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Students want direct payments aborted

By Amahle Kweyama

Picture: Neil McCartney / The Citizen

In pursuit of higher education, numerous students across the globe depend on financial assistance from financial aid programs to ease the burden of tuition fees and associated costs. In South Africa, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) plays a significant role in empowering students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access tertiary education.

However, this journey has its challenges for many students across the country. A significant ongoing problem is the NSFAS direct payments as students struggle with the complexities of this system.

NSFAS operates by disbursing funds directly to universities, covering a portion of the student's tuition fees, accommodation costs, and stipends for books and living expenses. In theory, this system ensures that students can focus on their studies without worrying about managing the finances of their education. In June 2023, NSFAS implemented direct payments stating that allowances would be paid through the NSFAS bank accounts that required students to register via a link. It was said introducing these direct payments to universities was a way to avoid the fourteen million saga that happened in 2014. However, the practical implementation of this system has been criticised as they have yet to cater to all students funded by NSFAS..

On 2 August 2023 university students marched to the Union Buildings and the Department of higher education. Students from the Tshwane University of Technology, University of Pretoria, University of Free State, University of Limpopo and other varsities demanded that NSFAS terminate this new system. The students claimed that the system included insane fees, extreme bank charges and caused delays in terms of them receiving their funding. Students also raised the issue of incorrectly defunding students and urged NSFAS to approve appeals for those who had been defunded. As a result of the march, the police got involved and used tear gas, as well as rubber bullets to stop the protesters.

Samkelisiwe Ngubane, who is a first-year student at UCKAR, stated that the delay in getting fees had disturbed her academic performance as she solely depends on the funding. Ngubane stated "My landlord has been giving me a hard time demanding that I pay up or else he will find suitable tenants capable of paying in time. I don't even know what I am going to eat in the following days". Tears rolled down her cheeks as she explained the issues she is currently facing due to the delay in funding. The SRC of UCKAR has been hands-on in assisting those who have not received funding.

In October 2015, thousands of university students demanded free education through the #FeesMustFall campaign. Their goal was to stop the increase in student funds and increase government funding of universities. As much as it helped many students from poor backgrounds to enroll at universities, it backfired as we are not receiving the funding that is meant to be provided to us. Instead of benefitting from movements such as #FeesMustFall, we are taken ten steps backwards.

A necessary solution for the issues surrounding direct payments experienced by university students in South Africa involves creating a more efficient and transparent disbursement system. It entails introducing a mechanism to track the status of NSFAS applications and the timing of fund disbursements in real-time. This would offer information to students and alleviate uncertainties. Collaboration between universities and NSFAS is pivotal in ensuring smooth and prompt fund transfers. This would minimise the delays burdening students and educational institutions. Furthermore, setting up a dedicated channel for students to seek assistance regarding payment-related inquiries can enhance communication. A transformation of the direct payment procedure, incorporating technology and effective communication, is crucial for furnishing students with dependable and timely financial support for their educational pursuits.

In addressing issues related to delayed disbursements, administrative hurdles, and insufficient stipends, South Africa can ensure that its higher education system remains accessible, equitable, and conducive . Only through collaboration and reform can the full potential of NSFAS as a vehicle for social progress be achieved.

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