Uncertainty regarding delayed responses from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has resulted in scores of panicked and frustrated students at the University of the Free State (UFS).

Fasiha Hassan, student leader and member of the South African Students Congress (SASCO), believes that the NSFAS system has failed students. This sentiment is shared by a number of students on campus who are not only unable to study, but also hindered from accessing accommodation or buying food.

Yonwaba Jaji , second year Human Movement Sciences student, fears that if NSFAS does not respond soon, herself or her younger brother’s studies may be compromised. Jaji explained that she has two siblings at university now and only her sister has received confirmation from NSFAS, her brother however is still waiting. Jaji said, “I haven’t heard anything and neither has my brother. If my brother can’t get NSFAS then either him or myself will have to go home.”

She further added that because she had already done a year of her studies, her family would prefer to pay for her brother to complete his first year meaning that she would have to go home for a year. Jaji explained that her “family cannot afford to pay for both of us so if NSFAS does not come through we will have to take turns to study. My brother may study one year and then the next year I will study and he will stay at home.”

The University has made it possible for those who have proof of confirmation from NSFAS, to register and to receive R750 for meals and an additional R3000 for books. However the university cannot provide assistance in terms of accommodation. Jane Doe, third year Linguistics student, has been unable to register because NSFAS denied her application on the grounds that her household income exceeded the amount deemed as eligible. She has appealed to NSFAS in the meantime and is still awaiting a response however the university refuses to allow her to register. Doe was not able to completely cover her tuition the previous year and has incurred above R20 000 in debt.

The university financial aid office as well as Doe’s Linguistic department has offered to collectively contribute R9 000 towards Doe’s provisional registration and fees. However this will not be enough to allow her to return because her debt is still above the R20 000 mark. Doe said, “I have appealed with NSFAS and heard nothing from them. I’ve run up and down looking for help and there is no one that can help me. It honestly does not look like I am going to finish my degree this year. If Doe does not receive a response from NSFAS soon, she says that she will have no choice but to return home.

According to Transitional Student Council member, Asive Dlanjwa, the university received approximately R164 million from NSFAS. NSFAS has ordered the university to prioritize the funds for tuition fees with travel funds as the least important. This has made it difficult for students to obtain accommodation.

On Wednesday the university released a statement notifying students that all universities have been informed about NSFAS’ backlog in processing financial aid applications. “UFS is monitoring the progress closely and will communicate with the affected students, if necessary.”

Written by Tammy Fray