THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOT’S OF NSFAS
Written by: Zama Ngcoya
Just like the right to life is considered to be one that is important, that of education is undoubtedly of great significance as well. In a typical society, access to education serves as somewhat a promise to a better life. However for many tertiary level students, the prospects of a prosperous future remain questionable, as the lack of funding threatens their livelihood.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is one which was established many years ago. This public entity was established according to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme Act (Act 56 of 1999) and incorporated TEFSA (Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa). From 1993 to 2000, TEFSA was the primary non-profit company in terms of Section 21 of the Companies Act and ceased to operate in July 2000. All existing loans on the TEFSA books were transferred to NSFAS.
According to NSFAS’ mission statement, their aim is: “To transform NSFAS into an efficient and effective provider of financial aid to students from poor and working class families in a sustainable manner that promotes access to, and success in, higher and further education and training, in pursuit of South Africa’s national and human resource development goals”.
Although the mission of this entity is plainly outlined, NSFAS has been marred with wide spread criticism over the years. It has seen many student protests over shortages of funds, corrupt officials, and late payment of funds.
Although according to NSFAS, loan repayments are based on the salary that you earn. You start paying them back once your salary is R30,000 or more per year, one of the many jaw dropping moments that came to light about this entity was when main stream publications reported former Kwa-Zulu Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu saying that he had discovered that employees in his department were owing over R400 million to NSFAS. Employees from the private sector were also encouraged to pay back their NSFAS loans.
As South Africa had just celebrated youth month, Journalismiziko interviewed youths who shared their experiences with NSFAS.
According to former Durban University of Technology (DUT) student Amanda Shongwe, it was the funding from NSFAS which helped her get a Diploma in Human Resource Management.
“I am grateful to NSFAS for helping me further my studies. I applied once in 2009 when I was going to do my first year in HR and during that period, I was granted full funding, a book and meal allowance. This assisted me so much since no one was working at home. If it was not for the funding, I would not be the breadwinner that I am at home today,” said Shongwe.
According to NSFAS, it takes ten repaying beneficiaries to fund one student, and that people should help them fund the students of tomorrow by starting their repayments today.
Shongwe admits however, that although she has only recently got employment, she has not begun repaying her loan, but vows to do so when her employment is made permanent.
Although Minister for Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande announced that the NSFAS budget would increase in the 2016/17 financial year, it is not every tertiary student that has benefited from the increments.
According to orphaned Zanele Mbatha, she has not been able to access the scheme.
“NSFAS has not helped me. I applied in 2014, they did not reply, I applied again in 2016 but my application was unsuccessful. 2015 was the worst because I was always told different stories, but in the end, I was told they never received my application, while I even had the reference number,” said Mbatha.
Mbatha says she hopes for nothing more than to return to school and complete her studies.
Mbatha is currently doing part-time jobs to raise funds to meet her daily needs.
According to Simphiwe Shezi, an Interior Design student, the scheme raised and dropped his hopes.
“My first application for funding was successful but when I applied again in the second year, my application was declined and I have not received any form of financial aid till now,” said Shezi.
Shezi says he was initially told that his application had not been received and he was required to reapply, however, upon doing a follow up on his application, he learned that it had been declined.
For Shezi, the possibilities of furthering his studies are very slim. He pleaded with students who can afford to pay for their own fees to spare the funding for others, stating that only the poor should benefit from student funding.
Mbatha concluded by encouraging other students to only apply for funding if they really need to, saying that receiving funding when one can afford the fees deprives them (the applicants) a chance at education, and the country- people who are educated and can bring about great change.
*Caption: Amanda Shongwe at her graduation