THE Fundisa Fund, an innovative savings scheme meant to make higher education for the poor more accessible, is due to tighten its criteria for beneficiaries.

From Friday it will implement a means tests that will exclude new beneficiaries from families earning above R180,000 from receiving a 25% annual bonus on savings invested with the fund.

The Fundisa unit trust scheme was launched in 2007 as a public-private partnership aimed at addressing both skills shortages and the high cost of study through incentives for low-income families to save for their children’s further education.

Assets under management in the Fundisa Fund stood at R93.8-million at the end of November last year, an increase of 66.3% over the R56.4-million at the end of November 2011.

The fund paid out R5.7-million in the annual bonus grant last year, shared between 14,383 investors on behalf of 20,873 beneficiaries.

Fundisa pays the contributions directly to public higher education institutions upon enrolment of the student, with early withdrawals of funds penalised.

High demand for loans continues to outpace funding in SA despite a huge expansion of financial assistance available for deserving students from poor families. Funding for the National Financial Student Aid Scheme increased from R2bn in 2008 to R7bn last year.

Fundisa is a low-risk fund, with a minimum contribution of R40 per month. It offers a bonus of 25% on investments up to R2,400, jointly funded through private sector contributions and by the government.

Former education minister Naledi Pandor said at the launch in 2007 while Fundisa’s benefits were long term, it needed far less money than most people spent on "airtime and beer". Leon Campher, CEO of the Association of Savings and Investment in SA said on Tuesday that the fund had always intended to be an investment vehicle to benefit disadvantaged children.

A decision had been made that "it simply does not make sense to subsidise the education of children from households that can afford to fund their children’s education".

"In fairness to those investors who bought Fundisa during the pilot phase where the beneficiaries fall outside the new means test, the annual bonus payments will continue," said Mr Campher.