In many South African universities, tuition fees are high and continue to skyrocket on a yearly basis. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is the only way many students can afford a tertiary education. On Monday, students at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) returned to classes after the university closed due to student protests over the NFSAS. It was the third time this year that TUT students protested over the administration of the NFSAS, with the South African Student Congress (SASCO) saying NFSAS was “out of order” for telling poor students that there is no funding for their fees.
On the last day of undergraduate and NSFAS applications at Wits, PONTSHO PILANE asked matric learners and undergraduate students what their experience with NSFAS applications has been.
Mzwanele Ntshwanti, 20, Butterworth, student
I am currently on NSFAS funding this year. Getting the NSFAS is easy; it’s the actual application process that’s difficult. My mother is in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape and she had to go to town frequently to acquire all the documents they ask for. I had to force them to process my application without all the documents. They want too many affidavits and it costs too much money for her to go to town. Most students give up; it is out of desperation that we continue with this time consuming and strenuous application process. But some people give up because the process of getting all these documents is draining and having to deal with Home Affairs make the whole process even worse.
Percyval Leeuw, 20, Soweto, student
I had a partial bursary from NSFAS and my experience with them has been great. They have helped me to stay in university and to be able to pay for my university fees. I think the NSFAS branch at Wits runs more efficiently than other universities, for instance University of Johannesburg. This is why you find that UJ students were striking because of NSFAS. I do not have anything bad to say about NSFAS, I am grateful for it and I see the difference it is making in many students lives.
Tumelo Mahao, 17, Katlehong, learner
I plan on studying at Wits next year and I have applied at Wits and for NSFAS. The process of applying for NSFAS was quicker than I thought it would be and that made it easier for me. I have also applied for bursaries and I prefer getting a bursary than NSFAS. However, if I do not get either I will have to take a gap year and find a job. My parents will not be able to afford the university fees, so it would be easier, although undesirable, to take a year off and save up for university. I hope it does not come to that. I am hopeful though, I am doing quite well at school and I just hope something comes up.
Zodwa Sebola, 18, Alexandra, learner
Next year I want to study either teaching at Wits or journalism at Rosebank College. My mother is the only breadwinner at home and she cannot afford to pay for any tertiary fees. I have not applied for NSFAS but I plan to in January after I have been accepted for teaching. I have also applied for the Vincent Tshabalala Trust bursary. If push comes to shove, I will have to get a study loan from the bank. A part of me is a bit nervous that I might not get any funding but I am working hard and I am hopeful.
Sinenhlanhla Ndlovu, 17, Daveyton, learner
I want to come to Wits next year, to study a bachelor’s degree in accounting. I am here today to finalise my NSFAS application just to make sure that I will be able to study next year. I have also applied for external bursaries just in case NSFAS does not work out. If I don’t get either a bursary or NFSAS loan, I will not be able to come to Wits because my parents cannot afford it. They can afford to take me to a college instead but I really want to come to Wits. My mother is especially stressed about this. She wishes she could afford university fees; that way I wouldn’t have to apply for NSFAS.
Bathabile Hlabatau, 17, Alexandra, learner
My plans for next year is to come to Wits and study teaching. I would really love to get a bursary, especially because I have not applied for NSFAS. I did not apply for NSFAS because my parents are self-employed and I think they may be able to afford my tuition. But my father is a pensioner and it might be financially strenuous on them. I am the first of my parent’s children to come to university and I want a better life and the only way I know how is to get an education.
* Voxes have been edited for brevity and clarity