Members of the Parliamentary Committee on Higher Education and Training expressed concerns over an error that resulted in the defunding of over 14,000 eligible students from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Members sought information regarding the steps taken by NSFAS to rectify this issue and prevent future occurrences of funding students.
NSFAS provides comprehensive bursaries to students from poor and working-class backgrounds. These students must be pursuing their first tertiary education qualification at a University or TVET College in South Africa.
The NSFAS bursary covers tuition and registration fees and also provides students with money for food, learning materials and rent in the form of NSFAS allowances.
Being defunded from NSFAS caused much anxiety among students as they did not have money for food and rent putting them at the risk of hunger and homelessness. This is in addition to being responsible for covering their tuition fees.
The Committee stressed the importance of transparent communication between NSFAS and students and the need for assurance that corrective actions were being taken.
They also asked NSFAS to clarify why ineligible students had received funding. Members of Parliament had previously submitted queries to NSFAS but had either received no responses or responses deemed inadequate and unprofessional.
The second issue discussed during the meeting with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and NSFAS pertained to the funding of ineligible students.
Three categories were presented to the Minister, including matters related to hybrid applications, issues regarding missing parental relations and documents, and delays in data from the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS), which included academic eligibility assessments.
The overarching principle regarding defunded students was that if a student had been funded incorrectly due to reasons such as incomplete or incorrectly captured information, the default response was to defund the student.
It was noted that the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) had reported that R5.2 billion had been granted to undeserving students. However, NSFAS faced a dilemma as it would violate the law if it defunded students, but protests would arise if it didn't.
There were instances where students were defunded due to NSFAS's own mistakes. It was clarified that students unjustly defunded had been reinstated. However, 31,224 students remained unfunded, and the reasons for these decisions were provided.