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Public Protector Calls On NSFAS To Do Better

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande at a TVET college

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has urged the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to make changes. 

Mkhwebane wants the financial aid scheme to find solutions to the problems that students raise every year. 

The Public Protector raised this issue during a webinar in collaboration with the SA Human Rights Commission. The theme for the webinar was: Protecting the right to higher education. 

During the webinar, problems within the education system were raised, including: exclusion (of deserving students), payment of allowances, and delays in registration. 

"We also have an ongoing investigation stemming from allegations that NSFAS incurred irregular expenditure amounting to R7 billion, failed to assist students, in that it lacked the ability to raise and recover loans,"

NSFAS CEO,  Andile Nongogo said NSFAS is in the process of addressing the previous failures of the system. 

"We have started by improving the key modules that are used for NSFAS, namely those that relate to the payment of students. We are improving our application portal such that we are able to make real-time decisions as and when students are applying." 

He said the board is in the process of looking at policy issues that are affecting students. This includes appeals, student accommodation and more issues relating to the rules of the bursary scheme. 

One of these rules includes the NSFAS N+ rule, which has been criticised for resulting in the exclusion of students. 

Funding for NSFAS students is based on academic eligibility testing, which includes the N+ rule.

N refers to the minimum amount of time the student has to complete their degree. This is usually specified by the institution that the student is enrolled at. 

In 2020, NSFAS conducted an investigation, after receiving complaints from students. This investigation found that there were potentially 29 000 students who were affected by the rule. 

NSFAS has the N+ 1 rule as well as the N+ 2 rule, which may seem the same, but apply to different students.

The N+1 rule applies to first-time entering university students who registered in December 2017, while the N+2 rule applies to students who first registered before January 2018.

Students who exceed their time at university, according to the N + rule, no longer meet the requirements to be eligible for funding from NSFAS. 

This affected many students in 2020 who were affected by the lockdown. NSFAS then opened appeals to review the eligibility of students. 

Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, said by the end of the appeals process, a total of 9 541 N+2 appeals were received.

Out of all these applications, NSFAS approved 8 761 appeals and rejected 780 appeals. 

The N + rule continues to be a reality for many students, who will most likely have to go through the appeals process again this year should they not meet the requirements.  

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