Students’ fate hangs in the balance after NSFAS defunds them 

Aspiring graduates who were wrongly defunded by the government’s financial aid are left in the dark as they try to rectify the situation   

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) remedial process of defunding students who were financially assisted based on incorrect information, leaves some in a precarious position — as the financial aid scheme erroneously stopped supporting students who qualify. 

Thabo Ngubane*, a third-year Wits mechanical engineering student found himself squatting in the library and bathing in the gym after NSFAS incorrectly defunded him without warning.  

He told Wits Vuvuzela that he realised that he was defunded in June when he checked his application portal and noticed that he was flagged for having a household income of more than R350 000.  

But he insisted that the scheme has made a mistake: “My mom works in HR and earns less than 350k [and] my dad passed away,” he explained. 

In July, NSFAS said it initiated the process to act on the findings of the Auditor General and the Special Investigation Unit (SIU). This is after in April, an SIU investigation revealed that NSFAS had paid more than R5 billion, from 2018 to 2021, to students who did not qualify for bursaries. 

Aphilile Zulu, a second year NMU BCom Accounting student said she received an SMS in June stating that her funding was “revoked because of missing documents, while I’ve [been] receiving NSFAS for the past five months”. She is currently appealing the matter.  

Masego Modisane, who currently owes UNISA R6000 in school fees said when she checked her account on the NSFAS portal, “it said that I had exceeded the n+2 rule” despite being in her final year of studying towards a BA in criminology.

According to the Nsfas website, the N+2 rule states that a student can take up to two additional years to complete their qualification, if need be, on top of the number of years it takes to complete their studies.  

Meanwhile, Wits SRC’s compliance officer, Karabo Matloga said that the financial aid scheme should have at least allowed students who were currently enrolled to continue with their studies. “They have made the commitment [at the] start of the year therefore it is also their responsibility to fulfil that commitment for the year.”  

In a statement NSFAS said, “We have, however, received complaints that some students were defunded incorrectly. If such cases are true, this is regrettable.

“A process of verifying these complaints will be immediately initiated and were proven otherwise, remedial action will be taken.” 

Wits Vuvuzela made multiple attempts to contact the scheme for comment on how long the remedial process for students who were wrongfully defunded will take; but is yet to receive a response. 

*Name changed to protect identity.

FEATURED IMAGE: Wits engineering student studying in the computer lab with his sleeping bag and belongings beside him. Photo: Nonhlanhla Mathebula.

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To dream the impossible dream

Professor Mamokgethi Setati Phakeng was all smiles after being named Africa's most influential woman in education. Photo: Provided

THE AWARD GOES TO: Professor Mamokgethi Setati Phakeng was all smiles after being named Africa’s most influential woman in education.
Photo: Provided

A dream is all it takes to kick start a future. For Professor Mamokgethi Setati Phakeng, vice principal of research and innovation at the University of South Africa, that dream did not even begin to sketch what her future might become.

Last month Phakeng, who is also president of convocation at Wits University, was named South Africa’s most influential woman in education. She was awarded the title at the 12th annual South Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government (MIW) awards hosted by CEO Communications.

The MIW awards recognise the impact and contribution of women in top executive positions across a number of sectors. This year’s awards were allocated to the cream of the crop across 20 different sectors.

Phakeng made it through a rigorous three-phase judging process, beating hundreds of other women who were nominated in the education and training category. For her, this achievement validates the work she has done in her field of mathematics education.

Phakeng, who had a simple upbringing in the township of Ga-Rankuwa, north of Pretoria, said she never thought she would be where she is today.“Being a professor was an unthinkable, something that I never even thought was meant for people like me,” she said.

The former Witsie said getting a university degree was always part of her plan as her father had made obtaining a degree a non-negotiable standard for his children. So she went to study an undergraduate degree at the University of the North West, majoring in pure mathematics. But even while studying for her bachelor’s degree, she was not aware of the multitude of doors that a university degree would open for her.

Finding the light at the end of the tunnel

“Even while I was doing my bachelor’s degree, I never thought I could be a professor because I wasn’t exposed to any professors who looked like me,” Phakeng said.It was only towards the end of her Masters degree in Mathematics Education at Wits that she started seeing the possibility of becoming a professor.

On her journey to professorship, Phakeng stumbled upon another great achievement – becoming the first black woman in South Africa to obtain a PhD in mathematics education. “I had no idea I was going to be the first and the only way I got to know was when I got an award for the most outstanding young female researcher in 2003, a year after obtaining my PhD.”

LEADING THE FUTURE: Professor Phakeng at Unisa with high school learners who will hopefully qualify to study at the institution next year.

LEADING THE FUTURE: Professor Phakeng at Unisa with high school learners who will hopefully qualify to study at the institution next year. Photo: Provided

 

Even with her many achievements, Phakeng acknowledged that her work in education was not yet over. “It’s one thing to be the first, but it’s quite another to do something with that position,” she said.

Education, both inside and outside of the lecture hall, is central to Phakeng’s mission. She founded an Adopt-a-Learner project in 2004, a support programme for pupils from disadvantaged areas that helps them see through their university ambitions. To her, the most fulfilling aspect of her career is knowing that she is an inspiration to many youth in South Africa.

“Human capital development is at the centre of what I do – all of my initiatives are about developing people and inspiring them to be the best in whatever they choose to be.”