NSFAS Receives Criticism Over Student Accommodation Failures


NSFAS has been strongly reprimanded by the Parliamentary Committee of Higher Education for its continuous failures, which unfairly affect South Africa's students the most.


The Parliamentary Committee of Higher Education has delivered harsh criticism of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), regarding a number of issues that have routinely failed South Africa's student population. 

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.

Members also directed strong criticism at the NSFAS contact centre, its portal and query systems, for gross inefficiencies and instructed the entity to urgently resolve the challenges as they were destabilising the Higher Education sector by failing to service students. 

One particular issue is the ongoing challenges surrounding student accommodation.

The Parliamentary Committee's Criticism of NSFAS Surrounding Accommodation

Student accommodation is a major headache for students who are often left stranded, due to unavailable space and/or the accommodation cap implemented by NSFAS earlier this year.

Accommodation has been a long-standing issue, but particularly for this academic year. 

In the recently held Committee meeting, it was revealed that the student accommodation accreditation system has been experiencing backlogs, which negatively impacted service providers that had modified their properties to meet the accommodation standards required by NSFAS. 

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 an effort to curve some of the challenges associated with securing student accommodation, such as overpriced private accommodation, lack of available space, as well as poor conditions of residences, NSFAS resorted to creating a student accommodation portal. 

NSFAS Student Accommodation Portal: What Is It, Why It Was Introduced and How It Works

The Department of Higher Education wants to ensure that NSFAS-funded students have access to suitable accommodation while they are studying. 

The Student Accommodation Portal is for accommodation providers to register and load their accommodation to be considered for NSFAS beneficiaries.

NSFAS provides an accommodation allowance to its funded students. The accommodation allowance ensures that students can live closer to the university or college where they are studying. 

The need for student accommodation has also resulted in the creation and establishment of new accommodation facilities; but not all of these accommodation facilities are conducive to studying and may not be appropriate for students to reside in.

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. 

However, alleged corruption at the hands of private accommodation providers, has resulted in astronomical rent prices which students cannot afford - even with the help of an accommodation allowance.

As a result, many students have been “left without accommodation...because they could not afford the new rent amounts”. 

President of the South African Students Congress (SASCO), Vezinhlanhla Simelane says:

It is quite disturbing that you'll find a situation where landlords, owners of [accommodation] buildings, are increasing prices for our students; they are taking advantage in terms of the money they [students] receive from government in the form of NSFAS.

In an attempt to regulate the prices for NSFAS accredited accommodation sites, NSFAS introduced a cost cap of R45 000 per annum, challenging those providers who have forced prices above and beyond the stipulated amount. 

This cap applied to all funded students, regardless of whether they were in university accommodation or private accredited accommodation. 

Service providers charged students exorbitant amounts for small rooms. The cap allows the government to stretch its limited resources to support more students who do not have access to funding for student accommodation.

But the accommodation cap has not been well-received by many.

Dissatisfaction With The Accommodation Cap

Out of the 26 public universities in South Africa, a total of 11 indicated that the cap would negatively impact them, of which five were affected more than the rest.

Amidst ongoing housing issues and the shortage of suitable accommodation, student organisations began calling for this cap to be reconsidered.

The accommodation cap has left students homeless and the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) believes that NSFAS is violating students' right to housing and education, essentially calling for the cap to scrapped.

However, NSFAS reported that extensive research was conducted before making the decision to cap accommodation funding. 

Furthermore, to assist institutions negatively affected by the cap, NSFAS engaged with the institutions involved in trying to find solutions for funded students that could not be placed in accommodation because of the cap.

The bursary scheme also acknowledged that given that the cap was implemented for the first time, more work needed to be done to determine the relevant variables in line with the minimum norms and standards for student accommodation, and to determine the grading that would enable amounts to be paid by NSFAS above the cap. 

The accreditation of accommodation made sense, says the Committee, because it would ensure that NSFAS "follows the money" and ensures that students are housed in conducive environments.

The Committee is supportive of the Student Accommodation Portal, but is unhappy with the continuous issues that arise from NSFAS. When asked about the status of accreditation, NSFAS revealed:

  • 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. 

Other Criticisms From The Parliamentary Committee 

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 allowancesexcessive bank charges and difficulties in using the system. 

Additionally, NSFAS has been criticised for still dealing with appeals in September - majority of the 2023 academic year has come and gone, yet there remain students unfunded by the bursary scheme.

According to reports, of the 170 683 financial and academic eligibility appeals received by NSFAS, 58 924 were funded, 6 337 were rejected, and 28 971 were deemed invalid due to withdrawn, deleted, or duplicated appeals. 

Regarding appeals, there were 44 000 appeals that were dependent on external factors from February until now.  

Committee members inquired about the timeline for reducing the backlog of student appeals; NSFAS responded, stating that the deadline for internally dependent appeals was 30 September, while those dependent on external factors such as the educational institutions, had until 31 October. 

The Committee has been adamant in reminding the scheme that it could not be dealing with appeals in September, as students are nearing their final examinations, meaning majority of the academic year has passed.

Regarding appeals, there were 44 000 appeals that were dependent on external factors from February until now.  

Committee members inquired about the timeline for reducing the backlog of student appeals; NSFAS responded, stating that the deadline for internally dependent appeals was 30 September, while those dependent on external factors such as the educational institutions, had until 31 October. 

Some students were eligible for funding, but were not funded with all the proper documentation, and a significant number of students were wrongfully defunded. 

A NSFAS appeal allows students to request a re-evaluation of their NSFAS online application. The appeal must be submitted within 30 days of seeing the 'unsuccessful' NSFAS application status. 


    Suggested Article