Over the past few weeks, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has received tons of backlash from students and stakeholders alike regarding several issues, particularly delays in distributing student allowances, a problematic banking system as well as the alleged incorrectly defunding of beneficiaries.
As a result of these challenges, the government’s bursary scheme has called on universities and student leadership to come on board and make constructive inputs on how to address issues facing students.
NSFAS board chair, Ernest Khosa made the call during a media briefing held on Monday, where its executive management gave an update on the 2023 academic year’s current state of affairs.
The scheme said a number of issues and challenges have been happening over the past few weeks, with most of the blame placed on NSFAS.
Khosa said that it would be incorrect to make assumptions that universities are not part of the problem, noting that one of the biggest contributors, which is not only specific to the direct payment system, has been institutions' non-compliance in submitting registration data.
One of the biggest contributions which is not only specific to the direct payment has been institutions’ non-compliance in submitting registration data. Registration data is either submitted late or incorrectly and this disarms NSFAS as we can’t pay students whose registration has not been confirmed.
NSFAS policy requires institutions to send updated registration monthly, Khosa says that any wrong payments, such as those paid to students who have dropped out or not attending classes, would be as a result of institutions not alerting NSFAS through this process.
“We remain committed to having a collaborative relationship with the leaders of higher education institutions and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges,” Khosa said.
Breakdown of NSFAS Allowances Paid for August 2023
According to NSFAS a total of R608 601 526 has been paid to NSFAS qualifying beneficiaries at public universities, while a total of R383 671 046 was paid to TVET colleges for the month of August alone.
A total of 355 270 students were paid, which makes up for 86% of total NSFAS beneficiaries, have also been able to successfully authenticate themselves and receive their allowances.
Khosa said NSFAS is reviewing and assessing the remaining students who were paid but were unable to access their funds because they had not fully authenticated themselves.
We do note that some students have been unable to authenticate themselves due to connectivity issues and NSFAS has sent teams to campuses to assist students with their authentication and verification process."
NSFAS called on students to complete the authentication processes to ensure they can receive their allowances. Failure to complete the authentication process could result in delays of NSFAS allowance payments.
NSFAS On Direct Payment System Issues
Khosa acknowledged that, as with any introduction of new systems, there have been some teething issues and genuine cases of students who have not been able to access their allowances via the new solution.
“We have also noted that closer to payment dates, the system experiences technical glitches caused by high internet traffic due to students registering at the same time. Onboarding for TVET college students continues on an ongoing basis as new students enrol,” Khosa said.
He said this can be mainly attributed to issues of data integration with institutions and system glitches caused by too many students/traffic seeking to register onto the system at the same time.
We have also had reports of students struggling with the authentication process and requiring assistance, hence we swiftly deployed officials across various campuses.
NSFAS On Defunding & Verification Process
Khosa explained that NSFAS has faced challenges in the past whereby students who did not deserve to be funded received a bursary from the scheme. This prompted the scheme to improve its verification checks to ensure only deserving students receive funding.
NSFAS teamed up with third-party entities to assist with the verification of student information. These entities include the South African Revenue Service (SARS), state security agencies and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
These partnerships have proven to be fruitful in helping NSFAS make informed decisions. We have had instances where information received through third parties is either outdated or inaccurate. We have been in constant engagements with the said parties in a bid to get real-time data
He said a total of 45 927 students were defunded after it was discovered that they did not qualify for funding.
“They submitted falsified documents or fraudulent documents, and these had to be instantly defunded as continuation of knowingly funding individuals who do not meet funding requirements would be going against the provisions of funding policy whilst depriving deserving students,” said Khosa.
He explained that after re-evaluation, funding was reinstated for 14 703 students, and 31 224 remained unsuccessful, with most first-time entering students having a household income of more than 350 000 and returning students either not meeting the required academic progression, which is 50% of all registered modules or exceeding the N+ rule.
The N+ rule refers to the number of years students will receive funding to obtain a qualification. The N+2 rule currently used makes funding provision to students for a minimum number of years allocated to the qualification “N” plus an additional two year N+2.