Opening of the second phase of applications
After considering all the submissions by our stakeholders, NSFAS executive management decided that it was best to open the second and last application window of application for financial aid as follows.
- NSFAS will re-open for 2017 applications for all learners who have not applied during the 01 August – 30 November 2016 window period;
- Applications for students who wish to study at TVET colleges will open from the 09 January 2017 and close on 14 February 2017; and this is meant to coinside with release of matric results.
- Applications for students who wish to study at universities will open from 09 January 2017 and close on 20 January 2017.
Although NSFAS will accept paper applications, universities and TVET colleges are encouraged to assist students to submit online applications during these application periods. This will speed up the process of evaluation and funding to students.
We are calling on all young people who missed the first application phase this year and need NSFAS financial support, to take advantage of this second opportunity and submit their applications for financial assistance as soon as possible. Online applications can be done on the NSFAS website, while manual applications can be sent via fax, post or email, as with the recent application phase. This is now time to start collating all your supporting documents so that the applications process is smoother.
NSFAS would also like to that this opportunity to share important information with our students regarding the payment of allowances for their food, traveling, books, and private accommodation. NSFAS is rolling out the implementation of sBux, which is a cell phone banking solution that we have introduced to distribute funds directly to individual students for these allowances. Through sBux, a student will be able to access funds on his/her mobile phone, using a security pin and password to access his/her personal account.
This means that students who qualify for NSFAS loans or bursaries will receive allowances in the form of cell phone vouchers to pay for food, traveling, books and private accommodation. While NSFAS pays tuition fees directly to institutions, we will give allowances for these expenses directly to the students via their cellphones, using sBux. Students will be able to spend these vouchers at NSFAS-registered merchants who have signed up on the sBux programme.
Up to this stage, more than 3 334 merchant outlets have signed in on the sBux programme. These merchants include Shoprite, Boxer, Checkers, Spar, and USave outlets, all of which allow students to redeem their sBux vouchers and buy groceries. Students can also purchase books at registered book merchants using the same process.
Students who are accepted to sBux will receive an SMS welcoming them to sBux. They will follow the prompts and enter their ID number in order to be verified, following which they will receive a password. Two days later, funds will be available in their account for usage. The top 10 book suppliers are also registered in this platform. We will continue looking for ways to improve the disbursement of allowances to students.
We need to emphasise that, when we talk disbursement of the NSFAS allowances at 50 TVET colleges and 26 universities, we talking huge transactions and a one size fits all policy on this disbursement of allowances cannot be applicable due to the unique circumstances inherent within certain Institutions. This is also one of the most difficult spaces we are managing and we are trying our level best to ensure that our students are assisted without delays.
For example, in the TVET sector, where NSFAS pays for transport allowances for students who communte between home and the college, the absence of public transport service providers prevents NSFAS from using sBux to disburse travel/cash allowances to students – such as in the West Coast area.
Under these circumstances, normally the process would be that NSFAS will pay the College, and the College will apply the Bursary Guidelines on NSFAS to pay for transport through the local service providers of their choice. Note that this solution helps mitigate a drop in enrolment at this particular College.
For the university sector, some of the universities would formally request the NSFAS Board to delay the provision of sBux services. These requests, if made in time, are based on the submissions before the Board. However, these Institutions will be instructed to accredit their respective landlords at least by 31 May 2017.
If Institutions have failed to specifically request (in writing) a deferral of sBux until 2018, sBux will be used to disburse all allowances at these Institutions in 2017.
Our students will also make use of sBux vouchers to buy prescribed books and nay other assistive devices. However, I must emphasize that books allowances are not applicable at TVET Colleges because they are supplied centrally by the Department of Higher Education and Training.
The sBux system will also be used for food allowances, where applicable, at all Institutions, unless specifically requested by institutions to delay this system. Some of the universities such as the University of North West, their own cafeteria will be integrated with sBux during the course of 2017 in preparations for the 2018 academic year.
2017 will become the transition year for private accommodation allowances and all Institutions not using sBux in 2017 will be instructed to accredit their landlords by 31 May 2017. For Institutions that have residences, ALL accommodation (including private accommodation landlords) will be paid directly to the institutions.
We will spend most of the 2017 academic year resolving all private accommodation challenges such as landlord accreditation, system development to “lock” students to landlords, dealing with legal considerations and other related matters.
Operating hours during the festive season
NSFAS will not be closing for this festive season. We have dedicated this month of December to deal with all the applications received so that we have the assessment completed before the matric results are released. To respond speedily and effectively to the application project, we have implemented several operational changes, including the extension of business hours for our contact centre to operate from 08 AM to 05 PM, Mondays to Fridays, and from 08 AM to 04:30 PM on Saturdays. We have also employed more than 60 temporary staff members who will work night-shift to capture all the manual applications received. We have also approved overtime for permanent employees to help in the processing and capturing of manual applications.
In conclusion, we would like to thank our partners who made the applications project a success. We are grateful for the support provided by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) when they opened their centres to assist learners with NSFAS applications. We also thank the Vodacom Foundation for availing their 81 ICT centres across the country, for the support and assistance of learners with online applications. We thank the Department of Social Development through the Isibindi Programme, National Association of Child Care Workers who also partnered on this initiative by dispatching NSFAS application forms to all the 278 Isibindi sites which were servicing matric students. We also thank the Department of Basic Education for their assistance with the NSC data.
Last but not least, we are thankful to the Bohlabela Local Municipality in Bethlehem in the east of the Free State province, for their support in distributing NSFAS manual application forms to rural schools in their area, and helping learners to apply. We would not have achieved this success without them. We will continue to enter into more partnerships with other organisations going forward.
To apply for 2017 NSFAS go to www.nsfas.org.za