Close to 3500 students at three Eastern Cape universities stand to lose their funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) if they do not sign loan agreements, writes Aretha Linden.
According to NSFAS there are more than 3000 students at Walter Sisulu University (WSU), more than 400 at University of Fort Hare (UFH) and 70 students from Rhodes University who have not signed agreement forms.
While NSFAS blamed this on students who have either changed or lost their cellphones, students said technical problems on NSFAS’ new online application system were to blame.
Last year NSFAS launched a new application system to enable students to apply for financial aid using their mobile phones and computers.
The student-centred model is meant to open a direct relationship between NSFAS and students, from the registration phase through to completion of their studies.
NSFAS spokesman Kagisho Mamabolo said NSFAS used the students’ cellphone numbers provided on the application forms to communicate results as well as to issue a one-time pin (OTP), which allows the student to sign the agreement form online.
“When students change their cellphone numbers they will not receive the pin to sign the form,” said Mamabolo.
The students say while some of the students might have lost or changed their cellphone numbers, that was just a small part of the problem.
The student representative council (SRC) premier at UFH’s East London campus, Kwanele Ntantala accused NSFAS of lying.
“They [NSFAS] are liars; their system is to blame for this and not the students. The system has technical challenges and sometimes gives out incorrect communication.”
Ntantala also accused NSFAS of lying about the number of students who had not signed the forms.
“The last time I checked in June there were more than 3000 students who had not signed the loan agreement forms because of these challenges and not 400,” said Ntantala.
The SRC deputy president at WSU, Malungisa Toli, said NSFAS was not ready for this online system.
“NSFAS failed when applications were done manually; how did they expect to master online applications,” asked Toli.
Toli said students would not deliberately risk losing their funding, and that updating a cellphone number with NSFAS was a daunting exercise.
WSU spokeswoman, Yonela Tukwayo said if the students lost their funding they would have to pay a percentage of their outstanding fees before they were allowed to re-register the following year.
“This is a big financial risk for the university because student debt does escalate to hundreds of millions of rands, thereby affecting our ability to run and maintain the university,” said Tukwayo.
More than 18000 students at the university are funded by NSFAS.
Mamabolo said NSFAS officials will be deployed to the universities to attend these challenges and ensure that the forms are signed. — firstname.lastname@example.org