Students were consulted, says aid scheme
The implementation of a new model for student centred financial aid has been given the thumbs down by the University of KwaZulu- Natal student representative council (SRC).
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme or NSFAS has come a long way from 2014 when it piloted a centralized online application process which allowed students from 11 different universities to apply for financial aid directly from NSFAS. Before this students had to apply through their institutions of higher learning.
Last year the NSFAS decided to implement the system nationwide.
NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo told AfricaReporter.com that in the drive for a nationwide implementation of the new system, NSFAS consulted, among other stakeholders, financial aid officers from universities, registrars, and student leadership structures.
But when it came to implementing the system at UKZN this year the SRC suddenly turned around and rejected it stating it was exclusionary and discriminatory in its nature.
“NSFAS is coming with a whole new system, without consulting us thoroughly, limiting the liberty of students in deciding how they will spend their loans. We are saying that if you want to introduce any wholesale changes, on any system, there must be proper consultation with the various stakeholders.
“NSFAS has imposed its new system on universities and universities want to impose it on students. We are saying it does not work like that,” said UKZN SRC member Pinda Mofokeng.
Mofokeng said students preferred the current system which did not channel them to buy from selected traders like big chain supermarket groups. He said a large number of students buy some necessities from street vendors as a means of supporting the informal trade sector. He argued that the new system could potentially take away business from informal traders located near universities.
Mamabolo said it was not accurate to say that the new system would take away business from informal traders. “NSFAS students on the new student-centered model are serviced currently by over 3400 merchants ranging from informal merchants such as on-campus food suppliers and booksellers to large retailers such as Shoprite, Boxer, SPAR, Checkers, Van Schaik and Armstrongs.”
Mamabolo told AfricaReporter.com that NSFAS does not preclude any trader from registering on their system in order to sell to students with loans, provided that the trader has a valid trading license and provides NSFAS with all the required documentation.
On the other hand, Mofokeng said that students must be given the autonomy to decide how they will spend the loans. He said the nature of informal trading in South Africa would make it impossible for many informal traders to meet the bureaucratic standards that come with the new system.
South African Union of Students president Avela Mjajubana said, “The NSFAS had consulted us on this new system, but that does not mean we have reached consensus with them. We have not endorsed the system because of the outcries coming from UKZN.”
Mjajubana said it was not only UKZN that had rejected this system but all the student leaders and groupings from all the other institutions. He said they had done so on the basis that it is going to be impossible for high school learners in rural areas to be expected to apply online.
However Mamabolo pointed out that the centralized application process provides multiple channels in order to accommodate those students that do not have access to the internet.”
Mjajubana said there were positive elements to the new system but that it should not be implemented in its current form. “We don’t want them to impose new policies on universities because if they do that, we are going to experience that which we are seeing at UKZN, where students on the ground are rejecting this new system. We want to engage with them with hopes of moving forward and reaching consensus.”
Earlier in August executive director of student services at the UKZN, Dr Sibusiso Chalufu issued a communique to students, stating that all the processes with regard to student funding had been placed on hold pending engagements between university management and the student leadership.