THE National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) does not usually respond in public to the barbed comments from Free State University vice chancellor Jonathan Jansen. But his latest criticism cannot go unchallenged because it is misleading. Students deserve better.
There are two main reasons why financial aid students still have outstanding fees at the end of their studies. Both reasons are due to poor administration of financial aid by universities.
Most universities make claims to NSFAS in excess of their annual allocations. Last year, universities claimed about R380-million over and above their allocations.
Universities allow students to sign loan agreement forms even though their annual allocation is finished.
NSFAS cannot process or pay these claims. But the students believe they have funding because they have signed for the loans. The universities continue to teach the students.
At the end of the year, the student remains with a debt, cannot get their academic results to continue to the following year, or cannot graduate.
By Jansen’s own admission, the university fears the student will not pay the outstanding fees, so withholds the qualification certificate, preventing the student from getting a job.
The second reason a student may have outstanding fees is the failure by the university to collect the portion of the fees owed by the student.
All financial aid applicants have to complete a means test to assess whether their families can contribute to the cost of their education. This amount is called the expected family contribution or EFC. If the university fails to collect the EFC, the students remain with a debt, preventing them from graduating.
As our audited figures for the past three years show, every cent of funding for loans and bursaries has gone to students.
And as for telling students to “join the queue…” what else would they do in a paper-based system run differently at each of the 23 universities? This is one of the reasons NSFAS is introducing a new student-centred system in which students will be able to apply directly for loans and bursaries.
Jansen insults us by stating “the NSFAS authorities sound as if they have resigned themselves to the crisis”. We are the ones who have repeatedly warned of the funding shortage crisis.
It is only through our collective efforts with the Department of Higher Education and Training and parliament that funding has increased from R3.2-billion in 2009 to R8.5-billion in 2013. Does this sound like the effort of people who are resigned to the crisis?
Zamayedwa Sogayise, NSFAS chairman