The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has left many funded students unhappy, after the scheme cut off funding for their studies. These students have claimed that their application statuses have randomly changed from approved to rejected.
Defunding of NSFAS Students
Students say they were approved by the bursary scheme and had been receiving their monthly NSFAS allowances since the beginning of the year, but payments suddenly stopped in May 2023.
The NSFAS allowances that students receive are aimed at covering essential expenses while they pursue their academic goals. NSFAS payments are for allowances for meals, learning materials, and transportation costs, amongst other expenses.
More than a million students are currently being funded by the NSFAS, and are dependent on the bursary for covering their tertiary education costs.
NSFAS' Response to Defunding Complaints
According to NSFAS, as observations made by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), NSFAS had initiated a remedial process where students found to have been funded based on incorrect information were defunded instantly.
NSFAS CEO, Andile Nongogo, says that students were not defunded without reason.
At a media briefing held today, 7 August 2023, Nongogo emphasised that "defunded" means that the student was not eligible to receive funding in the first place.
The scheme and its CEO explained that the sudden defunding of certain students, was due to the revelation that they don't actually qualify to be funded by NSFAS.
After further investigation into student applications, NSFAS' system (along with databases of SARS, Home Affairs and the State Security Agency), identified applications that contained incorrect information and/or information that was not consistent.
This process of double-checking applications comes after the shocking revelation earlier this year that NSFAS spent R5 billion over four years on students who did not qualify for the funding.
An investigation revealed that about 40 000 students who received funding between 2018 to 2021 were not actually eligible for funding, and that they had fabricated certain parts of their applications in order to gain approval.
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.
Updated NSFAS Eligibility Criteria
The academic requirement updates include the following:
- First-time entering students are expected to achieve a course credit pass rate of 50%.
- Continued funding will be granted to university students who now maintain a 55% course credit pass rate, instead of the previous 50%.
- Returning university students will need to meet the ongoing academic obligations for funding, which are set to be readjusted to have 60% as the course credit pass rate over time.
- The N+ rule for distance-learning university students is also set to be reviewed as of 2024.
The bursary scheme also made an additional change later on during the year, which prompted protest action from students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
The latest change to NSFAS eligibility requirements states that students studying for less than 60 course credits will no longer eligible for accommodation, living expenses and transport allowances.
This change in rules leaves quite a number of students stranded, as they were obviously reliant on NSFAS to continue and eventually complete their studies, as they cannot afford the various costs associated with tertiary education out of their own pockets.
NSFAS Continues to Exclude More Students from Accessing Higher Education
While the scheme conducts thorough checks into all applications that are submitted in order to ensure deserving students are funded, NSFAS simultaneously excludes certain student groups from accessing higher education.
The bursary scheme changes its eligibility criteria quite often, which leaves previously approved students stranded or creates barriers for students under the umbrella of the missing middle.
NSFAS also no longer funds certain courses and/or qualifications, such as Postgraduate courses. For many students, having only an undergraduate qualification is not enough when it comes to their career field.
While some students may have lied on their applications and were caught, thus leading to the sudden stop of monthly allowances, the possibility of errors on the part of NSFAS, its systems and partner systems very much exists.
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.
Ernest Khosa, Chairperson of NSFAS and Andile Nongogo (CEO), have emphasised that the onus is on the student to make sure the correct information is submitted within their applications, and that the option to appeal is also available.
The bursary scheme also recently began making use of a new direct payment method when it comes to distributing student allowances.
The New NSFAS Direct Payment System
As of June 2023, NSFAS started paying allowances directly to students using their new direct allowance payment system. The system was introduced in an effort to streamline the payment of NSFAS allowances to students and give them confidence that allowances would be paid.
However, several challenges have arisen with students struggling to grapple with the new payment system. Students have complained about exorbitant bank charges and the inability to access their allowances.
While there have been claims of students being incorrectly defunded, there have also been claims about wrong or excessive disbursements. NSFAS has vehemently denied reports that erroneous payments have been made to students, arguing that this is entirely untrue.
The introduction of the new direct payment method was just one of the number of changes NSFAS implemented this year. Amongst these changes was the restructuring of the scheme's eligibility criteria.