STUDENTS have been left high and dry after they did not receive their National Students Financial Aid Services (NSFAS) allowances in the last quarter of the academic year.
NSFAS closed its offices for the holiday break on December 15, leaving many students with debts to settle and uncertainty about further funding.
NSFAS received a budget of R41.5 billion for the financial year.
A third-year Journalism student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) waited for more than three months for the disbursement of her allowance and, despite promises that it was being attended to, she has yet to receive it.
“Some students, including myself, took out loans to buy books and to cover transport costs, hoping that we would settle those when we receive the allowances. Now we are saddled with debt,” she said.
She submitted her funding application in August, and two months later was confirmed as a qualifying recipient.
But despite numerous enquiries and providing proof of bank account details and other information requested by the university, the student has yet to receive the allowance.
“We were told that there was a technical glitch that resulted in the failure of payments in October. Then we were told that our banking details could not be found, although they had paid some of us previously. It was made to look like it was our fault,“ she said.
She said late in November the university told her that NSFAS had indicated that late applications received in August would only be processed after the budget commitments of 2021 had been finalised.
The communique also said NSFAS would pay the full cost of tuition and accommodation as well as a three months allowance for October, November and December.
However, some students who also applied in August received the full allowances of R25 000, she said.
“I only received R6 233 from NSFAS. I feel like they are collecting scraps now. I don't understand what's going on,“ said another frustrated student.
While the tuition and accommodation costs were settled for another student, she had not received the allowance for meals.
“I also received about R1 200 for books instead of the standard R5 200. So I relied on my notes for studying and survived on noodles,” she said.
A TVET student said she was told in November that NSFAS had already loaded her details and that the payment would be processed soon.
However, that did not happen and she had yet to receive the money.
She said her ailing mother had to borrow money to help with transport costs, and that they had “no way of paying it back”.
“We are poor and need the money, but the treatment we receive is the worst -- very demeaning, ” she said.
The South African Students' Union (SAUS) said it was aware of the persistent challenges with regards to payment of allowances.
“Our understanding is that NSFAS pays the allowances directly to institutions who, in turn, disburse them,” said the union’s spokesperson, Asive Dlanjwa.
He said it appeared that each union had its own system of handling the allowances, and the union would now call on NSFAS to enforce a uniform system.
"We are aware that some of the student activists have been affected by the failure to pay the allowances, and we suspect that it's victimisation. We will investigate this,“ said Dlanjwa.
None of the institutions could respond to questions as they had closed for the academic year.
Despite numerous attempts to get a response from NSFAS, they also failed to do so.