The South African Union of Students (SAUS) was optimistic about the introduction of a new direct payment system for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances. They expected the system to be efficient and free of corruption.
However, their optimism has since faded as several challenges are preventing students from accessing their NSFAS allowances.
SAUS Spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa says the manner in which the system was introduced caused lots of disruptions.
The direct allowances payment system was first implemented at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges in 2022. NSFAS promised that the system would be extended to include NSFAS-funded students at universities around South Africa in 2023.
In May 2023 NSFAS-funded University students around the county were instructed to onboard themselves onto the system to begin receiving their allowances directly from June 2023.
Since the introduction of the direct payment system, students have complained about exorbitant bank charges and the inability to access their allowances.
Dlamjwa says the union agreed that students will not be charged more than a R12 admin fee, but students are now allegedly being charged up to R174. They argue this would erode the 2023 student allowance increase that unions and the Department of Higher Education (DHET) agreed upon.
Its important to note that the fees are being charged by the service providers and not NSFAS. However, some have questioned why students are being forced to pay these fees instead of NSFAS.
The union spokesperson also said that the payment solution aimed to create a direct link between NSFAS and students while cutting out middlemen. However, this is eroded by the fact that each service provider is using their own system
Additionally, system challenges include not being user-friendly and not easily accessible for students which presented challenges with onboarding. Students who failed to onboard themselves would not receive their NSFAS allowances.
Many students were not able to onboard themselves onto the system, such that they would be able to receive their allowances.
The SAUS Spokesperson alleges that less than 70% of students have not received allowances, which they should have received on the first day of July 2023.
Students not being paid their allowances means that they don't have money to travel to campus to rewrite examinations, therefore, impacting the academic programme at institutions
Dlanjwa believes that the challenges currently faced by students can be easily resolved. However, it is paramount that issues are resolved as the allowances are needed by students.
Some of our students are being deprived of their basic human rights, so in that regard, it becomes absolutely fundamental.
Dlanjwa says NSFAS must uphold their agreements and ensure bank fees charged are what was previously agreed upon. They also require universities to release registration data which is critical for students to receive their funding from NSFAS.
They alleged that some institutions are deliberately withholding student registration data as the new direct allowance payment system will mean they are no longer benefiting from distributing student allowances.
NSFAS Responds To Student Concerns
Spokesperson Slumezi Skosana says it is normal for fees to be charged for continuing to transact with their NSFAS bank account.
NSFAS proclaimed that students will only be charged R12 monthly to receive access to their allowances AND financial freedom. However, students have complained they are incurring excessive bank charges as they make transactions throughout the month.
We shouldn't mislead the young people of this country by thinking that they will get everything for free… where in the world would you put your money in an institution like a bank and not pay fees?
"If you were going to join a queue somewhere and collect, that's the money perhaps you may pay by standing there in the fund, but really when it comes to using the solution that was procured, tailored for the specific needs of the students, there would be fees payable for that service."
However, NSFAS has noted concerns being raised by students regarding excessive bank fees and difficulties in accessing their funds.
The financial aid scheme announced they are investigating these issues, including the inaccessibility of service providers, lack of clarity on fund access, and allegations of funds not reaching students.
They have instructed service providers to increase their presence at universities and colleges. This will enable them to engage directly with students and provide immediate assistance.
Additionally, a meeting with service providers and student leaders to resolve the challenges being experienced by students trying to access their allowances.
Skosana also responded to questions about the financial technology service providers not having the required banking licences. The spokesperson says Fintech service providers are considered payment aggregators companies and would require a sponsor bank that would be responsible for the banking matters.
NSFAS Payment System Causing Academic Disruption
The academic programme at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) has already been disrupted as a result of challenges with the direct allowance payment system.
Students are concerned about the introduction of the direct allowance system during an ongoing academic project which affects students returning from recess and those preparing for second semesters.
TUT SRC President, Keamogetswe Masike, says they will continue protesting until the challenges are resolved. They are also calling for the TUT NSFAS beneficiaries to be exempted from the direct allowance payment system.
They believe being exempted from the payment system will ensure credibility and legitimacy and that the system should be gradually introduced in higher learning institutions with proper orientation.