Tertiary students across the country are breathing a sigh of relief following a decision by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to extend the deadline for 2022 applications.
The announcement was made on Thursday evening, a day before the initial cut-off date. First-time and returning students now have until 21 January to submit their applications. Returning students are required to pass 75% of their course modules to receive financial support from the scheme.
Applications for 2022 opened in November last year. The scheme has received over 600 000 applications for students wanting to further their studies in all 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and 26 public universities. Of these, at least 505 000 are said to be first-time applicants.
However, a litany of problems with the application system has been brought to the fore by frustrated students. They fear missing out on the funding opportunity because of an alleged flawed system.
These include, and are not limited to, unanswered helplines, outstanding verification SMSes, unexpected server errors and locked user profiles. Some students claim that their IDs were being rejected by the system and that they found it difficult to upload documents to complete applications. Others claim to have not received their meal, travel and personal care allowances since 2020.
A first time applicant, who declined to be named, and who is hoping to study at UKZN, said he had been struggling to get his application acknowledged since November last year.
“It has been a frustrating few months since my family cannot afford to pay for my studies. I have tried unsuccessfully to get my application processed and this week it has just been stressful,” he said. “But now that the deadline has been extended, I pray and hope that I will make it through before the new date.”
Lwazi Shongwe said he had applied last November but was still not getting any joy.
“My application is still stuck on ’funding eligibility’ even though I have been accepted at the University of Mpumalanga. The institution will need proof of funding approval on the 24th of this month. What will I submit?”
Another student, who declined to be named, said (HE/SHE?) had been waiting for a week for feedback and that the extension was a much needed lifeline.
“Thankfully they've extended the closing date. I hope we get help with resetting our profiles.”
Kagisho Mamabolo, NSFAS Spokesperson, said the deadline for applications for the student financial aid had been extended after consulting with various stakeholders.
He said the NSFAS Chairperson, Ernest Khosa, had briefed the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, on the assessment done on the number of applications received to date.
He did not however respond to questions posed on the challenges faced by students with the funding scheme system.
“NSFAS enhanced its application portal so that first-time applicants, who are SASSA beneficiaries, will receive a real time response after submitting their application in this application cycle.
“To date 182 567 applicants were confirmed eligible for funding instantly,” he said.
“The second cohort is non-SASSA applicants who receive their responses once their income verification has been concluded. Potential applicants are urged to make use of the opportunity as there will be no further extension on the application deadline.”