Students face a bleak future after confusion over NSFAS funding
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Cape Town - More than 7 000 students have approached lawyers in relation to government funding of their education at tertiary institutions.
The students, some of whom were in their final year of studies, said they were told by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, that they would no longer be funded.
Now they are taking legal steps, and accusing NSFAS of incorrect application of the N+2 rule, under which they were allowed funding for up to two extra years they would take to finish their degrees.
They've demanded that NSFAS suspend its decision to decline funding to students as a result of the "incorrect" application of the N+2 rule by no later than April 13.
The move comes as postgraduate students in Education have also complained of being “ditched” by NSFAS, leaving them with no alternative.
A letter by their attorneys noted that the students had their funding and allowances withdrawn and/or rejected by NSFAS for the academic year as a result of the “spontaneous and incorrect” directive issued by the minister of higher education last year.
“The N+2 rule, which was implemented when NSFAS was a bursary scheme, provides for a student to be funded for the minimum number of years required to complete a qualification plus an additional two in the case where students would have extra years,” the lawyers said.
They claimed that NSFAS failed to determine whether or not the affected students had exceeded the maximum number of years in terms of which they were eligible to be funded.
Instead, NSFAS had incorporated the years when the students had been deregistered and not funded by the body, the lawyers added.
“Such a determination, we submit, is incorrect, as NSFAS has to, in applying the N+2 rule, only take into account the number of years the respective students were funded by NSFAS.”
They further argued that numerous affected students had as a result not registered to study for the current academic year.
Those who had been able to register did not have funds to finance their studies for 2021, even though the lawyers said they were eligible to obtain funding from NSFAS.
“The students have as a result of being unlawfully denied funding by NSFAS through the incorrect application of the N+2 rule, been deprived and continue to be deprived of their right to education as enshrined in section 29 of the Constitution,” read the lawyers' letter.
A spokesperson for the affected students, Sabelo Mtyana, said NSFAS had asked for an extension of the deadline to respond.
According to Mtyana, there could be more than 30 000 students affected by the rule, and more were coming forward to align themselves with the court action.
“Their appeals for funding were rejected and their student debts are piling up. They have nowhere to go,” said Mtyana.
Meanwhile, postgraduate students in education accused NSFAS of leaving them in the lurch without funding, even though financial aid offices at the various institutions had advised them last year that there had been no indication that funding would be stopped.
“We are in a predicament. We are still continuing with classes as some fellow students were told by NSFAS that we would be funded once the undergrad students had received their tuition and allowances,” one student at UCT said.
He said when he inquired from NSFAS he was told that their records showed that he earned R122 000 per annum and hence did not qualify.
“I am a student and both my parents are dead. I have now been asked to produce proof that my mother was retrenched before she died even though I submitted a death certificate,” he added.
Another student at UWC said she was also waiting on clarity from NSFAS as she could not afford to fund her studies.
The student funding body has been plagued by challenges related to disbursement of funds and a dysfunctional IT system for years.
Last year, disgruntled NSFAS employees approached the parliamentary standing committee on higher education to voice their concerns over failures of the IT system, “maladministration, racism and compromised” oversight, among other things.
It was alleged the IT system failures resulted in disbursements either in excess of bursary awards, or without signed contracts or to incorrect students.
NSFAS denied the allegations at the time.
This week, NSFAS failed to respond to the fresh allegations over funding.