Students’ registration in limbo as NSFAS crisis continues

In August last year, students marched to parliament to demand answers for delays in payment. Photo by Asive Mabula

The problems at NSFAS are having a ripple effect on student registration this year.

As the opening of universities draws closer, students are becoming more and more anxious as uncertainties regarding their funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) remains undetermined.

According to the Nsfas website, since the opening of Nsfas registration on 21 November 2023, there have been approximately 1,545,822 applications for the 2024 academic year, with more expected before the closing date on 31 January. The organisation is closing out the 2023 cycle with approximately 20,000 outstanding 2023 allowance disbursements, despite its self-imposed deadline to resolve these all of 15 January 2024. The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande claims that the main reason for the outstanding payments was due to registration data changes.

Nsfas opened for 2024 applications in November when students were busy with exams. In August they protested against the delays in payments by outsourced financial service providers that disburse funds on behalf of Nsfas.

Both returning and prospective students have expressed their frustrations with the various challenges they face with Nsfas, most of them revolving around unpaid registration and accommodation fees. “I have lost hope of successfully registering this year. There always seems to be a problem with something when it comes to Nsfas,” says UCT student Emihle Sigaqa.

Minister Nzimande has asked universities to allow students facing this challenge, even with unpaid fees, to still register. In some instances, students have been left stranded with no accommodation.

“I don’t think I will get any help because apparently now they are assisting first year students. What happens to us returners, I don’t know,” says CPUT student Nontobeko Hadebe. Other students fear their Nsfas funding may be revoked after their parents had found employment. Some students are concerned about whether or not they will be able to complete their degrees due to the issues faced by Nsfas every year. They are worried that their funding might be cut off at any point in the year. “A friend of mine literally had to pack and go home because Nsfas rejected her this year, and she had no other way to pay her school and accommodation fees,” says a frustrated Sinalo Twala as he speaks about the corruption allegations circling Minister Blade Nzimande. He worries that there will be no accountability when it comes to the mismanagement of funds. Minister Nzimande has denied these allegations and does not believe that he should resign.

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Classes have started at the University of the Western Cape despite the myriad of challenges that students face. Photo by Mzi Velapi

The UWC SRC acting president Siyabonga Sigudla says that regardless of countless attempts to engage with Nsfas, they have had no satisfactory answers that indicate what the next step is for students. He says this reflects an uncaring government and it is an indication that “Nsfas is in a state of collapse” and does not believe that it will meet the deadline of 15 February to have attended to all students with ongoing issues. The SRC at UWC is calling for recourse to online learning in order to help the students who are being left behind while classes continue. If these issues are not resolved, says Sigudla, and should the student body call for it “there will be no other obligation but to take it to the streets”.

Missing middle and loan scheme

Nsfas has also put in place a new loan scheme (the Comprehensive Student Funding Model) that seeks to address the issue of the ‘missing middle’ – the category of students who come from families with a total income of more than R350,000, but less than R600,000 per annum. According to Minister Nzimande, any student who falls under this and meets the 60% average will automatically qualify for the scheme.

“It’s unfair because the reason why I am applying in the first place is because I don’t have the money, so where am I going to get it to pay it back, especially with these high unemployment rates,” cries CPUT student Zintle Ngcobo. “Although the poor are deserving of these bursaries, so is the middle class and we should not be put on the back burner because we are all equally deserving you know.” 

The accommodation crisis

 One of the most pressing issues facing bursary students is the lack of accommodation. The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) conducted an investigation in 2023 which revealed that of the 397,000 beds Nsfas needed for students, they only had 25,803 (or 6.5%). This deficit has left many students stuck with no accommodation and no alternative. One of the institutions affected by this crisis is CPUT, where the SRC made use of multipurpose halls as temporary accommodation for students.

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The situation escalated yesterday as students were violently kicked out of the Bellville campus and were locked out of campus and told to wait outside for further communication.

Over 300 students at CPUT who come from outside of the province and were sleeping in empty buildings and corridors on campus were tossed out on Tuesday and told to wait for communication from the university.

“They told us to come outside, and they will attend us, and they gave us a list to write down our names and student numbers,” says mechanical engineering student, Andile Nyobisi.

One of the students, Nompumelelo Mtshweyi says she was kicked out of where they were placed to sleep and made to wait off campus because she had not applied for accommodation. “I didn’t know I had to apply separately for academics and accommodation; I thought if I was accepted for academics then I automatically get accommodation,” says Mtshweyi.

The Independent Newspapers reported the CPUT spokesperson saying that the majority of those who were locked out were prospective students who had been “squatting” at the student centre. Today, it was reported that 100 beds have been secured for the students who were stranded, still leaving two hundred more who are falling behind in their studies as lectures have already begun.

According to the UWC SRC acting president, Siyabonga Sigudla, landlords of private accommodation are also hesitant to accept students funded by Nsfas due to the uncertainty that payments will be made timeously, or at all. “Look, if the students of this university call upon this SRC to take it to the streets, we have no other obligation but to listen to the students that put us in this office,” he said.

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