The provision of financial aid when pursuing tertiary education is crucial to ensuring that students complete their studies and attain their qualifications. This is particularly the case for financially vulnerable students who come from historically disadvantaged households.
In response to this issue, the government established the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in 1991. The student loan would subsequently replace the Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa (TEFSA) in 1999 under the NSFAS Act 56 of 1999.
The scheme is supported by government funding and local and international donations. NSFAS has come a long way since then, with millions of students attaining their tertiary qualifications through their student funding.
However, for some time before 2018, the bursary scheme was once partially classified as a student loan before its current form.
At the time, passing all subjects meant that 40% of the NSFAS funds for that year/semester would be turned into bursaries. This was the major requirement for receiving NSFAS funding. As a result, when funded students obtain employment, they would only have to repay 60% of the loan.
Following the peak of the nationwide #FeesMustFall protests, which gained traction in 2015, The student protesters were demanding that the Higher Education sector uphold section 29. of the country’s constitution which states:
Section 29(1)(a) of our Constitution enshrines the fundamental right to basic education, including adult basic education. Section 29(1) (b) provides for the right to further education, (university education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET).
On Thursday, 21 January 2016, the then Minister of Higher Education, Naledi Pandor announced that the department would make funds available to pay off the historical debt of students who are eligible for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
This applied to students who had been unfunded or underfunded while studying between 2013 and 2015 when the bursary scheme was in the form of a loan This would serve as a catalyst for the scheme’s adoption of a new funding model in 2018.
Lukhanyo Mtuta, a former Journalism student at the Cape Peninsula University (CPUT) was a NSFAS-funded student who studied between 2016 and 2019.
His academic journey as a NSFAS funded student started in 2014 while studying Level 2 Information Technology (IT) at False Bay TVET College Khayelitsha campus in Cape Town.
He explains that his NSFAS student funding at the time was consistent, without any hassles and that he used to receive a meal allowance of R600 in addition to the student expenses mentioned above. He would, unfortunately, be forced to drop out of college due to personal circumstances that impacted his family.
His second attempt at pursuing tertiary education would follow two years later at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) to study for a National Diploma in Journalism (NDJourn).
I got NSFAS during the first year, passed the first year without any issues, and got my monthly meal and book allowance. There were always protests or disputes between student bodies and the university at the time.
He adds that although he was not fully aware of why the protests were happening, the reasons quickly became apparent when there were punctual inconsistencies in receiving his meal allowance.
“I wasn’t always clear about what was going on, but I had to wait for a long time during that academic year. For example, I would only get my first allowance in June, instead of February or March due to backlogs and it would take a while to reflect on my student account,” he added.
Lukhanyo’s NSFAS funding would continue without any disruptions throughout the second year of his studies in 2017, although he lost it due to repeating some of his year courses.
Despite this, he appealed and continued his studies throughout 2018 without funding, and would complete his qualification through an alternative bursary scheme. He recalls losing his NSFAS funding as being a devastating and difficult period
In 2018, NSFAS changed from a student loan scheme to a bursary scheme. A bursary still covers student expenses such as tuition and registration fees, accommodation, transport, meal allowance and study material.
Mtuta now works as a Sports Journalist and to date, NSFAS has not contacted him to request repayment for their provided student funding. This is even though NSFAS has recently said: Funds received through repayments are reinjected into a new budget which will enable them to fund more students.
With regards to NSFAS-funded university students who received financial aid from the scheme following the adoption of its current funding model in 2018, Bongeka Khoza, a final year Environmental Management student at CPUT said that NSFAS has funded her consistently without any hassles since 2019.
NSFAS has since confirmed that as of 24 June 2022 691 432 tertiary students are funded by the bursary scheme with 462 983 of them being female and 227 072 being male.
They have also introduced and implemented a series of changes to ensure that all NSFAS-funded students meet the bursary scheme's eligibility requirements