All poor students admitted into tertiary institutions will get funding, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande promised on Thursday.
"Although we don't have adequate funds, students from poor backgrounds who have been admitted to colleges or universities will get funding... All of them... That is guaranteed, " he said at a New Age business briefing in Johannesburg.
He said the government had allocated R8-billion for education sponsorships this year.
Most of the money had been put into the national student financial aid scheme for students at Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.
The government aimed to motivate students to opt for these institutions rather than regular universities.
"We are short of very critical skills that one cannot get at universities... you can only get them at FET colleges," Nzimande said.
"You can't go to university to be a plumber, electrician, welder or a boiler maker."
Nzimande said some changes needed to be made for students to start choosing FET colleges. Lecturers needed more training and the standard of education needed to be improved.
He encouraged more universities to credit students who came with qualifications from FETs, and stressed that companies should consider taking in more college students for learnerships, apprenticeships, and internships.
Nzimande said his department had the challenge of creating opportunities for all South Africans, not just those who had completed grade 12.
"Every South African, whether you have passed or failed, we must create an opportunity for you to acquire a skill, even if you got 20 percent."