Students all over the country are in a state of panic. The delay in funding and confirmation from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has left thousands without the funds to register and begin their academic years, and many without roofs over their heads.
The NSFAS press briefing on 20 February, chaired by Sizwe Nxasana of the NSFAS board, was not clear on the situation students are facing. Nxasana provided no solutions to the current funding crisis and stated that NSFAS had communicated with all applicants regarding the situation, despite many students claiming otherwise. This year NSFAS has begun a new model focused on direct communication between students and the organisation, as opposed to universities being the intermediaries.
The number of applicants to NSFAS for 2017 has been over 300 000, and around 175 000 have received confirmation. The remainder have either been rejected or haven’t received their confirmation yet. On 23 January, NSFAS released a media statement by spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo stating that the scheme had paid R1, 3 billion to public universities in advance payment of registration fees for disadvantaged students.
All returning students were meant to have been automatically funded for this year, and no student with secured space was meant to be rejected. According to Mamabolo, all unconfirmed applications were supposed to be finalised by 27 January. This confusion is causing a crisis at many universities as those waiting for their confirmation can’t pay registration or accommodation fees, despite reserved spaces waiting for them. At the University of Pretoria and the University currently known as Rhodes (UCKAR), this has left many without accommodation. Various constituencies at UCKAR have been aiding the situation. UCKAR management and Student Representative Council have helped to find accommodation and assist stranded students, and Asinamali UCKAR has been enthusiastic in helping out fellow students and organising accommodation, transport and food.
Though the University of the Witwatersrand has waived registration fees until funding comes through , UCKAR has made it very difficult for students without NSFAS confirmation to register, especially if they still owe fees from last year. Reports are abound that students who owe previous year’s fees have had their current registration money used to cover that, rather than to allow them to register. “Missing Middle” students are still being dealt a bad card since they do not qualify for funding, despite the repeated outcry by students about this unfair treatment.
The Department of Higher Education and Training has given NSFAS R15 billion to fund over 405 000 students. NSFAS has had two application phases for this academic year due to the influx of applicants and deferred exams. The last phase closed in January, and the Scheme now states that the remainder of the applications will be assessed by the end of the month, with 100 000 more students expected to be funded. Despite rejections, there is some elusive light at the end of the tunnel. Unsuccessful applicants can appeal their rejections by 28 February 2017, even though it might be too late to register by the time the jury is out.
How does this relate to current events?
Students still held back by lack of funds at Univen and UCT
The University of Venda has been protesting this week, effectively shutting down the university, over the non-payment of NSFAS allowances. Students have not received meal or book allowances from the scheme and are struggling to continue living and studying without these payments. There has also been an outcry against Univen students being paid less per months than students at other universities.
Considerable police brutality was inflicted on students during the shutdown on Monday, with four students arrested and rubber bullets and teargas flying. Though the police deny injuries, social media posts on twitter have shown that many students were shot and injured, with one rumoured to have been shot 18 times.
University of Cape Town has also seen its share of action this week after the administration building was occupied on Thursday in protest of academic exclusion. Last year UCT management agreed to allow all academically deserving students to register regardless of financial standing, however students have reported that over a hundred students have been excluded. The exclusion appeals are also not being prioritised or dealt with properly. Students held a plenary on Thursday afternoon to discuss this and began the occupation. Management has sent eviction notices against the occupation and are threatening to take action against student protestors.