(Photo: Unsplash / Banternsaps)
Five months after the start of the year, some students funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme have yet to receive their money. They are hungry, but the fundraising group says those who have been enrolled in their institutions have been and continue to be funded.
Simphiwe Sibiya, a second year student funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) at Thekwini TVET College, has been awaiting funding since February.
Sibiya was among a group of college students who slept outside their campus door after being evicted from their accommodation.
“We always sleep outside the gate without food or anything to keep us fit,” Sibiya said at the time of writing. “It’s been a month now, different campuses have students sleeping on the doorstep and some are camping with friends and relatives. “
According to Sibiya, their owners chased the students out of their respective lodgings. This came after NSFAS funding delays meant the group could not afford essentials such as food and accommodation.
Most of the students with Sibiya wish they could go home.
“But it’s not that easy,” Sibiya said. “Some of us are raised by single parents, so the only money we depend on is funding.”
Sibiya has been waiting for five months.
“No one is telling us why we have this delay because no one is giving us direct answers from the college or the NSFAS call center,” he said.
During communication with Daily Maverick, Sibiya and the rest of the group were allowed to move inside their campus lobby for an overnight stay and were then asked to stay due to the harsh weather conditions.
He’s one of 707 NSFAS-funded students at the college awaiting financial aid – and they’re not alone.
TVET and university students waiting for funding and struggling to communicate with the national fundraising group have flooded social media with complaints about the delays.
Thekwini TVET College spokeswoman Lindiwe Bhengu said of 2,844 requests for housing and transportation allowances, NSFAS paid 1,987. Bhengu said 707 were awaiting help and 150 were not eligible for funding.
In a statement released on May 28, Bhengu said the students failed to inform TVET of their problems. The college had learned about it from the media.
“Students apply online directly to NSFAS and get their responses directly from them. As a college, we need NSFAS officials to provide us with responses to student scholarship requests. “
To ensure strict compliance, the college has followed all scholarship rules and guidelines.
“This needs to be implemented because the NSFAS is audited as well as the TVET colleges. Typically, over 60% of students were paid when their documents were submitted correctly, ”Bhengu said.
According to Sibongile Mncwabe, head of general services at NSFAS, their records show that the group has funded and continues to provide stipends to students whose enrollment has been successfully linked by their institutions.
Apparently, part of the late payments is the responsibility of the institutions.
According to Lwandile Mtsolo, secretary general of the South African Union of Students, the union is “aware that NSFAS has made upfront payments to universities to distribute the stipends, but some universities are delaying giving their stipends to students ”.
“Hence the hunger crisis,” he said.
University of South Africa sophomore Cameron Peters said students who have taken to social media are “sick and tired.”
Peters was among the cohort who posted on Twitter about poor communication and the lack of NSFAS commentary on the allocation delays.
The student activist – who has created two Facebook groups, each of which has more than 1,000 students having problems with NSFAS – said “there are a lot of students who are in distress and have not received their allowances ”.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking, especially when I’m talking about full-time students who stay on campus and depend on these funds for food. Students are now starving, students are becoming homeless, they don’t have access to mobile data to learn about these things.
“With the NSFAS itself… the communication they give to students is extremely vague… some students never, ever get a response and the responses they give are always very model-like.”
A “blame game”
Mncwabe said that “institutions are the first point of call when such issues affect students and as NSFAS we can only assess the situation on the basis of reports from institutions.”
Peters argued that it was a “two-way blame game”.
“Between the institution, NSFAS, and third-party payment systems, people don’t know who to go to,” he said.
An NSFAS-funded final year student at Stellenbosch University, who requested to remain anonymous, agreed.
“Lack of access is the biggest problem,” she said. “There is no easy way to do anything with NSFAS. I tried going through college, but they always refer you to NFSAS and when you go to NSFAS they send you back to college.
According to Ahmed Bawa, CEO of universities in South Africa, the problem shows that the post-school education and training sector needs a national “cohesive system” that ensures that when a student approved for funding is admitted to university, they immediately receive that allowance.
The problems are “pregnant”
Students awaiting payment of their stipends aren’t the only ones having trouble with NSFAS.
SRC President of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Mpendulo Mfeka described the problems with NSFAS as “pregnant”.
According to him, the Lack of funding from NSFAS continues to affect many students across the country. At Wits, this has impacted over 3,000 previously funded students as well as PGCE and LLB students.
Many are even “starting to drop out”.
The situation was discussed during a meeting between a number of Presidents of SRC and NSFAS, Mfeka said, adding: “As students of Wits, we have written articles taking the [Department of Higher Education and Training] to the court”.
In an attempt to resolve the issue, they gave the department until June 25, 2021 to declare funding to all underprivileged students.
Another group of students fall into the “missing middle” category: too poor to pay their tuition, but considered too rich to enroll in NSFAS.
Bawa said some students who needed help but were not eligible, may have appealed to NSFAS and are still awaiting a decision. DM
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This notice was published: 2021-06-04 13:02:41