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NSFAS breaking new ground

Written by Melikhaya Bandla*
More than 65 000 students at 11 universities and colleges have received their loans and bursaries through the new National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) direct pilot model.

The new model has provided financial aid totalling R1,4 billion to pay for tuition, books, accommodation, food and travel.

“We call this the ‘student-centred model’ of financial aid because we put the student at the centre of everything that we do,” said Zamayedwa Sogayise, Chairperson of the NSFAS board.

“For the first time in the history of NSFAS, we have a direct relationship with students. In the past, NSFAS did not even know a student until they had left university and we contacted them to repay their student loans.

“In 2014, with the introduction of the pilot we have a direct relationship with more than 65 000 students involved in the pilot phase of the new model.”

With the new model students no longer receive cash instead they receive vouchers on their cellphones, which they can use to buy their day-to-day necessities.

This voucher can be retrieved at any Spar or Shoprite store, where students can buy food, as well as NSFAS accredited bookshops.

The tuition and the accommodation are paid directly to the university.

“This innovation has helped us to distribute allowances to students within seven days of registration. Students have received R195 million in allowances for books, accommodation, food and travel sent by cellphone vouchers,” said Sogayise.

Students apply directly to NSFAS for loans and/or bursaries, and not through the university or college and they are also funded for the duration of their studies, not one year at a time.

“A big benefit of the new model is that students apply only once in their lives for financial aid. As long as they pass well, they will continue to get funding. In the old system, every student had to apply every year. They did not know if they would be funded from one year to the next,” said Sogayise.

For the second year of the pilot phase in 2015, returning students who were funded in 2014 do not have to re-apply.

“We already have their details in our system, and we will get their results automatically from the university. This eases the administrative burden on students, NSFAS and the institutions.”

He said NSFAS funds 450 000 students every year, providing loans and bursaries to the value of R9,2 billion and reducing the number of students who have to re-apply every year will make the administration much quicker and easier.

The NSFAS system also encourages students to excel at their studies by offering a conversion of up to 40 per cent of a student loan to a bursary in each year of study.

“This means that if you get a student loan of R50 000, study hard and pass well, you will only have to repay R30 000, and R20 000 will be taken off your loan.”

Students are also incentivised through the NSFAS Final Year Programme where students who pass and graduate receive a conversion of their final year loan to a 100 per cent bursary.

Institutions participating in the pilot include Durban University of Technology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in the Eastern Cape, Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape, University of Mpumalanga, University of South Africa, University of Venda in Limpopo, Ekurhuleni East College in Gauteng, King Hintsa College in the Eastern Cape, Motheo College in the Free State, South Cape College in the Western Cape and Umfolozi College in KwaZulu-Natal.

*Melikhaya Bandla is a communication officer at NSFAS.

For more information about NSFAS, contact: 0860 067 327