Lack of knowledge and misconceptions about the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) has meant that thousands of young people who are eligible for funding and who qualify to study at a higher education institution have failed to take up the opportunity.
This, despite the scheme being in existence since 1996, and information about it contained in the life orientation subject content in schools.
For many learners, the scheme is the only way that they can afford tertiary education. This year, Nsfas received 543 268 applications. Half of those were from students who are also grant beneficiaries.
But the number of applicants should be higher.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Nsfas administrator Randall Carolissen said misconceptions about the scheme have meant that people who qualify for funding — especially so-called ‘coloured’ people — did not apply because they believed that the scheme was only for black African people.
Carolissen said he visited towns in the Northern Cape where schools had obtained over a 90% matric pass rate, but none of the learners had applied for funding at Nsfas because they did not know they qualified. He said this was the same for townships he visited in the Western Cape.
“We find in our initial contact with schools that there is a very poor awareness of Nsfas and the poor awareness of the rules and the guidelines and who qualifies. I went on radio in Mitchells Plain and it was the first time on Mitchells Plain radio kids heard about Nsfas … That is how bad it was,” said Carolissen
“There are a couple of misconceptions. When we talk to people about Nsfas they say it’s only for black people and the other misconception that exists is that children of government employees do not qualify for Nsfas.”
He said the scheme had partnered with the National Youth Development Agency, premier offices and local government to drive their outreach campaign — which saw them penetrate deep rural areas across the country and speak to many poor people about the scheme. Since then, the number of applicants in the Western Cape, for example, has jumped from 9 000 to over 32 000.
This kind of work is part of a large-scale turnaround of Nsfas, which has been undertaken by Carolissen. As a result, more learners are starting to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.