The NSF has provided funding of close to R9-billion to public TVET colleges since 2013. This includes the recent R2.2-billion injection for the NSF TVET Occupational Programmes Phase III Funding Window (for the 2021 to 2024 academic years),” says Nzimande.
“In recent years, as demonstrated in the NSF Evaluation Study for the strategic period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2020, the NSF has adequately responded to the funding of skills development programmes that target previously disadvantaged individuals, the youth, and prioritised nonmetro areas.”
The fund has formed strategic partnerships with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), National Research Foundation (NRF) and the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) to deliver on its mandate through building the capacity of postschool education and training (PSET) facilities and facilitating access through bursaries and scholarships.
“In the early years of the transition from the Department of Labour to the Department of Higher Education and Training, the NSF invested its surpluses in building sustainable capacity in the PSET system, addressing the NSFAS shortfall and towards expanding access to generations of learners in the country. Surplus funds invested at the Public Investment Corporation for the current financial year amount to R8.846-billion,” Ndzimande adds.
NSF and the economic recovery programme
He points out that COVID-19 has also been a major contributing factor to the NSF’s underexpenditure, due to delays in rolling out funded education and training programmes. The fund is expected to play an important role in the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan by targeting unemployed youth, women and people with disabilities who have been economically impacted by the pandemic.
The success of the NSF is dependent on its partner entities. One of the fund’s intentions is to intensify its emerging entrepreneurs project in collaboration with the Small Enterprise Development Agency.
“The NSF is earmarked to support two key interventions of the COVID-19 Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Skills Strategy. This includes the initiative to upscale the training of agricultural extension officers, with funding to support all 11 agricultural colleges to the value of R100-million from the NSF, while the AgriSETA has allocated R15-million,” says Nzimande.
“Secondly, towards increased access to programmes resulting in qualifications in priority sectors, the NSF will be committing funding for additional capacity building and all the support institutions may need,” he concludes.