NSFAS Pays Allowances To Over 100 000 Beneficiaries At TVET Colleges For September



The disbursement of NSFAS allowances using the new payment system began in June and TVET colleges are the latest group of students to receive their funds. However, the dissatisfaction with the payment system remains.



For the 2023 academic year, nearly 1 million tertiary students throughout the country are funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). This includes funded students enrolled in the country’s public universities and TVET colleges.

On Friday, 25 August 2023, the bursary scheme announced that it paid over 100 000 NSFAS beneficiaries enrolled at TVET colleges, a total of R405 million in NSFAS allowances, for the month of September 2023.

These allowances were paid to students using the newly implemented NSFAS payment system, which deposits student monies directly to a student/NSFAS bank account, instead of using tertiary institutions as a middle man for allowance distribution.

In a statement, NSFAS said:

The Direct Payment solution was introduced to TVETs in November 2022; and NSFAS has disbursed a total of R3.1 billion to 206 539 TVET college beneficiaries since the commencement of the 2023 academic year.

"As more students are registered and onboarded onto the Direct Payment solution, NSFAS continues to make payments as per valid registration data received from institutions."

NSFAS Was Previously Late In Disbursing Funds to TVET Students

Although NSFAS has successfully paid more than 200 000 TVET students, there were previous delays in this group of beneficiaries receiving the allowances they qualify for.

The bursary scheme is notoriously delayed when it comes to distributing funds on time, which often leaves students stuck in limbo and unable to afford the necessities their allowances are intended to pay for. Waterberg Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College in Mokopane in Limpopo was one college impacted by the delay. 

Frustrations led to protest action, with students saying they had not received their NSFAS allowances for the past six months.

Several protesting students have also been defunded by NSFASleaving them forced to cover the cost of tuition, irrigation and essential items needed during their time at college out of their own pockets.

Many students complained that they were unable to focus on their academics due to financial stress, leading to the decision to initiate the strike. Students alleged that the college management threatened the students with expulsion if they continued with the strike.

NSFAS said students will only receive allowances once the scheme has received registration data from the institution. This registration would then be sent to service providers which would facilitate the direct payment onboarding process. 

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However, the slow-moving task of receiving the students' registration data leaves students to suffer the most, in a situation that is out of their control. 

The TVET college says they sent all the necessary information of qualifying students to NSFAS for payment processing. The institution emphasised that payment disbursement was under the purview of NSFAS and not the college itself.

The disbursement of NSFAS allowances using the new payment system began in June, but not everyone has been accepting of the change.

The Introduction of the New Payment System Has Not Been Smooth-Sailing

The introduction of a new allowance payment system by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is a major concern for students. Students began engaging in intense protest action during August 2023, at a Limpopo college, as they awaited their allowance payments.

On the backdrop of weeks of student unrest over the challenges with the direct payment system, the bursary scheme has now provided some clarity regarding the payment system.

The system, which aims to disburse funds directly into student NSFAS bank accounts, has caused confusion and withheld funds for many students. 

In Friday's statement, NSFAS stated:

As previously indicated, due to the teething issues experienced with the introduction of the system, NSFAS resolved to have continuous engagements with sector stakeholders to tackle these issues.

NSFAS Defunded Thousands of Students and Stands By Its Decision

Amidst the challenges and dissatisfaction of the new payment system, The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has also defunded more than 40 000 students who are found to be unworthy of receiving bursaries. 

The scheme has defended its decision to suddenly defund students, saying it is not breaking any law by defunding dishonest students. NSFAS has accused students of trying to cheat the system by submitting documents of their relatives as their legal guardians to qualify for funding. 

Students have pushed back against the scheme's decision, with some claiming they were wrongfully defunded and have now lost the much-needed money to continue their tertiary education.

Some Students Believe They Were Wrongfully Defunded

South African Union of Students (SAUS) Secretary-General, Lukhanyo Daweti, says there are students who believe they were wrongfully defunded.

Daweti says one of the grievances the Union had with NSFAS and the defunding of students, is that no formal communication was sent out to let the students know what was coming, and why.

NSFAS has been criticised for being insensitive when it comes to the immediate defunding of ineligible students, but the scheme has reiterated that wrongfully funded students are taking away financial aid that deserving students are in need of, and that "swift and firm action" is the priority.

NSFAS Spokesperson, Slumezi Skosana, previously stated that:

If such cases are true, this is regrettable. A process of verifying these complaints will be immediately initiated and if proven, remedial action will be taken. 

NSFAS is also notoriously difficult to get into contact with, meaning wrongfully defunded students may go months without allowances they depend on and are actually eligible for. 

While there are cases of students submitting fraudulent or incorrect information when applying for NSFAS in order to gain funding approval, there is also the possibility that some students have been wrongly defunded, and have now had their access to higher education stripped away. 

Universities South Africa (USAf) has said that "the defunding of students in the middle of the academic year has caused challenges for the students and the universities." 

NSFAS has provided neither the reasons for the revocation of student bursaries nor a mechanism of appeal for the defunded students. Those students who have tried to reach NSFAS have been unsuccessful.

Students who feel they have been wrongfully defunded have been given the chance to submit an appeal or re-apply all together. 

Why Students Were Defunded 

Earnst Khosa explained in a media briefing that NSFAS has faced challenges in the past, whereby students who did not deserve to be funded, received a bursary from the scheme. This prompted the scheme to improve its verification checks to ensure only deserving students receive funding. 

In a meeting with NSFAS, Higher Education Minister, Dr. Blade Nzimande reiterated that the provision of financial aid is crucial in ensuring access to education for the poor. 

Khosa says that 45 987 students were affected by these dishonest actions.

How NSFAS Tried To Solve The Issue

In order to prevent further wrongful funding allocations, NSFAS teamed up with third-party entities to assist with the verification of student information. These entities include the South African Revenue Service (SARS), state security agencies and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). 

This aimed to prevent students from submitting outdated, falsified or fraudulent data to illegally receive funding from NSFAS. 

NSFAS then sought to re-evaluate applications whose funding have been approved. This revaluation found that some students who are receiving funding were actually not deserving. 

They submitted falsified documents or fraudulent documents and these had to be instantly defunded as continuation of knowingly funding individuals who do not meet funding requirements would be going against the provisions of funding policy whilst depriving deserving students. 

Certain Student Groups Still Remain Excluded From Higher Education

The students who did lie on their NSFAS applications are likely those who fall under the "missing middle", meaning their family's household income is considered too high to receive financial aid. But, the reality is that despite coming from backgrounds that earn above the stipulated NSFAS income threshold, it is not enough to pursue the incredibly expensive journey of higher education. 

"Missing middle" students have notoriously anc continuously been excluded from accessing higher education, and although the Department says it has been working on implementing solutions (such as a more comprehensive student funding model), tertiary education and all its extra expenses are simply unaffordable for a large majority.

More than a million students are currently being funded by the NSFAS, and are dependent on the bursary for covering their tertiary education costs.

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