For all its hitches, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is the answer to many matriculants’ prayers, providing a way for those who would otherwise not be able to afford an education to get their degrees. AAISHA DADI PATEL breaks down everything you need to know about applying for NSFAS.
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What exactly is NSFAS?
NSFAS is a government scheme set up to help young people pay for tuition at any of the 25 public universities and 50 public FET colleges in the country. NSFAS provides loans and scholarships that will cover your tuition, accommodation, living expenses and travel while you study.
Who qualifies for NSFAS?
All South African citizens, registered at South African institutions, who are in need of financial assistance and can prove that they’ll be academically successful, are eligible for NSFAS funding. While NSFAS funds primarily undergraduate students, further study can also be covered if it is required for your chosen career. (This would be that case, for example, with law, which requires you to have a postgraduate, LLB degree.)
How do I apply?
It’s quite simple, really. Full time registered students who meet the entry requirements for the scheme just have to complete and submit NSFAS applications forms at their university’s financial aid offices. The only catch is that funding isn’t automatically renewed, so students need to make sure to reapply every year.
How do they decide who makes the cut?
To determine who qualifies for NSFAS, applicants have to undergo a “means test” to rank how financially needy they are. This is a formula which takes into account the household income, the number of dependents in the household, and the family’s cost of living. Usually, students with an annual household income of R160 000 or less will be eligible to apply. A family contribution to the fees may, however, need to be made, depending on the means test.
Do I need to pay it all back?
The short answer is yes, you really should. Loan repayments are encouraged in order to help fund new generations of students in need of NSFAS. But it depends on your marks. Depending on the quality of your results, up to 40% of NSFAS loans can be converted to bursaries.
Loan repayments are based on the salary that you earn; you start paying them back once your salary is R30,000 or more per year. The repayment rate is reasonable: 3% of the annual salary, increasing to a maximum of 8% when your salary reaches R59,300 or more per year. This means you will pay back R900 a year on a salary of R30 000 a year, or R84 per month. Not a bad deal, especially when you consider that the interest charged on the loan is subsidised at 80% of the rate that the commercial rate banks would charge.
Even though the NSFAS Act of 1999 allows NSFAS to have employers deduct loan repayments from the monthly salaries of those who’ve been assisted by the scheme, about 20% of NSFAS recipients have never paid back a cent. In 2013, NSFAS was owed R15.6-billion in unpaid loans. This means the next generation of needy students have to fight that much harder for a piece of the pie. So if you get NSFAS funding and you get your degree, be a good sport and pay back the money.
Is it plain-sailing after I get my NSFAS funding?
Not always. There are countless stories about students whose fees or additional costs, like res fees, weren’t fully paid, whose living expenses were paid late or who struggled to get NSFAS to pay their registration on time. Administration, particularly when split between a state organisation like NSFAS and a university or college, can be tricky. So be aware that having confirmed NSFAS funding doesn’t mean that all your expenses will be covered. You also might need to spend lots of time on the phone, writing emails or queueing at the financial aid office for clarification and advice. The bottom line is, you might simply have to pay some expenses out of your own pocket.
For more information, visit the NSFAS website or your institution’s financial aid office.
Is applying for a NSFAS loan as easy as it looks on paper? If you are a NSFAS-funded student, or a rejected NSFAS applicant, please share your story with us via email. Don’t forget to include your phone number, so we can follow up with you.
– Featured image: By Aaisha Dadi Patel.