Earlier this week, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande declared that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was not in crisis despite several challenges facing beneficiaries of the scheme. Student leaders have disputed the minister's sentiments regarding the bursary scheme.
The South African Union of Students (SAUS) says they strongly disagree with the Minister's assertion and believe that NSFAS is indeed struggling and in a dire state, negatively impacting the country's neediest students.
SAUS Spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa says the scheme's challenges in paying allowances demonstrate that there is a crisis. Allowance payments were delayed in September 2023 leaving students without money to pay for rent, meals and learning materials.
They anticipate allowance payment delays for October 2024 allowance payments.
We will have all NSFAS beneficiaries who have not received, who would have gone on for more than 4 days without having received their allowances.
Dlanjwa argues that the billions of rand lost by the NSFAS in the last few years are also indicative of a crisis in the government bursary scheme.
That speaks to a crisis at NSFAS, not a crisis with the students...If your systems are efficient and well built it should not have even been possible.
In August, NSFAS defunded around 40 000 students who allegedly submitted false information during the NSFAS bursary application process. However, there are concerns that some students are being unfairly defunded due to allegations of attempting to cheat the system.
Nzimande has revealed that many first-time students who had initially been approved for funding by NSFAS were later defunded due to the discovery of previously undisclosed parental relationships.
These relationships were confirmed using information from government agencies like the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
Some students had falsely claimed to come from single-parent households or provided inaccurate parental details, which initially went unnoticed by the DHA and resulted in them receiving funding.
To address this issue, NSFAS initiated efforts to verify the parental relationships of students. They used an internally developed relationship matrix to uncover additional parental relationships among students.
Subsequently, SARS verification was conducted, revealing that some of the students who had initially received funding came from households with incomes exceeding NSFAS's threshold. As a result, funding for these students was discontinued.
Students who were defunded were provided with an opportunity to submit a NSFAS appeal.
Minister Nzimande announced the appointment of three new board members and revealed several directives to improve the operations of the financial aid scheme. These directives include modernising ICT infrastructure, streamlining operations and enhancing governance and accountability at NSFAS.