Pupil and student representative bodies have lauded the announcement that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will be opening regional offices in all nine provinces as of next year to better serve them.
The South African Union of Students (Saus), which represents student representative councils of South Africa’s 26 universities, and the Congress of South Africa Students (Cosas), which represents pupils, have welcomed the news this week by Minister of Higher Education Science and Technology Blade Nzimande that NSFAS will have a regional footprint to improve service delivery.
Nzimande told Sunday World: “We will start as of next year. If we can, this year.”
Saus national spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa said the announcement was in line with calls by students.
“It falls squarely on the proposals made by students. The office in Cape Town is inaccessible,” he said, adding that the most students interacted with NSFAS through its online services.
“Another shortfall is that the majority of the services require technology and electricity,” he said, “though they are zero-rated, not everyone has access to them”.
Dlanjwa said the regional offices would ensure students had access to services, especially those that come from rural areas and townships.
Cosas head of media and publicity Kamogelo Maluleka said it also welcomed the move.
He said many pupils had no access to information about NSFAS because they lived far from access to technology.
“We have been waiting for NSFAS to expand its offices because some learners travel long distances just to access information on NSFAS,” he said.
“Before we are students, we are members of the community. The offices will also provide employment and opportunities for those communities,” he said.
Slumezi Skosana, NSFAS spokesperson, said the scheme was busy with due diligence on how to implement the expansion. He could not confirm where the first three offices would be situated, only saying that they would be operational next year.
He said NSFAS was looking at various factors, some of which included the distribution of NSFAS applications, the centrality of locations to service multiple provinces and the students the scheme is targeting.
Skosana said NSFAS also relied on student aid officers, who are employed at funding offices of institutions of higher learning, to assist with queries.
“We have trained them on frequently asked questions about NSFAS, but students are still referred to us for assistance,” said Skosana. He said because some applicants relied on internet cafés, they were also exposed to the dangers of identity theft. “We are exploring different ways in which we can establish regional offices, including negotiating with institutions,” he said.
Nzimande said NSFAS disbursed R47-billion in one year.
“It is a huge responsibility. We still need to build more systems,” he said.