Frequently Asked Questions:
Fee Free Higher Education
Why will NSFAS not re-open 2018 applications?
NSFAS application window for 2018 funding closed on the 30th of November 2017. We received 300 000 applications from first entering students and will not reopen because that number is already high. We still have continuing students who were funded in 2017, who are not counted in the 300 000 figure. When we reopened applications last year, the process had a domino effect and created a backlog that resulted in outcomes being communicated late to applicants and funds released late to universities and colleges. Therefore we took a strategic decision that we will not reopen for late applications again to avoid those problems.
Have you started distributing SMSes for funding results?
Yes, the first SMSes went out to applicants starting on 18 Jan 2018.
The announcement of free education came after NSFAS applications closed on November 30, what is the plan for 2018 first years who did not apply for NSFAS and want to benefit from free education?
To ensure that we provide for those who missed out on the initial applications window because they were above the R122 000 annual household income bracket, NSFAS will work with institutions to extend funding to those who have already been accepted. All first time entry (FTEN) students who have been allocated space but haven’t applied directly to NSFAS will be assisted. They will however have to supply the institution with mandatory documentation such as identity documentation of parent, legal guardian or spouse and proof of income or SASSA.
How many applications have you received and when will applications be approved?
We received a total of 300 000 new applications both from manual and online applications. These are applications that we received till the closing date 30 November 2017.
What will happen to loans owed to NSFAS by students who have already graduated?
NSFAS has not received any commitment by government at this stage to write of any outstanding student debts. The free education pronouncement was clear that it will be effective starting from the 2018 academic year. As far as we are concerned, previous loans will still need to be paid back by those who benefited.
What steps has NSFAS taken to combat the risk of fraud - specifically with regards to students' declaration of household income?
NSFAS uses more than one source to verify family income. There is an integrated process with key credit bureau house that triangulates data across multiple sources to verify earnings.
How much is budgeted for funding for this year?
Funding budget for the 2018 academic year will be announced by the Minister of Higher Education and Training. We will not know the figure until the Minister makes the announcement.
How is this money going to be disbursed in terms of university vs TVET students?
Universities and colleges will receive their allocations once they have given us lists of their registered students. Each institution’s allocation will be determined by the number of their students and their allowances and tuition costs. Once NSFAS is satisfied with these lists, agreement forms for bursary recipients will be disbursed for signing by the students. Once they are signed, NSFAS will have confirmation that the student has acknowledged the funding, and that the student has verified the information as being correct, and that the student is indeed registered and is attending classes. Then NSFAS will disburse funds to the institution. Funds to universities and colleges are released on a quarterly basis. Student allowances are paid out on monthly basis.
How is NSFAS going to distinguish its funding from what is proposed by the president?
NSFAS was funding students whose income was up to R122 000 per annum. Now NSFAS is funding students whose family income is up to R350 000 per annum. Eligible students are expected to provide proof of income of parents in order to be assisted.
Which income brackets are considered to be the "missing middle"?
Government is still in the process of finding ways to assist families earning above R350 000 and below R600 000, who are unable to afford the cost of higher education. This is the category that has been referred to as the “missing middle”.
If a student had previously been rejected by NSFAS due to lack of funds, is it now guaranteed that they will be awarded funding?
All eligible students who fall within the R350 000 household income bracket, and have been admitted at universities and TVET colleges, will be funded.
If a student owes money to the university, will NSFAS help at all with that debt? If so, how?
NSFAS will only settle student debt from the currently funded year onwards, those who owe universities or colleges and were not funded by NSFAS will settle their debt.
What does this mean for GAP-funded students?
The Department of Higher Education and Training has reached an agreement with universities on fee adjustments for 2018, which will see universities adjusting their fees to a maximum of 8% on the 2017 fees. Students who come from households that earn up to R600 000 per annum, will be supported by government to pay the increase through GAP grant funding. Students who applied for and received GAP grant funding in 2017, will have to apply for the 2018 GAP grant funding through their universities at the time of registrations. This means that university students from families with a household income of up to R600 000 per annum will be paying 2017 prices for their 2018 fees.
Will a previous NSFAS beneficiary and graduate be accommodated for free funding in 2018/2019?
NSFAS free funding will only apply to students doing their first undergraduate qualifications.
Where, how and when should I apply for 2018 funding?
The applications cycle for 2018 NSFAS funding was open from 1 August to 30 November 2017. Students in need of financial aid who have not applied during this period will be required to contact their TVET College or public university for assistance.
Must I apply for 2018 if I am funded by NSFAS in 2017?
No. All students who are funded by NSFAS in 2017 need not apply again for 2018 as they will be automatically funded by NSFAS for the next academic year/semester, provided they pass their modules and meet the progression requirements of the course and institution. NSFAS students who received a NSFAS loan in 2017 will receive a bursary in 2018 if they meet the above requirements.
Does NSFAS fund postgraduate qualifications?
NSFAS only accepts postgraduate applications for the following postgraduate qualifications:
1. B-Tech Architecture/Architectural Technology
2. B Tech - Biokinetics/Biomedical Technology/Biotechnology
3. Postgraduate Certificate in Education
4. Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting, and
Which institutions does NSFAS provide funding for?
NSFAS will only provide financial assistance to students who have applied and have been accepted at public universities and TVET colleges. Students who intend to study at private institutions will not be assisted by NSFAS.
Can students with disabilities apply receive funding?
Yes. Students with disabilities are encouraged to apply for financial assistance. NSFAS provides special disability funding to all approved students with disabilities at any of the 26 public universities or 50 TVET colleges.
Does NSFAS pay registration costs for first-year and returning students?
Yes. Registration costs are usually the first payment towards your tuition costs, and if you have been confirmed for funding by NSFAS, universities and TVET colleges will not expect you to pay the registration fees upfront.
How do I repay the student loan?
NSFAS student loans are income-contingent, which means that repayment commences when you start working. NSFAS will send you statements to help you keep track of how much you owe. It is your legal responsibility to keep in touch with NSFAS and to inform us of any change of address and contact details.
How are repayments calculated?
Repayments of your student loan are based on the salary that you earn, and start once your salary is R30 000 or more per year. The repayment amount starts at a calculation of 3% of your annual salary, increasing to a maximum of 8% when your salary reaches R59 300 or more per year. For example, you will repay R900 on a salary of R30 000 a year, or R75 per month. Once your annual salary reaches R59 300 your repayment will be R4 744 a year or R395 a month. You can choose to pay more than this, so that you can pay off your loan off faster, and reduce the amount of interest you will be charged on your loan.
Interest is charged at 80% of the repo rate, which is the repurchase rate at which the Reserve Bank lends to commercial banks. NSFAS will continue to charge interest on all outstanding balances, making it imperative that you start repaying your loan as soon as possible. The interest rate is set at the beginning of every financial year (April).
How do you ensure that students pay back the money?
Students sign a legally binding loan agreement contract to repay their loans. NSFAS also works with third party organisations (e.g SARS to track down NSFAS beneficiaries who are employed and earning more than R30 000 per year and make payment arrangements.
How much do students owe, on average?
The amount owed varies, as some students might be funded for only one year while others may be funded for their whole qualification. Some students owe R10 000, others owe R150 000.
How much of the loan repayment assists in funding other students?
Every cent of a loan repayment goes towards helping other students with funding.
Can NSFAS still thrive while carrying unpaid loans?
How much time do students have to pay back their loans?
No time limit is given for repayment, since this is determined by the salary of the debtor, and his or her ability to repay. Those who are unemployed are not expected to repay.
What happens if a student loses his/her job while still paying back their loan?
Those who are unemployed are not expected to repay, but must inform NSFAS whenever their employment status changes.
What about students who drop out during their studies?
Students who drop out are still required to repay their loan when they start earning R30 000 or more a year.
When and how is a loan converted into a bursary?
Different loans have different rules about conversion. Up to a maximum of 40% of a general loan is converted into a bursary when a student passes all of the courses they were registered for in that year. Students who apply at their institution's Financial Aid Office to be on the NSFAS Final-Year Programme have their final-year loans converted into a 100% bursary if they pass all of their final-year courses and qualify to graduate. If they do not pass all subjects, the conversion applicable to general loans is applied.
How do these bursary conversions show on NSFAS repayments?
The bursary conversion shows as a rebate on your statement when NSFAS receives your academic results from the university. This takes place at the end of the NSFAS financial year in April.
Your academic results are used to calculate any bursary rebates: for example, 40% of your student loan will be converted into a bursary if you pass all courses; if you pass half of your courses, then 20% of the student loan will be converted into a bursary. If you don't pass any courses, you will not receive any bursary rebate for that academic year and you will have to repay 100% of your student loan.
Is it true that the NSFAS loans of successful third-year university students do not need to be repaid?
Students in their final year of study, who qualify to graduate if they pass all their courses, are eligible to be funded through the Final-Year Programme, a fund announced by the President in 2011. You may apply to be part of this programme at your institution's Financial Aid Office. Should a Final-Year Programme student successfully graduate, the loan is converted to a 100% bursary. Students can only benefit from this programme once.
NSFAS receives annual allocations from government through the budget of the Department of Higher Education and Training to provide financial aid to students. This is then supplemented by the loans paid back by students.
About 84 500 students pay back their student loans each year, making total repayments an estimated R45 million a month, or R540 million a year.
Who qualifies for a TVET college bursary?
A student may qualify for a TVET college bursary if he/she is:
- Registered at a public South African TVET college;
- Registered for the National Certificate (vocational);
- Registered for certain Report 191 (NATED) programmes, including N1-N6 in engineering and N4-N6 in all other fields.
Do I have to repay this bursary upon completing my studies?
No, unlike a loan, the TVET college bursary is a 100% bursary and is not repayable.
How do I apply for a TVET college bursary?
A TVET College student or prospective student must apply for NSFAS funding during the NSFAS application period. Provide all the information required. Make sure that you have all the supporting documents required, such as:
- A certified copy of your South African Identity Document;
- Identity documents of parents or guardians;
- Proof of your parents’ or guardians’ income (salary slip or proof of pension).