The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been having ongoing problems regarding student accommodation.
Student accommodation is a major source of trouble for students who are often left stranded, due to unavailable space and/or the accommodation cap implemented by NSFAS earlier this year. Student accommodation has been a long-standing issue, but particularly for this academic year.
NSFAS has recently been under fire for a number of complications, ranging from dissatisfaction with the newly implemented direct payment system, to continuing allegations of corruption.
Additional criticism has come from the Parliamentary Committee for Higher Education.
Criticism From the Parliamentary Committee
The Committee urged NSFAS to deal urgently with its student accommodation accreditation system and resolve the imbalances and inefficiencies regarding the accreditation of service providers.
In the recently held meeting, it was revealed that the accreditation system was also experiencing backlogs, which negatively impacted service providers that had modified their properties to meet the standards required by NSFAS.
The Scheme was instructed to enhance its human resources capacity to reduce the backlog.
According to NSFAS:
- A total of 93 424 beds have been registered on the accommodation platform.
- 58 444 beds have been paid for on the platform.
- A total of 21 903 have been accredited.
- 4 TVET Colleges are participating in the test pilot, and agreement on students that still require accommodation is in progress with the said institutions.
- At one institution, the pilot is advanced where students have even applied on the platform for the accredited accommodation.
- The programme is hoped to be fully piloted in TVET Colleges in 2024.
The Parliamentary Committee Group also found grievance with the appointment of the four Financial Service Providers (FSPs) in regards to the direct payment system, which now sees student allowances directly deposited into a NSFAS bank account.
The Committee questioned the legitimacy of the bid to appoint these FSPs, and criticised NSFAS for revising its requirements for the direct payment system tender, and questioned why capable service providers had been overlooked.
NSFAS has been adamant that the new payment system works and is needed, despite the dissatisfaction voiced by many. However, since its implementation, several challenges have been experienced by students. This includes the late payment of allowances, excessive bank charges and difficulties in using the system.
NSFAS Accommodation Cap and its Impact, Explained
Several universities and students have been negatively impacted by an accommodation cap introduced by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in early 2023.
Back in January, the bursary scheme announced that they would be introducing a R45 000 accommodation cap per annum. Amidst ongoing housing issues and the shortage of suitable accommodation, student organisations began calling for this cap to be reconsidered.
The accommodation cap was introduced to manage unregulated costs of student accommodation. It will also seek to prevent profiteering and price collusion from private accommodation providers.
There had been previous allegations of corruption in the student accommodation sphere, particularly at the hands of private accommodation providers.
NSFAS provides allowances for securing accommodation (amongst other costs), but students have complained that the prices are exorbitant and simply unaffordable.
Several students from institutions such as the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) made claims that private student accommodation providers increased rent prices for their own personal gain, which is now costing over R4000 per month.
Student accommodation prices are said to be raised to “astronomical levels”, surpassing the R4,500 per month threshold stipulated by NSFAS, allegedly having the worst effect on students at the University of Pretoria (UP), Wits University, Stellenbosch University, and the University of Cape Town (UCT).
However, as of late, students residing at private accommodation facilities have been finding it particularly challenging to afford rent, due to alleged unauthorised price hikes by private accommodation providers.
As a result, many students have been “left without accommodation...because they could not afford the new rent amounts”.
NSFAS Accreditation System Via A Student Accommodation Portal
Finding and securing accommodation is one of the students' many major concerns as beneficiaries, particularly because there is a frequent struggle to secure a place at campus or private residences, due to the common shortages of university accommodation.
In order to curve some of the difficulties students face when trying to find accommodation, NSFAS created a "Student Accommodation Portal."
The student accommodation portal is ready for accommodation providers to register and load their accommodation to be considered for NSFAS beneficiaries.
Once signed in, accommodation providers will be able to list their properties by providing their property names, location and images. NSFAS will then contact them and send a panel of experts to accredit and grade the properties to ensure that they are suitable for student living.
The portal allows the accreditation of accommodation providers, grading of the proposed accommodation, assigning the cost-based grading, and allocating accommodation to students.