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2024 NSFAS applications are open: 10 things you need to know

Today, 21st November 2023, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has opened its application process to financially support students in university and at TVET colleges in the 2024 academic year. The scheme has had a whirlwind 2023, and closes the year mired in controversy.

While official word from NSFAS is that all of its systems are operational – more of which will be explained during a press conference today – there is still a significant amount of confusion around what exactly is going on at the scheme after the CEO and payment facilitating partners were supposedly fired last month.

If you are a new or returning student looking to apply and sign up for NSFAS support, we have collected a host of important information to keep in mind when applying to the scheme. Millions of students will be applying in order to continue or begin their journeys in tertiary education – so much so the official NSFAS portal is struggling to stay online under the traffic as of time of writing.

Here are 10 things you need to know before making an application for NSFAS support:

1. What is NSFAS and how do I apply?

NSFAS is the South African government’s university bursary programme. It is funded by taxpayer monies and organised by the Department of Higher Education and Training and its minister Blade Nzimande. Its mandate is to financially support the studies of young people who would not otherwise be able to pursue their tertiary education by paying university or TVET tuition as well as living expenses.

To apply to NSFAS, you need to head to the official NSFAS website. Here you will have to provide personal information, or simply log in if you are a returning applicant.

You will need to upload documents that include proof of income of parents/guardians or if you are a SASSA grant beneficiary. Click here for a step-by-step guide to apply.

2. What are the criteria/requirements?

There are strict requirements to follow if you’d like to apply for and receive financial support from NSFAS. For many years NSFAS has struggled with fraudulent activities from applicants and has over the years tightened its entry requirements as well as the documentation processes.

To be eligible to even receive funding from the scheme you will need to meet the following criteria:

  • “You are SASSA grant recipients or
  • Your combined household income is not more than R350 000 per year or
  • If you are a person living with a disability, your combined household income should not be more than R600 000 per year or
  • If you are a student who began their university studies before 2018 and their household income is not more than R122 000 per year.”

Returning NSFAS students will need at least 50 percent in their grades (passed) to be eligible to receive funding again for the next year.

You will need to provide documentation that proves you are eligible and fit the criteria when you apply, including IDs, proof of income, or SASSA grant receipts.

3. How many students does NSFAS support?

In 2023, the scheme said on several occasions that it was providing financial assistance to 1.1 million students across South Africa and its tertiary institutions. It received a budget of R50 billion from the government to support these students.

However, this massive influx of students poses a problem for communication. The NSFAS process is not a simple one, and some students have said in the past that their stipends have been cancelled without receiving any notification.

Many students will also plead official NSFAS channels for communication without hearing any information in return. The scheme has said that it will look to expand its communication with students in 2024.

4. How does NSFAS pay its students?

In previous years, the scheme would pay students through the universities or TVETs they attend but in 2023 the scheme overhauled this system entirely in order to root out fraud and become the direct payment facilitator.

It did this by bringing on four fintech companies to help manage the payment processes to students and launch digital student bank accounts and NSFAS bank cards. NSFAS students must sign up for these accounts through the different payment partners, via mobile/smartphone application. They will then receive their stipends through these bank accounts.

5. How do NSFAS bank accounts work?

The onboarding process to begin using a NSFAS bank account is confusing.

Once you have applied and been registered to NSFAS, the scheme will provide a link via SMS in which you can register to one of the fintechs to begin receiving your allowance. After following this link you will have to input a series of personal information so that your identity can be validated.

Once your identity has been validated, you will receive an approval SMS with your bank account number. You can use this number to collect and activate your NSFAS bank card at your specific campus. You will also have to sign up with the right fintech firm that supports the institution that you are going to, ie. your university.

For example, eZaga supports students going to the Durban University of Technology, while Norraco supports students at the University of Johannesburg. You need to find the name of your institution and sign up with the corresponding fintech. Once this has been down, and you have downloaded the corresponding app, you can begin taking advantage of your bank account.

Beware some of the features of the bank accounts as they can lead to high fees.

6. How I do track my NSFAS application?

Once you have applied to NSFAS, it may take days or weeks to receive word that you have been accepted or declined from getting funding.

You can keep track of your application status online either through the NSFAS website, you will have to sign in, or through USSD or WhatsApp. We attempted to use the WhatsApp portal on multiple occasions with no luck but the USSD code – dial 12067327# and follow the onscreen prompts – seems to be working.

This code will allow you to see if your NSFAS application is approved, declined or pending. If your application has not been successful you can engage in an appeal process. Find out more about that here.

7. Why are some students upset with NSFAS?

We mentioned at the top of this article that NSFAS has had a controversial year. The scheme has made a series of baffling decisions, like launching the new bank account system in the middle of a holiday when students were not at university, leaving thousands not knowing how the new system worked.

Allegations have abounded all year long of mismanagement at the scheme. Things like NSFAS not conducting any feasibility studies to see if the digital bank account system would even be of benefit to students, or that the now ex-CEO handpicked the fintech partners because he had business ties with the companies.

Earlier this year students were up in arms over the high fees of the bank accounts in particular, as well as several failures in the new system, including failures to pay students on time. Some student representative councils at certain universities have even threatened violence against employees of the four fintechs over these issues.

8. Why is NSFAS being investigated?

A series of investigations have been launched against NSFAS this year, both in the past and ongoing. The latest of which sees the government investigating the scheme on what exactly has happened at NSFAS this year, including allegations of corruption.

Currently, official communications from NSFAS have been spotty at best. They have said they fired the fintech partners, but the fintechs themselves have said they are in fact not fired and are still paying students.

NSFAS was also discovered to have allegedly funded over 500 000 non-existent “ghost” students and that employees at the scheme have stolen around R260 million that was intended to go to beneficiaries.

9. What is the future of NSFAS?

Despite all of these issues, and despite reports that the scheme is “falling apart”, NSFAS has decided anyway to begin accepting applications for the 2024 academic year. Deputy President Paul Mashatile said earlier this month that the scheme would be getting a new payment method next year.

It is not clear if that means the controversial direct payment system and bank accounts launched this year will be replaced, or perhaps changed somewhat. Government executives have asked the scheme again and again to right its wrongs to begin properly supporting students.

Next year will be make or break for NSFAS, with a million futures in the balance.

10. Where can I receive up-to-date information about what is happening at NSFAS?

Hypertext covers all the latest stories around the scheme and the people involved, with insight from the likes of the fintech partners, students, parents and any organisation that is connected to the ongoing situation at NSFAS.

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