DOI: 10.1002/rev3.3449 ISSN: 2049-6613

Access, equity and redress: Towards a sustainable funding framework for public universities in South Africa

Oliver Jan Mbhalati
  • Education


This article aims to understand how access, equity and redress challenges are addressed at South Africa's public universities based on their current funding frameworks. Relying on a pragmatic research approach combining desk‐research literature review and secondary data analysis, government funding and tuition fees were found to be the primary sources of funding in most universities, while third stream income from universities' own commercial activities lagged far behind. Secondary data from the public universities' audited annual financial statements for the period 2015 to 2020 further revealed that investment source income superseded third‐stream income in most universities. There is consensus in literature on the pivotal role of equity‐based funding mechanisms such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in providing tuition cover and living expenses for students from poor households. Based on the agency theory, government funding is used to influence public universities to pursue transformation goals. The general trends observed in various countries is the inclusion of equity‐based indicators in a funding model to ensure that students are not denied the opportunity for university education solely based on their poor backgrounds. It is argued in this paper that the NSFAS remains an appropriate vehicle to achieve South Africa's transformational goals in its public universities.

Context and implications

Rationale for the study The rationale for this article is to provide exploratory evidence on the link between funding and transformation at public universities.

Why the new findings matter The new findings matter because public universities cannot escape the imperative to address the challenges of transformation in developing countries with a history of unequal distribution of financial resources.

Implications for policy makers, university management, funders and students Policy makers can use the findings from this article to inform how the National Student Financial Aid Scheme can be streamlined to ensure it continues to achieve its mandate. Based on the findings of this study, university management can develop more interventions to assist at‐risk students, particularly those from disadvantaged families succeed in their study. Funders can use the findings of this study to budget for and direct funding to academically deserving at‐risk students. Finally, students could benefit from these findings as the study identifies challenges to academic success as well as relevant interventions.

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