The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) says online applications for its loan scheme for “missing middle” students kicks-off today, closing on 15 February.
This comes as the NSFAS board and the South African Union of Students agreed to extend the 2024 bursary application period. Applications for the NSFAS bursary scheme were previously meant to close on 31 January.
Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande last month confirmed plans to fund “missing middle” students through what is called a new Comprehensive Student Funding Model.
The missing middle is the category of students who come from families with a total income of more than R350 000, but not more than R600 000 per annum.
The Comprehensive Student Funding Model aims to introduce measures to support students currently not assisted by the NSFAS bursary and funding policy. It also seeks to ensure the missing middle students access financial support from government in the form of a loan, to pursue their studies.
Like the bursary scheme, the loan scheme is administered by the NSFAS, which has the legal mandate to offer student loans as per the NSFAS Act.
The financial aid scheme says: “The NSFAS student loan scheme is the first phase of the implementation of the Comprehensive Student Funding Model. Students who already applied for the NSFAS bursary scheme need not submit a new application for the student loan scheme.
“All students who did not meet the bursary scheme eligibility criteria, but meet the loan scheme eligibility criteria, will be automatically offered a loan for their consideration.”
According to the NSFAS, to qualify for the loan, students should be those whose households have annual income between R350 000 and R600 000, are TVET and public university students, undergraduate or postgraduate students (70% in STEM programmes, 30% in social sciences programmes) and learners willing to sign a loan agreement.
The NSFAS has also reminded all applicants for the bursary and loan schemes to submit a consent form to verify relevant information from third-parties.
“The information is required to verify the employment status and income level of the parents, guardians, or spouses of the applicant. It is mandatory for applicants to download and upload a completed consent form on the NSFAS website, portal, or mobile app,” says NSFAS acting board chairperson professor Laurens Van Staden.
An entity of the Department of Higher Education and Training, the NSFAS runs a close to R50 billion annual budget, which services young people from poor and working-class backgrounds.
Between 2019 and 2022, the NSFAS is said to have disbursed R123 billion, across 2 918 624 beneficiaries.
Over the years, however, the scheme has been plagued by numerous challenges, including IT system failures and mismanagement. More recently, it has been at odds with students on issues and allegations relating to its new direct-payment system, as well as defunding of students, non-responsive query system and accommodation accreditation backlogs.
Last year, NSFAS indicated it is taking measures to fortify its IT systems, after cyber criminals tried to gain unauthorised access to its payment infrastructure and that of its fintech partners.