Students left in lurch by new funding model

Two university campuses have been shut and thousands of students left in limbo after the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) failed to release living allowances and timeously to approve appeals for study funding, leading to chaos at the University of Venda and the University of the Free State.

Thousands of students protested at the University of Venda after not receiving their living allowances, while students at the University of Free State's Qwaqwa campus called for a fundraising plan to be implemented because of the NSFAS's slow response in processing their study-funding application appeals.

In the past, universities distributed allowances to students, but the NSFAS has introduced a new "student-centred" model, by which it gives funds directly to students. NSFAS chairman Sizwe Nxasana advocated the model in 2016, saying it would ease the administrative burden and reduce delays in giving funds to students.

But a lack of training and technical problems have dogged the new model.

University of Venda spokesman Takalani Dzaga said on Sunday that management had consulted students, who undertook to stop their protest but said they would return to lecture halls only when all students had received their living allowances.

The allowances, which are disbursed monthly, differ from student to student, depending on the expected family contribution calculated using the NSFAS's financial means test.

But students have voiced frustration with the means test, saying they view it as a dehumanising process that forced them to perform poverty.

NSFAS spokesman Kagisho Mamabolo said the University of Venda had 6,443 NSFAS-funded students but it had been able to send registration confirmations to the scheme for only 3,891 students. Of these students, 3,456 had signed loan agreement forms with the scheme and 2,754 had received living allowances by last Thursday.

Mamabolo explained that the NSFAS needed registration confirmations from universities "for us to release loan agreement forms because students only sign their [forms] " once they commence their studies".

The loan agreement forms govern the terms and conditions under which money is lent and are important to ensure that students repay their debt.

The NSFAS blamed delays in generating forms for university students and schedules of particulars for technical and vocational and education training college students on institutions struggling to use the scheme's upgraded modules.

"We therefore provided professional training interventions during March," Mamabolo said.

University of the Free State spokeswoman Lacea Loader said on Sunday that its student representative council had handed a memorandum of demands to campus management, asking for help with funding appeal cases lodged with the NSFAS and requesting that the university's provisional registration deadline, which lapsed last Friday, be extended.


Source:  Business Day

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