The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will start rolling out a new application system for students next month – a move which is set to speed up the allocation of funds and help ensure that money set aside for bursaries does not go unspent.
The new student-centred model will replace the old funding system under which pupils or students applied only via universities or colleges for financial aid. Applicants would also no longer need to reapply for financial aid yearly as the once-off system would secure funding for students for the duration of their course if their circumstances remained the same.
The cost of higher education in the country has been in the spotlight since last year’s #FeesMustFall protests.
A presidential commission of inquiry was announced earlier this year to investigate the feasibility of free higher education, among other things.
A pilot phase of the new system started in 2014 and will be fully implemented next year.
Earlier this year, in response to a parliamentary question, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande revealed more than R650 million that had been set aside for loans and bursaries went unspent in the 2015/16 financial year.
Nzimande said funds were allocated to universities based on a formula.
Previously, higher education institutions facilitated the process whereby students submit their funding applications to NSFAS.
“The appropriateness of this formula and model was one of the factors that resulted in the new student-centred model where the money follows the student rather than the institution,” said Nzimande.
Under the old system, he said , some universities did not spend their allocation and only informed NSFAS of this late in the year, by which time it was not always possible to release funds for other students as the academic year had ended.
He pointed out that all funding that remained unallocated in a given year was rolled over to the next year.
On Monday, at the launch of a NSFAS “open week” at Sinethemba High in Philippi, matric pupils were encouraged to apply early for the 2017 academic year.
NSFAS executive officer Msulwa Daca said: “NSFAS cannot overemphasis the importance of learners applying on time.
“As a scheme we continue to improve our application system in preparation for full implementation of student centric model in the 2017 academic year.”
The event continues until Friday.
University of the Western Cape Student Representative Council (SRC) president Akhona Landu said students appreciated the efforts NSFAS had made to speed up student funding, but were concerned about the practicalities.
“Last year NSFAS launched the pilot of the student-centred model and there were many risks involved, raised by students in a meeting in May, for which solutions have not yet been offered.
“With the financial office in campus it is easy for students to query problems they encounter with NSFAS, but with this model who can we go to for queries? We will be told to go to the NSFAS head offices.”
Landu said another problem would be with the different academic years offered by different universities.
Rorisang Moseli, president of UCT’s SRC, said the new system was a good idea and that it would assist in eliminating fraud and corruption problems within national student funding.