Since the establishment of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), millions of lower-income students have received financial assistance so that they can further their education by attending tertiary institutions. However, challenge after challenge has left students feeling like they can no longer rely on the bursary scheme they so desperately have to depend on.
The 2023 academic year has brought about a lot of challenges for NSFAS-funded students. From lengthy delays in the processing of NSFAS applications to a severe student accommodation crisis, students have had no reprieve.
Now, recent challenges include the defunding of thousands of students and troubles with the new payment system that has been introduced.
Challenges With The New Payment System
Last year, NSFAS announced a new payment system for the disbursement of allowances, however, major problems have been noted with this new method of payment. Several student unions and stakeholders have voiced their concerns, leading to mass protests at some public universities and TVET colleges.
Students are claiming that this new payment method is resulting in them being charged expensive bank fees. Students currently battle to stretch their already minimal allowances and now with additional bank charges, some are left excluded.
Allegedly, 15% of NSFAS allowances go towards bank charges.
While NSFAS stated that students would only be charged R12 per month, some are reporting that they are facing bank charges of R29 each month. This increases if students want to make more than the allowed number of withdrawals.
Furthermore, several challenges have been identified with the onboarding process of this new payment system. When students are facing trouble with the system, there is no one for them to contact.
Additionally, many claim that the Ezaga app is not user-friendly.
NSFAS Spokesperson, Slumezi Skosana, reveals that an investigation is being conducted into these complaints and appropriate action will be taken as necessary.
Students Being Defunded
The bursary organisation previously stated that anyone who was found to have provided incorrect information to receive funding would be immediately defunded. However, many students are up in arms as they believe they have been wrongfully defunded and have lost residence spaces as a result.
Students claim that their statuses suddenly changed from “approved” to “rejected” and their payments were immediately halted back in May. This is part of NSFAS’ remedial process whereby they are attempting to avoid the wrongful and illegal allocation of funds to students, who fall outside of the eligibility criteria.
This comes after it was discovered that NSFAS allocated over R5 billion worth of funds to more than 40 000 students who did not meet the requirements.
South African Student Congress (SASCO) President, Vezinhlanhla Simelane, says that a common occurrence is that students are being defunded because their parents earn above the annual household income threshold. This is a massive problem for students who do not know their parents or have a relationship with them, yet according to records, are still alive.
Simelane further goes on to say that NSFAS needs to establish an appropriate process to identify who meets the eligibility criteria and who doesn’t.
Delays In Receiving NSFAS Allowances
Allegedly, more than half of NSFAS-funded students have not received their NSFAS allowances for June or July, particularly for their meal allowances.
Simelane and SASCO demand that all academic activity needs to be halted until this issue is dealt with as students cannot be expected to have enough energy to continue their studies if they are not receiving money for food.
This has sparked protests at some tertiary institutions, including Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).
SASCO says that protests and halting academic programmes appear to be the only way to get the government and different organisations to respond when there is an issue, as discussing problems in a boardroom seems to be futile.
They further emphasise that it is becoming evident that NSFAS is no longer able to fulfil its duty to provide access to higher education for the poor and working-class