The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has 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.
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 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This aimed to prevent students from submitting outdated, falsified or fraudulent data to illegally receive funding from NSFAS.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 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.
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.
More than a million students are currently being funded by the NSFAS, and are dependent on the bursary for covering their tertiary education costs.
Get all the latest information on NSFAS news and updates here on Careers Portal.