Applicants register to study at CPUT. File photo: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA).
Just A few weeks before the end of the first academic term at higher learning institutions, tens of thousands of students are still unsure whether they will be granted funding to study.

Scores of those who received confirmation of funding for the 2019 academic year, have still not received meal allowances.

The students lodged appeals for funding with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) after their initial applications were turned down.

This year, the NSFAS recorded the highest number of appeals - sitting at 109 000 by December and just over 29 000 by March 8 - the final deadline for appeals.

Although NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said some of the appeals were duplicates and others did not having supporting documents, insiders said internal systems remained a “mess” and could jeopardise students’ chances of being granted funding.

A source said: “Some applications are not uploaded by NSFAS head office even though they are sent by the institutions. And in some cases where the updated information is submitted, the internal system de-registers the student and reverts back to the old information on the basis of which the application was initially rejected.”

Even though the majority of applications were submitted online, some students - particularly from rural provinces - still relied on manual applications and some insiders said these were also at risk of not being captured.

Some students complained that they had been told by the NSFAS that their applications had been rejected on the basis that their parents’ incomes were higher than the threshold, even though they were State grant beneficiaries.

In 2018, national higher education and training Minister Naledi Pandor appointed an administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, and a team of experts to put the NSFAS on a sound footing following numerous problems with its technical systems, delays in disbursement of funds, backlogs which dated back to 2016 and the resignation of its board members.

Some students’ accounts were overpaid to the tune of millions.

Some funders acknowledged this week that Carolissen and his team had inherited “a disaster” and, although changes were being made, the situation was far from perfect.

Said one: “NSFAS’s systems capacity still need to be improved - both in terms of information technology (IT) and staff. There’s been a culture of poor performance and communication for years - you are given different information depending on who you speak to and there’s delays in making decisions”.

The funders only received copies of the memorandums of understanding for 2018 only in December.

Some of the changes introduced this year included paying students’ allowances for books, meals directly into their accounts.

Weekend Argus