The fact that some students are yet to see their NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) funding finalised is “unacceptable” and would be dealt with as a matter of urgency, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor said on Tuesday.
Addressing a media briefing, Pandor said that many NSFAS recipients recently complained that NSFAS had not yet distributed money promised for this academic year.
Pandor attributed this discrepancy between approved and received funds to an essential learning curve associated with the implementation of a new NSFAS system, known as a “student-centred” model.
NSFAS is responsible for distributing government funds to students in order to help them afford university tuition costs. In the past, money came in the form of a loan. This past year NSFAS switched to a bursary scheme for incoming students, so long as they maintained certain standards of academic success and fulfilled volunteer service hours. The exact details are still being finalised. The setting of conditions angered some tertiary students when it was first announced. The new plan also meant that those who are already receiving money from NSFAS, would receive their money in the form of grants instead of loans.
At the briefing, Pandor, along with a group of NSFAS representatives, addressed concerns regarding the new model. Instead of compiling data from a series of spreadsheets from each university, the model allows NSFAS to simplify the process of keeping track of, and distributing funds to, all NSFAS applicants through a centralised processing system.
The student-centred model was established at the beginning of the academic year to simplify student interaction with NSFAS and streamline fund distribution. However, teething problems with the implementation of the model has left both students and universities angry.
A recent TimesLive report estimated that NSFAS owes universities nearly R1-billion for last year’s enrollment. At the briefing, Pandor acknowledged unpaid universities, and admitted that there still is a great deal of work that needs to be done in order to fix the flaws in the new system.
The higher education department has “learned lessons” in the first year of the student-centred model and the department is working to ensure that all systems are working properly, said Pandor. Data integration between NSFAS and universities has been an obstacle to the distribution of funds.
Pandor urged students to sign their bursary agreements as soon as possible. The delay in signed contracts has been the biggest barrier to the success of the student-centred model, Pandor said. Pandor also asked universities to ensure their IT systems are compatible with NSFAS’ systems in order to fix the data integration problems and speed up the fund distribution process.
The new NSFAS programme has a planned five-year roll out. By 2020/2021, the baseline NSFAS allocation will increase from this year’s R9.849-billion to R35.321-billion. In order to account for the consequent need in capability growth, NSFAS has allocated R105-million over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework “to assists NSFAS to increase and strengthen its administrative capacity”.
According to Pandor, the increase in funding for 2018/19 will support 458,875 students with tuition bursaries. Students can apply for bursaries if their families earn a combined annual income of R350,000 or less.
For Technical and Vocational and Educational Training (TVET) schools, this funding increase will benefit 90% of students.
Pandor also mentioned that 50,480 TVET students will now qualify for accommodations and food, with 82,600 more students qualifying for transport allowances.
“The new funding allocation is estimated to be about 40% of the 208,000 spaces for new entrants at universities in 2018,” noted Pandor. She then clarified that the specific number of students funded will not be known until later in the year.
Pandor noted positives about NSFAS, citing a study that found NSFAS students performing seven times better in the classroom than non-NSFAS-funded students. Pandor also reiterated the importance and necessity of NSFAS funding. She made a promise that the NSFAS process will improve, and that these early growing pains can be resolved.
“Every single delay has a real effect on students, on their ability to access accommodation and food, books and ultimately on their ability to succeed,” said Pandor.
“We simply cannot fail to distribute funding to students when it is available.” DM