20 January saw an announcement by UP, informing students that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) would be altering certain rules and adjusting student allowances. The modifications were sanctioned by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology (DHET) and communicated to the university on 16 January.

The changes, taken from the UP website, can be viewed in the table below.

The alteration in the NSFAS funding policy has triggered concern and distress for many students, namely with regard to accommodation. The UP website urges that “students who are considering entering into private leases in non-accredited facilities are advised to rather apply for accommodation in accredited facilities in order to ensure that they qualify for NSFAS allowances in terms of the new rules as stipulated by the DHET”.

This means that students that have already signed leases or made accommodation arrangements that are not accredited by the university, are no longer eligible for NSFAS to pay for their accommodation. The UP website suggests that these affected students, that have a “private accommodation rental contract which was entered into with a landlord and signed before or on 20 January 2020”, should urgently contact Study Finance at the Hillcrest Campus through George Chauke at george.chauke@ up.ac.za/ 012 420 2389, or contact the SRC at src.secretary@tuk s. co.za. The email address NSFASaccommodation2020@up.ac.za can also be utilised for unanswered questions and queries.

Whilst this indicates a potential plan to assist these negatively affected students, many have already forfeited deposits and positions at various accommodations. On the UP website, under ‘How to apply for residence placement’ it is clearly stipulated that “residence placement cannot be guaranteed as the demand by far exceeds the places available.” Interestingly, the recent notification uploaded by UP on the website says that “the University has an adequate supply of UP residences and accredited accommodation to ensure that all NSFAS students can be accommodated in close proximity to the UP campuses.”

“students who are considering entering into private leases in non-accredited facilities are advised to rather apply for accommodation in accredited facilities…”

The DHET hosted a meeting on 16 January with a number of universities, to discuss the guidelines for this new bursary scheme. The UP SRC was present along with President David Kabwa. In a letter addressed to the Vice-Chancellor, Mr GF Qonde, the Director-General of the DHET, highlighted that the “core discussion” in this meeting focused on the issue of accredited accommodation.

Qonde further explained that the reason behind the shift in policy is that “the Department is concerned, as are institutions, that students should not be vulnerable to possible exploitative practices of private providers.” He reiterated this aim to ensure “that students are not being exploited, and that the funding provided is being utilized for a legitimate lease agreement, where the cost of the lease is in line with the quality of the accommodation being provided”.

Although the letter states that NSFAS would fund any accommodation verified by a University, many students already placed in non-accredited accommodation are vulnerable. “There are too many students that have signed lease agreements that they can’ t get out of”, a fact the SRC made clear when they met with the University Executive, according to Kabwa. The fact that “many students can’t afford the private accommodations on the accredited list”, was also highlighted.

“the Department is concerned, as are institutions, that students should not be vulnerable to possible exploitative practices of private providers.”

In addition, Qonde emphasized the importance of having “systems to ensure that lease agreements can be subject to a verification process, to avoid both fraud and exploitation.” Kabwa told PDBY that “after the meeting, the University has taken the stance to create its own verification process for students that have signed agreements before the 20th of November” to ensure that students are not compromised by the sudden changes made by DHET. Information about this detailed verification process is on the UP website. Finally, Kabwa told PDBY that “accommodation still remains an issue that we are tackling collectively.”

Kristin De Decker