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NSFAS acting chair Prof Lourens van Staden. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
NSFAS acting chair Prof Lourens van Staden. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has provisionally funded more than 1.2-million students and rejected about 240,000 bursary applications so far for the 2024 academic year, its acting chair, Prof Lourens van Staden, said on Monday.

NSFAS supports higher education and training for students from poor and working-class families who would otherwise be unable to afford to study at tertiary level.

Van Staden said the scheme had received 1,936,330 applications by February 16. By March 1, 1,244,854 students had been provisionally funded, 59,723 were awaiting evaluations, 94,816 required supporting documents, and 52,038 applications were still in progress. Other applications were withdrawn or “not started” as applicants created profiles but did not submit applications.

Of those turned down, 15,174 had lodged appeals. NSFAS also received 30,728 loan applications.

“We have preassessed and determined students who prequalify for the loan. This is specifically for those students who are above the income threshold for the bursary but within the loan threshold,” said Van Staden. 

The next step would be for NSFAS to ask institutions for the admission data of registered students, in line with the requirements of the 70%/ 30% split in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and social sciences subjects. It envisages that 31,800 “missing middle” students will then receive student loans.

Van Staden said NSFAS had been processing about 23,000 applications a day. Priority was given to applicants who had already received firm offers of admission from universities or were enrolled at Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. 

The scheme had received complaints about the effectiveness of its call centre and pledged to improve the query-handling mechanism to ensure it was more responsive. 

Due to challenges at the beginning of the 2024 academic year, which led to delays in receiving registration data from universities, the board asked institutions to operate as interim channels to pay the February and March allowances.

The scheme made two upfront payments to all institutions. The first was disbursed on January 31 and the second on February 29. These were to help institutions distribute student allowances.

“The majority of institutions committed to paying students from the last week of February.” 

Financial aid managers were also asked to confirm the dates of universities’ allowance payments. 

“For TVET colleges, we will be paying through the direct payment channel. The 29 institutions that have submitted registration data will be paid by Friday this week, latest. We encourage all other institutions to submit registration data, to enable NSFAS to make a catch-up payment,” he said. 

For universities, NSFAS disbursed R2.8bn in January. This disbursement does not include the calculation of the tranche payments, which the scheme will disburse at the beginning of April.

“This upfront payment covers one month of student accommodation and the book allowance. The book allowance is calculated at half the total cost, while the accommodation is calculated as one month of the accommodation cost.

“For TVET colleges, a total of R580,150,950 was paid to colleges as tuition upfront in January,” Van Staden said. An additional R1bn was earmarked for three months worth of allowances to be paid based on registration from the January-March period, he said.

Van Staden said the scheme had taken big steps towards implementing the recommendations of the Werksmans Attorneys report on the appointment of direct payment service providers.

“This report, commissioned by NSFAS , aimed to provide a comprehensive analysis of the scheme and identify areas for improvement, particularly in relation to procurement systems and management deficiencies.”

He added that the scheme recognised the importance of tackling the concerns outlined in the report and was committed to ensuring accountability for any wrongdoing.

“By implementing the recommendations, NSFAS will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the scheme. The NSFAS board remains committed to holding accountable those who have engaged in wrongdoing as contained in the Werksmans Attorneys report.

“NSFAS has initiated a thorough investigation to identify individuals involved in incorrect procurement of the fintech companies. We will ensure we subject these individuals to appropriate disciplinary action, including legal action if necessary, to restore public trust and confidence in the scheme,” he said. 


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