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NSFAS Allowances Cause Debate Among Unisa Students


The subject of NSFAS allowances has Unisa students engaging in heated debate after a post on their Facebook page addressing which payments they will receive. Most of the posts are Unisa students expressing their dissatisfaction with the NSFAS allowances. 

Unisa makes use of long distance learning. Students pursue their degrees, certificates and diplomas from home by using online resources as well as study materials provided by Unisa themself. NSFAS does fund Unisa. However, due to the different approach to teaching Unisa has students participating in, the categories of allowances allocated to students is different. 

A post on NSFAS's Facebook page stated that Unisa students who are funded by NSFAS qualify for learning materials allowances only. This allowance is to be used for textbooks and amounts to R5200 per year for each student.

Those Unisa students who are registered for ten modules or more are also allocated an incidental allowance. This allowance is paid monthly from February to November 2020 and consists of R290 per month. The R290 is used for any small low-value expenses that arise. Students are now reacting with unhappiness to NSFAS's statement. 

Because of the shortage of space at traditional universities, many students who have just finished matric and would prefer full-time, contact university, turn to Unisa's distance learning as a second-best option.  For many of them their needs are the same as their friends who may have graduated with them and gone to study the same courses at UJ, UKZN or other contact universities.

Explaining their concerns on the Facebook page, Unisa students raised a number of practical concerns:

  • Transport
    • Some courses offered by Unisa require students to have to attend workshops and tutorials outside of their homes and therefore, students require transport to these destinations. Students are then finding it difficult to travel or cannot fund transportation. They are therefore requesting that NSFAS provides a travel allowance to Unisa students funded by NSFAS. 
  • Application Submission
    • Submissions can be done either online or by post. 
    • Some students do not own laptops of their own and might not have WiFi either. This would require students to find a place to submit or to use data to submit which involves the expenditure of money coming from student's own pockets. Students would also have to travel to find a computer or laptop to use when needing to complete those assigments. This poses as a difficulty to students as some of them cannot afford these costs.
    • For students who submit assignments through the post, this will require travelling to a post office to post their assignment which would also see money having to be spent. 
    • Students are then asking for the University to step in and distribute laptops with modems that hold a specific amount of data for them to utilise whhen needing to submit assignments.  

Unisa students want to be treated the same as contact students and receive the same allowances they do. Their view is that they are studying full-time as well and should not be seen any differently.

When the SA Union of Students made demands to Minister Blade Nzimande on the 16th of January, they stated, "We demand the inclusion of UNISA in all allowances."

After an agreement to return to classes was reached with the Minister a joint statement was released on the 1st February. At that time it was agreed that, "A Ministerial Task Team involving DHET and student leadership and other stakeholders will be established as a matter of urgency to look at the UNISA situation and changing demographic enrollments." 

One student, Thandeka Lushaba, commented, "Unisa is the most financially demanding Uni" and many others have agreed. She and many other Unisa students want Unisa and NSFAS management to enange in a meeting where these student needs pertaining to Unisa are addressed. 

Careers Portal has received confirmation from NSFAS Administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, that Unisa students are only eligible to receive the learning materials allowance. Unisa students who are registered for ten modules in a year will also receive the incidentals allowance. The allowances are sent to institutions and it is then the institution's duty to distribute these allowances employing the institution's own methods. 

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