NSFAS: The National Student Financial Aid Scheme
NSFAS is a government entity under the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) established according to the NSFAS Act (Act 56 of 1999) to provide financial support to disadvantaged students who wish to further their studies at public universities or TVET colleges. It receives funds from the Government and then grants them to students.
NSFAS administers several different loan and bursary schemes, but the major one is the DHET Bursary.
This article deals specifically with the requirements for this DHET bursary and the NSFAS online application process. Details of other nsfas bursaries are available at NSFAS.
The DHET Bursary
Up to 2017, NSFAS was a loan scheme, and students had to repay the money, plus interest, once they completed their studies, started working, and were earning at least R30,000 per month.
The rationale for this system was that the fund would always be replenished by these repayments to be available for new students. These rules remain for all studies sponsored up to and including 2017.
However, the South African Government has since the end of 2017 pledged that education should be free for underprivileged and working-class students.
As a result, from the 2018 academic year, NSFAS has implemented a new DHET bursary scheme that does not have to be repaid. All studies from 2018, whether for new or returning students, will be free, although some conditions apply.
How does NSFAS work?
The NSFAS administers funds for approved programs at 26 public universities and 50 TVET Colleges in South Africa. The goal is to provide financial aid and other support to ensure student success and improved throughput.
The rules for the DHET bursary are set out in the following documents:
- Guidelines for the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) Bursary Scheme for Students at Public Universities – issued by the Department of Higher Education and Training
- Bursary Agreement Terms and Conditions (which forms part of the NSFAS Bursary agreement)
The following students qualify for NSFAS funding:
- All South African citizens (there is no age limit)
- Every recipient of a SASSA grant.
- Applicants whose combined household income is not more than R350 000 per annum.
- A person with a disability – combined household income must not be more than R600 000 per annum
- Students who started studying before 2018 whose household income is not more than R122 000 per annum.
Minimum requirement: For a TVET course, the student must have passed at least Grade 9. For a University course, Grade 12 with university exemption (bachelor’s pass). Also, depending on the academic course, there will be further academic admission requirements.
To be eligible for an NSFAS bursary, the following are the requirements
- The student must have received confirmation of admission into a public higher education institution for an approved funded qualification
- Returning students must be registered for the relevant academic year and must satisfy the minimum progression requirements of the educational institution and progression rules in terms of the DHET National Rules and Guidelines
Who should not apply?
- Students that have completed a previous qualification.
- Students with a combined household income of more than R350 000 per annum.
- Foreign students (any student who is not a South African citizen).
- Students who have already applied, qualified, and received funding. They are automatically funded for the duration of their studies, provided they pass their modules and meet the academic requirements.
NSFAS will verify all students’ information with the South African Revenue Services (SARS), Dept of Home Affairs, credit bureaus, educational institutions, banks, or any other relevant source.
NSFAS has access to the National Integrated Social Protection Information System (NISPIS) to verify data, especially for SASSA beneficiaries. The student and parents/guardians will be required to give consent for NSFAS to use personal information for this purpose.
Documents required for applications
Documents needed for all applicants
Applicants must supply copies of the following documents. All documents must be certified, with the certification being less than three months old.
- Proof of acceptance/registration at a university or TVET college
- ID document or unabridged birth certificate of the applicant
- ID documents of parents, guardian, or spouse
- Applicant’s proof of income or one year’s IRP5 (if applicable)
- Parents, guardian, or spouse’s proof of income (salary slips/pensions slips if applicable/affidavit if unemployed)
- Students who are SASSA grant recipients do not have to provide SASSA slips or proof of income.
- Applicants with disabilities must submit a completed and signed Disability Annexure A form
- Applicants recognised by the Department of Social Development as “vulnerable child” must submit a completed and signed Vulnerable Child Declaration Form
- If applicable, applicants should also submit copies of the following documents:
- Retrenchment letter
- Death certificate/s
- Divorce decree
Special note for 2021 applications
Documents do not have to be certified due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Signed consent forms are not required. Ticking the box in the application gives consent for NSFAS to use personal information for official purposes.
A full bursary covers tuition and registration plus allowances, based on each student’s circumstances to cover accommodation and/or meals, and/or transport and personal costs. Payments are managed as follows:
- Tuition fees are paid directly to the educational institution and reflect a credit against the student’s account. The amount covers the actual cost of tuition for the qualification, plus any registration fees that might apply. Payment intervals are agreed between NSFAS and the institution.
- Allowances may be adjusted and will be published in the DHET National Rules and Guidelines for each year. Payment protocols depend on each student’s circumstances and choices:
- If the student stays in accommodation provided by the educational institution, then the relevant amounts will be paid directly to the institution.
- Allowances may be paid to the academic institutions and then transferred into the student’s bank account.
- Alternatively, the allowance may be paid in the form of an NSFAS-Wallet voucher into the student’s NSFAS-Wallet account, linked to the student’s cell phone. The vouchers can be redeemed at participating NSFAS-Wallet vendors.
- Cash can be withdrawn from the wallets at Checkers, U-Save, and selected Spar stores.
Student obligations and warranties
To remain eligible for the bursary
Students have the following obligations if they wish to remain eligible for the bursary:
- Attendance and participation in lectures, tutorials, and academic support programmes as required by the education institution. TVET students must attend at least 80% of all classes.
- Meeting due performance in terms of assignments and tasks
- Undergoing the required tests and examinations
- Satisfying the minimum progression requirements of the educational institution and as per the DHET Rules and Guidelines
Other requirements listed in rules and guidelines
- Obeying the rules and codes of conduct of the education institution and pursuing the qualification with commitment and dedication
- Keeping NSFAS informed of any changes of information recorded in the Bursary agreement. This might include changes in personal details such as address, telephone or email, a change in qualification, a notice of suspension or expulsion from the educational institution, details of employer, both during studies and after completion, details of any additional funding received outside of the NSFAS bursary.
Completion of studies – the n+1 rule
Students are expected to complete the qualification within the period as prescribed by the DHET. Currently, the requirement is n+1 – ie within the standard period for completing the qualification plus one additional year.
Students may amend or change their qualification at the end of the first year only. However, this first year will be counted in the n+1 formula.
The n+1 formula also applies to students who had years/semester of study funded from elsewhere. The n+1 applies to actual years of study, not to years funded by NSFAS.
Service to the community and the country
Students have community service obligations that must be completed from the second year and every subsequent academic year. (Note that while this is in the Bursary Agreement Terms and Conditions this requirement has not yet been fully implemented.)
After completing their studies, students are required to remain in South Africa and participate in the economy in some form, for at least as long as they benefitted from the bursary. They may travel out of the country to complete a further qualification but must return to South Africa after completion to contribute to the SA economy in return for the bursary.
What does the bursary cover?
The amounts may change every year. The maximums applicable for 2020 are as follows:
- Registration and tuition fees for approved funded degrees and diplomas
- For students staying in a university residence
- Accommodation: As per the actual costs charged by the university
- Books: To a maximum of R5 200 per annum
- Meals (including incidental allowance): To a maximum of R15 000
- For students living off-campus in family accommodation
- Books: To a maximum of R5 200 per annum
- Meals (including incidental allowance): To a maximum of R15 000
- Transport: To a maximum of R7 500
- For students living off-campus in private accredited accommodation
- Accommodation: To a maximum of R34 400
- Books: To a maximum of R5 200 per annum
- Meals (including incidental allowance): To a maximum of R15 000
- Incidental/personal care allowance R2900 per annum for students in catered residences
- For Distance Learning students (eg at Unisa)
- Books (only if registered for at least ten modules for the year): Up to R5 200
- Incidental/personal care allowance: R2900 per annum
- Registration and tuition fees
- College accommodation (Hostels): R33,000 per annum. For students who live further than 40 km from the academic institution.
- Private accommodation
- In an urban area R24,000 per annum
- In a peri-urban area R18,900 per annum
- In a rural area R15,750 per annum
- Transport (up to 40 km from the institution): R7,350 per annum or R735 per month, payable monthly only to students who do not qualify for college accommodation
- Meal allowance: R7,350 per annum or R735 per month, payable where College accommodation does not include meals. It is not payable to those in private accommodation, as this is included in the accommodation allowance.
- Incidental/personal care allowance: R2900 per annum, paid at R290 per month from February to November.
Special notes on funding
- There is a maximum capped amount payable to students who were registered at a tertiary institution before 2018. For 2020, the amount was R93 400. If the qualifying NSFAS costs exceed the maximum, then payments will be made in the following order of priority:
- Allowances are paid in the first week of each month from February to November
- Transport allowances are paid only to students who do not also receive an accommodation allowance.
- Private accommodation:
- The landlord must be accredited by the educational institution where the student is registered
- When students apply to stay in private accommodation, they must supply both a rental agreement and their home address
- NSFAS will not pay for deposits for private or any other accommodation
- Students should check with their educational institutions for closing dates for applications for accommodation.
- Students with disabilities can also receive funding for supportive devices such as wheelchairs, special computer devices, and human support, depending on the student’s needs.
- If a student has financial support from another source covering a portion of the study costs, NSFAS will pay only the difference required to cover the cost fully. Students and educational institutions are required to inform NSFAS of any other support they receive.
- Any part of the bursary amount paid to the institution for tuition fees and other related costs not utilized during the academic year will be returned to NSFAS.
- NSFAS does not pay for the following:
- Courses that are not on the list of funded programmes
- Outstanding balances
- Doctor’s fees
- Breakage costs
- Fridge rental, etc.
Repayment of bursary amounts
Repayment will be required under the following circumstances:
- Students who completed all or part of their studies before 2018 must start repaying once they are employed and earn at least R30 000 per month. If the student passed all subjects in a given year or semester, 40% of the total amount was converted to a bursary, and only 60% would have to be repaid
No time limit is given for repayment since this is determined by the debtor’s salary and ability to repay. NSFAS can make deductions directly from a student’s bank account or his/her salary if necessary. Those who are unemployed are not expected to repay. Compound interest will be added to the outstanding amount from the date on which NSFAS claims the amount from the student.
- Students who received funding from 2018 must repay if they decide to emigrate from South Africa before they have completed a period of contribution to the country’s economy, equivalent to the number of years they received funding. NSFAS will take legal action against emigrating students who do not repay the full amount owing.
- Students will have to repay if they have intentionally submitted untrue or incorrect information to NSFAS. In this case, NSFAS may institute criminal and/or civil proceedings against the student and/or the student’s parents or legal guardians.
The NSFAS “How To’s”
How to apply for funding?
Students need a functioning cellphone, a valid cellphone number, and their own email addresses to apply for funding. If they do not have a cellphone, they may use a trusted guardian or relative’s phone.
Students can register online via a smartphone, a personal computer, or using the facilities at application centres.
- Visit www.nsfas.org.za and create your myNSFAS account.
- Ticking the box to allow NSFAS to verify your details replaces the consent form
- Remember to submit a copy of BOTH sides of the ID card
- The email address will be your username
- Choose your password, and keep it in a place where you can find it if you forget it in the future
- After creating the account, log in and click the Apply tab: fill in your personal/required information and upload your supporting documents. Note that much of the information will be automatically pre-populated as the NSFAS system matches the applicant’s ID to records at the Departments of Social Development, Home Affairs, and Education.
- Once you have filled in all required information, click on the ‘Submit’ option to complete your application and note your application Reference number. This reference number is proof that you have applied.
- Track the progress of your application on your myNSFAS account.
Students in rural areas or without access to the internet can go to an NYDA office to collect and submit paper version application forms:
- NYDA offices (16 branches across the country) are open during office hours from Monday to Friday. Get information at – https://www.nsfas.org.za/content/nyda.html.
- The NYDA office will provide an acknowledgement of receipt card with a barcode that matched the barcode on the application documents.
Other application centers
The DHET is rolling out other places for applicants to apply and/or use computers and internet connections.
- Department of Basic Education (DBE) District Teacher Development Centres (students must make an appointment with the Centre Manager to use these facilities)
- Thusong Centres (community development centres)
The list of Thusong and Teacher centres per province is available at https://www.nsfas.org.za/content/application-centres.html.
Resources to assist with applications
Multiple online resources will assist the student in applying. Some of them for the 2021 process include:
How to activate an NSFAS wallet?
- Make sure you have signed your LAF/ SOP. (These are your online Loan Agreement Form (LAF) or Schedule of Particulars (SOP))
- Receive an SMS welcoming you to Mobile Wallet.
- Verify your account by dialling *120*176# and reply with your ID number.
- Receive a password that you will use when transacting.
- Your vouchers will be made available for spending.
How to unblock a locked wallet?
A wallet will be locked if the incorrect password is entered three times. To unblock it:
- Log on to your myNSFAS account
- Go to NSFAS Connect
- Create a case
- Use your cell phone to take a picture of both sides of your ID and submit it
- Provide your cell number
- Indicate that your NSFAS wallet has been blocked.
If you cannot log in to the account, you can request NSFAS via email or their social media inbox (DM).
How to change a cell phone number or email address
- Log on to your myNSFAS account using your username (email address) and password.
- Click Personal Details on the top of your screen.
- Update your cell phone number and email address.
- Click Update
- A one-time pin (OTP) will be sent to the new number and email address
- Enter the OTP and click Submit
How to reset myNSFAS login details/recover my NSFAS account
- Go to www.nsfas.org.za, click on myNSFAS, and select “forgot password”.
- Type in ID number and indicate the help required: password or username or both. Click submit.
- The username and link to change password will be sent via SMS and email. Follow the instructions.
NSFAS Application Questions
How will I know whether my application has been successful?
NSFAS will communicate application results to applicants once it has received confirmation of an academic offer from the educational Institution.
Notifications will be sent to applicants before the start of the academic year via SMS, email, and myNSFAS accounts.
Students can track the progress of their application through their myNSFAS accounts.
Do I have to pay for registration if my NSFAS funds were approved?
No. Registration fees will be included in the first payments made by NSFAS to educational institutions, and NSFAS students will not be blocked from registering at the institution.
Does NSFAS have an age limit?
The DHET bursary administered by NSFAS does not have an age limit.
Some of the other bursaries administered by NSFAS (eg Funza Lushaka teaching bursary, Social Work Scholarship, etc) do have age limits. See details on the website at https://www.nsfas.org.za/content/funders.html
Does NSFAS give you a laptop?
Students can use their book allowance to purchase laptops or tablets.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, it was decided that both University and TVET students who didn’t already have laptops would be provided with free laptops to facilitate online learning.
There has been a delay in procuring these laptops, with tender notices going out only in September 2020.
Will NSFAS fund me if I fail a module?
According to the NSFAS policy agreement, students must pass at least 50% of their modules and meet the academic requirements of their institution to continue receiving financial aid during their study period.
There is a limit of time on funding. The n+1 formula prescribes that NSFAS will pay for only the standard length of time required for a course plus one additional year.
NSFAS will not pay for repeated modules for higher certificates.
Does NSFAS fund Postgraduate students?
Mostly no. The exceptions are for courses that are a professional requirement for employment. Examples include:
- PGCE – Postgraduate Certificate in Education
- PGDA – Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting
- Various B Tech courses
Does NSFAS fund studies at private colleges and universities?
No. NSFAS funds only approved courses at 26 public universities and 50 TVET colleges in South Africa. They do not fund private institutions such as Damelin or Varsity.
Does NSFAS fund short courses at universities?
No. NSFAS funds only full undergraduate degree or diploma courses.
Can I be funded for both TVET and University studies?
A student can only be funded for one qualification at one institution at any one time. If the student completed an N6 qualification at a TVET college, he/she may be funded at a university. Once the N6 is complete, the student will need to apply for funding for the university.
Can I be funded for a second qualification?
Students who have already obtained a prior university qualification do not qualify and should not apply for funding. Students who have completed TVET N6 qualifications cannot be funded at a TVET college again but can be funded at university.
How does NSFAS work if I take a gap year?
Funding continues automatically from year to year, provided the student meets progression requirements. If funding is not utilised for a year, the bursary will be cancelled, and the student will have to reapply.
Which disabilities are covered?
A disability is defined as a long-term impairment that has lasted or is likely to persist for at least 12 months, which is recurring and substantially limiting. NSFAS includes chronic diseases as disabilities; these include HIV/AIDS, diabetes, asthma, cancer, and tuberculosis (TB).
My parent/guardian is unemployed or is employed in the informal sector. What proof must I submit?
An affidavit will be accepted; however, NSFAS will verify the employment status through government entities and 3rd party agencies.
Do I need to apply for 2021 funding or each semester if I am currently approved?
No, students currently funded by NSFAS are not required to reapply. NSFAS will automatically renew their bursaries once it receives confirmation of successful academic results from the educational institutions.
Does NSFAS affect my credit score?
NSFAS reserves the right to report students who do not fulfil their debt obligations to credit bureaus. In recent years, NSFAS has used debt collectors’ services to follow up on outstanding loans for studies undertaken up to and including 2017.
When are the opening and closing dates for applications for 2021?
Opening date: 3 August 2020
Closing date: 30 November 2020
Below are the NSFAS contact details:
NSFAS Connect: www.nsfas.org.za and login to the myNSFAS platform.
- This is an interactive platform to replace the contact centre. Students can use it for queries via social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and NSFAS Chat.
Facebook: National Student Financial Aid Scheme