NSFAS needs to be reminded of its objectives and purpose

Dr Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). She has a PhD and two Master’s degrees in the social sciences. Picture: Supplied

Dr Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). She has a PhD and two Master’s degrees in the social sciences. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 8, 2024



In recent years student protests at state universities in South Africa have become a normative practice.

The motivations for students to protest violently vary widely. Some students have gripes with the institutions themselves in relation to access to housing and institutional inefficiencies, access and availability.

Most student protests have been caused by institutions not permitting students to register for a new academic year if they have the previous year’s tuition fees unpaid and disbursement of allowances for various student requisites such as study materials, housing, transportation and food.

The financial exclusion process prohibits students from accessing their student records, retrieving completed degree certifications, and even applying for jobs once the qualification has been completed.

The impact of financial exclusion of a student is detrimental to the prospects of a young adult’s livelihood in South Africa. This trajectory of events also contributes to the high ratio of youth unemployment in South Africa.

In November last year, it was reported that the youth unemployment rate is now almost 45%, according to the Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey of 2023.

A central measure to assist students and alleviate youth unemployment was the development of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

This scheme has been noted to be fraught with challenges as many media reports have indicated that funds have been delayed or reduced and are therefore insufficient to keep up with the inflated costs of living and increasing tuition fees.

This year, UKZN students protested in February as they were forced to be at university without financial support from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. Not every protest is peaceful. Unfortunately, dire socio-economic circumstances also motivate emotions of rage, anger and despair among students, which result in their violent and disruptive protests.

Recent empirical research which has emerged from a project that focuses on social cohesion in KwaZulu-Natal post the July 2021 riots has revealed that there is a dominant perception that South Africans believe that protest action ensures that their grievances are heard by the government.

Protests and strikes have become a channel of communication in South Africa. This is also further affirmed by Heidi Brooks, who published an academic article on protests in South Africa in 2019. Can we assume that other communication avenues are ignored? Media reports disperse relevant statistics and information but do not elicit an immediate or remedial response.

We often need to be fully informed by the management and authorities of the NSFAS as to why fund disbursement is not timeous, why there are reductions and why some students are declined when they apply for funding.

The continual lack of information and misrepresentation of statistics led many South Africans to accuse the scheme of being biased or based on racial benchmarks.

In January 2024, a profoundly saddened parent who is Indian South African by identity approached a popular media blogger (Indian South African) known as DALA U CREW.

A video that explained how their daughter was denied the grant despite him declaring his income statements upon application was posted. To qualify for the grant, the parent has to earn below R350 000 per annum.

His eldest daughter received the funding, and the second application was denied based on the accusation that he was making more than R350 000 per annum. The dubious and unreasonable response allows one to question the ethical practices within the system and the mechanism in place when recipients of this grant are selected.

This kind of experience examines the inclusive values of democracy, equality and unity that we want to build on and share. Similarly, such circumstances now give further rise to speculation of corruption and nepotism within a grant system structured to uplift the lower-income groups of our society.

The funding was late this year, and we were again not informed why this happened. A representative of the NSFAS scheme indicated that universities needed to be on time in submitting their lists of students who require funding.

Can all 26 public universities be late in this regard? Should we not be entitled to further clarity in this regard? For instance, students at TVET colleges will only receive their allowances this month despite the academic year kicking off in January 2024. This arrangement is not conducive to a healthy teaching and learning process.

The scheme organisers need to consider that many of the recipients of this bursary are the children of domestic workers, street workers and casual employees. These students have no “fall-back plan” and are dependent on the grant.

The lack of timely delivery of access to the funding in 2023 forced universities to extend registration periods at the institutions so that students could register once NSFAS paid their financial clearance and registration fees for 2024.

Students then arrived at universities inconsistently. Many students could only come to educational institutions once the funding was available, as they were dependent on the funding for transport costs. In most instances, classes had begun, and many students started the academic year later than others, placing them at a learning disadvantage this year.

The bigger purpose of this grant is to contribute towards the upliftment of people experiencing poverty. Late disbursements and inefficient practices within the NSFAS system give rise to many other social ills. In addition, the credibility of this scheme, its overall objective and its impact on alleviating poverty among students are missed.

Dr Sheetal Bhoola She is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). She has a PhD and two Master’s degrees in the social sciences. She has been the recipient of awards and scholarships.

Visit www.sunningdale.stellarmaths.co.za.and www.sheetalbhoola.com.

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