Fee-free Higher Education is floundering as more than 120 000 students are affected by NSFAS failures

Issued by Belinda Bozzoli MP – DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education & Training
14 Jun 2018 in News

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has revealed in a reply to a DA Parliamentary Question that at least 121 974 students have been affected by a delay in the payment of allowances. This is a much higher number than we initially thought and is cause for serious concern.  Of this number, 83% are university students, while 17% are Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students.

And not only that –  they have conceded that there are many more in the pipeline, still to be processed and paid, but they are unsure how many more. The much vaunted fee-free higher education system is failing tens of thousands of young people.

Only 17% of the known payout delays have been as a result of students not signing their agreement forms, while 83% were due to alleged “technical problems” in matching registration data for students.

NSFAS has been reluctant to take responsibility for depriving these students of accommodation, food and other necessities. The DA has therefore called for the immediate establishment of an emergency student allowance fund by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, to ensure that this problem of delayed payments is brought to an end.

NSFAS has noted that 12 universities and 11 TVET colleges have been disrupted and faced protest action since the beginning of the year many as a result of NSFAS problems. This is unsurprising, given the students’ frustration.

In an attempt to deal with the situation, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has made a number of upfront payments to universities and TVET colleges to help cover costs in the meantime. But neither Colleges nor Universities are equipped to pay out grants accurately, and to the right students.

At TVET colleges, where living allowances are disbursed by the TVETs themselves, the DHET has “requested TVET colleges to proactively identify all students in need of allowances and submit their details to the Department for intervention.” But NSFAS has not confirmed to them who the eligible students really are.

NSFAS declined to say precisely how many students overall were still to receive allowances, despite admitting that while they know of 120,000 students who haven’t received payment, they actually simply do not know how many students in total should still be receiving allowances.

The academic year has reached its halfway mark, yet students are still uncertain as to whether they will be given living allowances the next month or if their institution will be shut down by protest. This has a devastating effect on their academic studies, sabotaging their chances of gaining employment.

There are already 9.5 million jobless people in South Africa and the country’s economy has contracted by 2.2%. We certainly cannot afford to have an increase in unemployment. The NSFAS situation threatens to lead students to give up their studies. Many young people have dropped out because of the delayed payments. Without educating our youth, the country cannot hope to create jobs.

South Africa needs the kind of change that ensures that students are be prioritised. The DA believes that investing in higher education will translate to more job opportunities and guaranteed economic growth, and that students need to be treated with fairness and dignity. What is happening now is a travesty.