The NSFAS Application Process :Students Don’t Understand

Thousands of students receive funding from NSFAS which allows them to access higher education and obtain a qualification. However, students believe that there are several things NSFAS can do to improve the student experience.

A recent investigation into the impact of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding on students in South African higher education was presented at the SASS (Student Affairs Student Success) colloquium in Johannesburg. The findings indicate that challenges related to funding can have serious consequences for students’ emotional well-being. 

The SASS programme is a direct response to a national Training Needs Assessment (TNA) survey that the Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) programme carried out among student affairs, student development and student support professionals at South Africa’s 26 public institutions in 2021.

The study, conducted by a group called The Iconic Innovators, highlighted challenges faced by students. These challenges include delays in funding disbursement, insufficient communication from NSFAS, and a need for increased funding to cover living expenses. 

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NSFAS provides comprehensive bursaries to more than one million students attending Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges and Universities. These comprehensive bursaries include money for tuition fees, registration fees, meals, stationery and accommodation. 

The Iconic Innovators aimed to investigate current NSFAS challenges and their impact on student beneficiaries and provide recommendations for improving the NSFAS programme.

Their research covered students in various academic years, revealing specific issues for each group, such as application process difficulties for first-year students, delays in disbursement of allowances for second-year students, uncertainty about continued funding for third-year students, and anxiety about loan repayments for fourth-year students.

First-year students often had difficulty in understanding the application process and this was hindered by a lack of communication from NSFAS.  

Research indicated that second-year students often face challenges related to delayed allowance payments, updating details and issues with laptop distribution. They believe streamlined processes and a dedicated helpline for students would greatly improve student’s NSFAS experience. 

We found instances where NSFAS allocated laptops to students but there was a delay in getting the equipment to them and the students were left without the necessary resources to study. 

For third-year students there was often uncertainty about continued funding, for example, if they had failed two modules the previous year, would they continue to be funded? The researchers recommended that greater communication between students and NSFAS will go a long way in allaying the fears of students. 

Students at all levels of study were grateful for the financial assistance they had received, which had enabled them access to HEIs and the opportunities this provides. 

The study’s findings emphasised the psychological and emotional impact of NSFAS funding challenges on students, including stress and anxiety. Their recommendations to NSFAS included a review of the business model, improved communication, addressing delays in funding disbursements, reviewing allocated funding amounts, enhancing the application process and conducting regular surveys to identify areas for improvement.