Universities called to collaborate with NSFAS to address students’ issues

Monday, August 7, 2023

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has called on institutions of higher learning and student leadership to come on board and make constructive inputs on how to address issues facing students. 

The scheme 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.

NSFAS Board Chairperson, Ernest Khosa, said a number of things have been happening in the past few days, with most of the blame placed on NSFAS.

Khosa said 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.

Khosa said the registration data is either submitted late or incorrectly, and this disarms NSFAS, as it "can’t pay students whose registration has not been confirmed”.

“NSFAS policy requires institutions to send updated registration monthly, therefore 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.

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 paid students, which constitutes 86% of the paid students, 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.

“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.

The chairperson 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.

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.”

Verification of information submitted

To ensure the correct processing of these applications, Khosa said, NSFAS has partnered with other entities, including the South African State Security Agency, South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the Department of Home affairs to verify information submitted by individuals during the application stages.

“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,” Khosa said.

He said a total of 45 927 students were defunded after it was discovered that they did not qualify for funding.

Khosa said after thorough investigation, improved relationships with third party data sources, including SARS, and engagements with the Auditor General South Africa, NSFAS sought to re-evaluate some applications whose funding had been approved.

After this exercise, he said, investigation results indicated that some applicants were not deserving of the funding and had submitted falsified or fraudulent documents. These had to be instantly defunded, as funding individuals who do not meet funding requirements would be going against the provisions of the funding policy, while depriving deserving students.

“For example, students would provide correct parental relationships in their first application attempt, and when they get rejected due to the financial status of those parents, and when they reapply, they submit different parental relationships. When we did re-evaluation, our system picks up the original information previously submitted.

“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,” Khosa explained.

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 years N+2. – SAnews.gov.za