The many problems blighting the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) are no secret. Insufficient funding to the point where students are turned away make the news quite frequently. Recently NSFAS held a financial aid conference where the issues of corruption and the need for beneficiaries to pay back their loans arose. They, along with education civil-society group, Equal Education gave us some insight on the issues.
So what’s the issue, exactly?
Kagisho Mamabolo, Head of Marketing and Communications at NSFAS, says there just isn’t enough money to go around. “It was confirmed by the Ministerial Review Committee that the demand for financial assistance is greater than the resources available,” he said. “NSFAS has increased significantly over the last five years from R3,2 billion in 2009, catering for 191 000 students to R9,5 billion in 2015, supporting 450 000 students. The challenge here is that NSFAS’s budget needs to cater for an increasing pool of students with a limited budget,” Kagisho explains.
So why not get more money from government, then?
NSFAS says the problem lies in students applying at NSFAS who could otherwise afford a student loan at a bank as well as students not repaying their loans. NSFAS basically works on a “pay-it-forward” method: They give you a loan and you pay it back so that someone else can get that money to study. Kagisho urges, “We encourage previous beneficiaries of the scheme to repay their outstanding NSFAS loan. There’s more than R8 billion in our loan book and if that amount is repaid, then we can accommodate more students.”
Education civil-society group, Equal Education says the financial crisis at NSFAS is expected. “The distribution of the funds differs from one institution to another, high levels of corruption are some of the problems hampering the scheme,” says Tshepo Motsepe, from Equal Education.
What’s government doing about this?
Mduduzi Manana, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Skills Training, delivered a speech at this year’s financial aid conference in partnership with Financial Aid Practitioners of South Africa (FAPSA) and NSFAS. In his speech he explained, “NSFAS represents one of government’s major successes in addressing past inequalities and expanding opportunities to access higher education to thousands of people who would not otherwise be able to attend university”. This is true as since its inception in 1991, NSFAS awarded R50 billion in loans to 15 million students, according to the Deputy Minister. Impressive but it’s clearly not enough.
Would free tuition be an answer?
Equal Education seems to think so. “A model needs to be developed to introduce free quality education for the poor. This should not be seen as a free for all, this scheme should be for deserving students who have shown tremendous academic performance but are held back by poverty,” says Tshepo.
NSFAS says if your application is unsuccessful, speak to your financial aid officer at campus and try your luck at the bank, government departments or businesses that offer bursaries or try privately-owned Eduloan for education finance. But don’t feel too let down. There are ways around it.
“It’s unfortunate that majority of those who are unsuccessful in their application are those students who come from extremely poor backgrounds,” says Equal Education. The organisation also stresses that if you’ve been unsuccessful at NSFAS, still believe in your dreams and team up with fellow youth to force the state and universities to introduce free quality education until undergraduate level for poor students.
Have you been unsuccessful at NSFAS? Share your stories with us in the comment section below or tweet us on @LiveVIPZA
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