Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande wants the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board to ensure the financial aid scheme works effectively and efficiently for students. A large part of improving efficacy and efficiency will be resolving challenges facing NSFAS-funded students.
Nzimande announced the appointment of three new board members and revealed several directives to improve the financial aid scheme. These directives include modernising ICT infrastructure, streamlining operations and enhancing governance and accountability at NSFAS.
NSFAS provides comprehensive bursaries to more than one million students attending public universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges. The NSFAS bursary covers tuition and registration fees and also provides students with money for food, learning materials and rent in the form of NSFAS allowances.
While many students apply for the comprehensive bursaries provided by NSFAS, not everyone who submits a NSFAS application is successful. NSFAS rejects thousands of funding applications every year from students who do not meet the NSFAS eligibility criteria.
In recent years, students have falsified the information in their applications to receive the NSFAS bursary. Students defrauding NSFAS have cost the scheme billions of rands.
NSFAS will also disqualify students from receiving their bursaries if they find that a student has falsified their information. However, the process of disqualifying students is not perfect and some students who meet the NSFAS requirements were incorrectly defended.
Nzimande indicated that approximately 14,703 records were identified as belonging to continuing students who mistakenly applied for funding due to various reasons, including migration to the new system and concerns regarding their funding status.
NSFAS has confirmed that all these continuing students have now been successfully funded, addressing their inadvertent applications.
However, 31,224 students remain without NSFAS funding. NSFAS says this is due to ongoing assessments of financial eligibility, as the organisation continues to identify additional parental relationships and academic ineligibility factors.
Nzimande Explains Why NSFAS Are Defunding Students
Nzimande says many first-time entering students who had been approved for funding were defunded due to newly discovered parental relationships.
These relationships are verified through information obtained from government agencies such as the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
According to NSFAS, some students declared they were from a single-parent household or provided incorrect parental information. This information was initially undetected by the DHA which led to the students receiving funding.
Nzimande says due to this trend of misrepresentations, NSFAS worked to establish the parental relationships of students.
However, based on review of this trend, through a relationship matrix that is built internally at NSFAS, we established additional parental relationship of students.
This helped NSFAS identify additional parental relationships among students, which were subsequently subjected to SARS verification. The outcome of this verification revealed that students who were initially funded came from homes that exceeded the NSFAS household income threshold.
This was exposed to SARS verification and SARS came with the feedback that the combined family income of these families exceeds the threshold. This led to the discontinuation of funding of some of the students.
Second Chance For Students With NSFAS Appeals
Nzimande says 178,426 appeal applications were received by NSFAS as a result of the discontinuation of funding. At least 63,331 of those appeals have been approved while 8,528 appeals were rejected.
The minister revealed that 30,712 of the 178,426 appeal applications submitted by students were invalid appeals, meaning students either withdrew their appeal applications or appeals were duplicated.
Then there are 41,438 appeals that require the submission of external dependencies, such as the submission of documentation. About 20,908 are awaiting supporting document appeals, meaning the student submitted incorrect documents at time of appeal and were requested to provide further documents.
Nzimande says 20,530 students were defended as the Department of Higher Education and Training and (DHET) and institutions indicated that the students did not progress. However, these students submitted NSFAS appeals to indicate that they have passed.
The process then dictates that NSFAS verify the information with the institution and there is a time lag on the processing with 11 institutions.
The minister says 11,248 of these appeals are being evaluated and an assigned case worker is processing the appeal applications.