The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is an indispensable program for many South Africans.

The Department of higher education and training-run scheme provides allowances for college and university students. While other university relief schemes and programs are limited to tuition fees and other learning expenses, the NSFAS helps the students in other aspects of their lives.

Its stipends aim at helping the students with their transport expenses, accommodation and even personal care.

Up until a few years ago, NSFAS stipends were considered a loan that had to be paid once the student completed their studies, but the government changed that in 2018 and now the allowances are considered bursaries that don’t have to be paid back.

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Does NSFAS still offer book vouchers?

As mentioned, a few things have changed at the NSFAS in recent years. The biggest was of course converting the scheme from a loan a bursary.

Another thing that happened just 2 years ago was halting the issuance of book vouchers.

As a matter of fact, the effort to scrap the book vouchers was spearheaded by student leadership, who wanted it converted into cash.

Why did NSFAS scrap book vouchers?

One of the reason was that the student leadership was pressuring the department of higher education and training to scrap the vouchers. They wanted it converted to cash because that comes with many freedoms.

In 2019, Higher Education and Science Minister Blade Nzimande gave a written response to parliament outlining other reasons they decided to do away with the book vouchers.

He revealed that there were many commercial interests coercing students, sometimes scamming them.

“Students were trading the book vouchers for cash outside many shops. The voucher system was limited to selected merchants that monopolized the student market.”

“There was no space for students to choose where to purchase books, including from second-hand retailers, and the book allowance was changed to a learning materials allowance so that students could also decide to purchase other learning support materials, including laptops and tablets.”

He added that students should be treated as adult, and allowed the freedom to make a decision on what to spend their vouchers on.

“NSFAS believes that students should be treated as adults, and have the financial freedom to withdraw the cash voucher and make an informed decision on how best to utilize the funds. The ultimate responsibility is in the hands of the students,” the minister said.

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So in essence, the reasons the book vouchers were scrapped were:

/ Increase in voucher scams.

/ Increasing move to online and computer-based study material, like PDFs.

/ Many students trading their book vouchers for cash.

/ The vouchers did not give the students freedom to make informed and prudent choices, including not allowing them to buy cheaper second hand books.

/ The system was limited to just a few merchants, which monopolized the market.

As a student, you may have heard of NSFAS wallet. If not, this is everything you need to know about it.