Applicants register to study at CPUT. File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Thousands of matriculants from poor families look set to be excluded from universities next year because the funding scheme has rejected their applications on questionable grounds.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has told even those surviving on social grants that their applications were unsuccessful because they were from households earning more than R350 000 a year.

This has sparked fears that the higher education sector could be heading for another crisis in the new year, as student bodies have threatened to go on strike.

The Mercury understands that both prospective and returning students are affected.

NSFAS was at the centre of widespread protests on campuses across the country this year, with students complaining about the non-payment of funding benefits.

The scheme, which has R32billion to disburse to students next year, received more than 400000 applications for 2019.

At 88%, the majority of the applicants indicated they would enrol at universities and the remaining 12% were headed to technical and vocational education and training colleges.

The number of rejected applications was not clear yesterday, but the administrator of the fund, Dr Randall Carolissen, has initiated a review of all rejected applications.

NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said Carolissen was concerned about the mass rejection of applications.

“The reasons for rejections could be that information provided by applicants was incorrect and/or that verification data from third-party credit agencies reflects a different income for the household.

“The administrator initiated a review of all rejected applications, and to this end, a NSFAS team will be working through this list to validate the various sets of information. Applicants may still be asked to submit additional information as and when it is required in order to validate information on households’ income,” he said.

The rejections sparked a social media storm, with the public accusing NSFAS of compromising the future of students.

Thembiso Njabulo Nene posted on Twitter: “The registration time is near and we don’t have any funding! Can you guarantee us that we will be able to register?”

Another said: “My granny earns R1200 from a grant. How the hell (does) her income reach R350000 per annum?

“This doesn’t make sense at all. Even when you calculate her income it is only R14400 per annum. Now tell me why am I being rejected? Why?”

Another user, named Rasporo, said: “Someone was in a rush to go on holiday and decided to reject applications using the same reason without even reviewing them!”

Mahafha Ñoel said, “NSFAS is responsible for depression among students at tertiary level. How do you reject someone with both unemployed (parents) and claim they earn R350 000 per annum?”

South African Students Congress president Avela Mjajubana said they were yet to receive a full briefing, adding that complaints from individual students were still trickling in.

“We want to say that all the students should not worry as we will be fighting for them. No students will be turned away.”

Peter Keetse, the president of the EFF Student Command, said they were unhappy with how NSFAS operated.

“If students are rejected there will not be any classes until this whole thing is resolved,” he said.

The latest developments come just weeks after the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, announced that the 2019 application cycle had proceeded relatively smoothly.

In a statement, she said more than 400 000 applications had been received between the opening of applications on September 3 and the closing of applications on December 3.

The statement added that most of the applicants (63%) were females.

A total of 34 413 applications came from South African Social Security Agency recipients.

“Of all the applications, the highest number (91523) was received from the KZN province,” Pandor noted.

The Mercury