GEORGE NEWS - The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is facing a shortfall on its funding for 2021. This came to light after countrywide student protest action last week, including at the South Cape TVET College George Campus.
During a press conference on Monday 8 March, the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, however announced that "NSFAS is going to be funding all returning NSFAS beneficiaries students who meet the academic and other relevant criteria for continuing their studies".
This comes after students protested last week not only in George, but countrywide, about non-payment of bursary allowances.
George Herald reported on Thursday 4 March (No allowances, yet again) that students of the George campus showed up at the head office in Mitchell Street on Thursday, wanting to know why their bursary allowances had not been paid.
TVET students claimed they are always left behind when it comes to paying bursary money and allowances, since NSFAS could once again not confirm funding for new students or pay allowances for returning students.
The students were worried because they could not pay their landlords and many did not know where their next meal would come from. Olwethu Xawuka, the chairman of the SRC, said on Thursday that they met with the college management and were informed that there is no money, as the college had not been paid by the bursary scheme.
Nzimande ascribed the funding shortfall predominantly to the outfall of Covid-19. "We had to continue to pay NSFAS allowances even at the time when universities were closed, as part of students' access to multimodal teaching and learning. This means we had an extended academic year which we did not allocate additional money for," he said.
"Secondly, they had budget cuts across government departments. Thirdly, due to the deteriorating economic situation, many NSFAS applicants who did not previously meet the funding requirements for NSFAS, now do."
He explained that due to Covid-19 many people lost their jobs or are in the process of losing their jobs, which means a majority of applicants now qualify. He also said the deterioration started long before Covid-19 when many government departments had to undergo budget cuts.
In terms of the laws and policies regulating public finances for departments and entities, including the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), NSFAS is not able to commit to funding students without the requisite budget available to support this commitment.
According to Xawuka, the college enquired on behalf of the students when funds would be available. "They were asked to process application documents manually and then submit them to NSFAS, since their online portal was offline for a long time."
He told George Herald that about 2 086 applications were submitted by last Friday, which means that only about 361 applications with outstanding documents still had to be submitted.
The students hope to receive good news by Thursday 11 March.
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