Universities Face Shutdowns As Students Protest Unpaid NSFAS Allowances

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Students plan to protest against NSFAS for not paying their NSFAS allowances. NSFAS blames late payments on universities but students demand accountability.

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Universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges are expected to be shut down over the coming days. Students plan to protest against the non-payment of allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

NSFAS provides comprehensive bursaries and student loans to deserving students enrolled in approved courses at universities and TVET colleges.

This NSFAS funding not only includes money for tuition and registration fees but also sees students provided with several allowances. These NSFAS allowances include money for rent, meals and learning materials. 

The critical nature of these allowances means that students are put under significant stress if they are not paid, which has been the story of the 2024 academic year so far.

NSFAS has acknowledged its failures to pay allowances, however, they said delays in payments were due to institutions not submitting registration data on time. 

While Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has assured students that his department is working around the clock to ensure that students receive their NSFAS allowance payments, they will most likely only receive cash at the end of April 2024. This has put some students at risk of being evicted from their residences while many students will not have money to purchase food. 

Student activist, Keamogetswe Masike says the majority of NSFAS-funded students are starving. The blame for this has been put at the feet of Minister Nzimande. 

As we speak our students in their absolute majority are starving NSFAS has not dispersed their allowances for April and no one is held accountable for that so we've taken a decision as student leaders across this country that it can't be business as usual when the minister wants to bluetick some of these issues that student leaders and students in general are raising.

Maskike said these challenges have led to calls for the NSFAS board to be dissolved. 

April 2024 allowance payment challenges also coincided with the change in who is paying allowances to students. While NSFAS made upfront payments to universities to facilitate allowance payments for February and March, from April onwards, the direct payment system will exclusively handle NSFAS allowance payments.

Maskike says students have been clear in their calls for the termination of these contracts allowing service providers to pay NSFAS allowances.

We had mentioned categorically clearly that we want the total termination of these contracts, it's none of our business that people are sleeping in their offices unfortunately it compromises our students.

NSFAS Direct Payment System

The use of the NSFAS Direct Payment System has been a cause for concern among stakeholders in the sector since its introduction. Students marched to parliament in 2023 due to high bank charges associated with the use of NSFAS bank accounts. 

Later in 2023, the NSFAS CEO was fired over a potential conflict of interest in choosing the service provided to facilitate direct payments. These companies face contract termination based on the Werksmans report recommendation, but NSFAS anticipates legal challenges could delay the termination of the contracts

NSFAS's decision to allow these companies to continue disbursing student allowances has caused concern among students. 

Maskike said universities must also be held responsible for their role in the delay of NSFAS allowance payments. Institutions that failed to submit registration data on time prevented NSFAS from allocating allowance payments for students. 

Universities are then also have to be held accountable for the delay of some of the data files that were not sent to NSFAS on time

NSFAS Board Dissolved 

Late on Thursday night, students' calls were answered as Nzimande announced that the board of NSFAS had been dissolved. The Board’s chairperson Ernest Khosa resigned just before Nzimande announced his decision to dissolve the board. 

Khosa recently returned from special leave as NSFAS investigated claims against the chairman over his possible involvement in the awarding of contracts to companies to facilitate allowance payments. 

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The arguments around NSFAS allowances for students have been escalating in recent days, with university students calling for a national shutdown. Taking action to try to alleviate the problem, Minister Blade Nzimande announced late on Thursday night that the entire Board of NSFAS has been removed, which will allow the Minister to exert more direct control.

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