THE implementation of phase one of a central application system for prospective university students this year has led to the better management of the admission of thousands of students to tertiary institutions, Parliament heard on Wednesday.

Last year Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said a central applications system would be implemented for first-time university applications.

The death of a parent and injury of several prospective students during a stampede at the University of Johannesburg in January last year, prompted the government to take action, amid suggestions that such a system was working well in KwaZulu-Natal.

Briefing members of Parliament’s higher education and training portfolio committee, deputy director-general in the Department of Higher Education and Training Diane Parker said the first phase of the central application service was implemented last month.

The system, the Central Application Clearing House, is targeted at grade 12 pupils who have not applied for university, but have found that they are eligible for university study, along with those whose application for study at their institution of choice has been rejected.

"The purpose was to ensure that in 2013, late applicants receive better guidance than in the past and that the number of walk-ins is minimised across the system," Ms Parker said.

The system would operate until the end of next month.

She also said that by the end of last month, the application system had received 66,419 calls, 1,367 e-mails and 163 walk-ins.

Students who made use of it but did not qualify for university education were redirected to other institutions of higher learning, including further education and training (FET) colleges.

Speaking at the same portfolio committee meeting, higher education and training director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde said work placement plans for FET college graduates had boosted the image of these institutions. The government has been on a drive to boost the allure of FET colleges, with President Jacob Zuma saying earlier this week that the allocation to FET students of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme would increase to R2bn this year, up from R1.7bn last year.

Funding for FET colleges increased from R3.8bn in 2010 to R4.8bn last year, and the amount is expected to rise further this year. The department told MPs that by the end of last month, nearly 300 000 students had enrolled at FET colleges across the country.