Students from the University of South Africa (Unisa) took to twitter this weekend stating that they have not received their National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances.
One student said he has been surviving just on water alone. Another said they cannot afford to pay for transport and are forced to walk about 30 minutes to an hour to reach university campus ground. Another said they do not have money to buy data to access coursework material placed online.
In an interview, Unisa Vice-Chancellor Puleng LenkaBula said I truly regretted the situation currently faced by her students.
“I want to state that Unisa is the largest university with the largest number of students who live below the poverty line. We have about 160 000 students who are supported by NSFAS.
“These students either come from families where the combined income is less than R325 000 per annum,” said LenkaBula.
Adding that her students have blamed her and the institution for the late allowance payments but this was a structural issue out of the university’s hands.
“Some of the complaints came against me and against the university. Regrettably, our challenges and complexities derive from the centralisation of NSFAS.
“We depend on NSFAS sending information and also transferring funding to students that are registered with Unisa. So even to confirm whether a student is registered or not, we have to engage with NSFAS. And our CFO has been engaging NSFAS so that we accelerate student access,” she said.
Adding that often when students complain, they do not make this important point.
LenkaBula said even though the institution does not have the means to control this situation, Unisa has taken the decision to make course material available online for all students.
She said the university has “extended access”.
“There is an understanding that some students do not have money yet to register or to finalise their payment for registration but we recognise that the academic programme is in progress.
“And in order that we do not disadvantage the already disadvantaged, we have made the decision that is nor made in many institutions, and that students have access to material despite not paying for the registration because we recognise the complexity that most students come from,” she said.
We do not just sit, fold our arms and do nothing, she said.
On Saturday Unisa’s Student Funding Division said it was attending to enquiries as quickly as possible, “but there are some activities that are being affected by the lockdown, such as the processing of allowances, refunds, stipends and allocations”.
“This will affect both NSFAS and other bursary students, including postgraduate students. Allowances will be paid out as soon as the process is finalised by NSFAS,” said Unisa’s Student Funding Division.
The funding division added that NSFAS returning students will started receiving their allowances on 12 May and that subsequent allowances will be disbursed in batches of 15 000 per day) until Wednesday, 19 May.
The university said NSFAS returning students who have not received their allowances by Thursday 20 May 2021 should contact the university’s funding division.
Unisa students signed a petition that reads, “Unisa is not dispersing students allowances to their accounts of INTELIMALI in time.
“This has resulted in students failing to complete assignments in time and failing final exams because of not having text books. The university should adopt new system of paying allowances directly to students account and remove the INTELIMALI company because it has caused delays.
LenkaBula said the issue of late allowances was not just a Unisa problem.
She said students at other higher education institutions face the same problem.
“This is a structural issue that needs to be solved by society,” she said.