As more and more South Africans join higher learning institutions, the issue of student funding keeps coming up. South Africa’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is the government program that supports students financially in the course of their studies.
Despite having been founded over two decades ago, very few people know exactly how it works. And as more and more students come into the higher education system, interest on its workings continues to go up.
This Google trends map shows the interest in the term NSFAS since 2010. You can see the progressive increase in interest. The biggest spikes happen in January, around the time the matric results are announced and the academic calendar begins.
In this article, we’ll attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the NSFAS. If you are already a beneficiary and are interested only in the NSFAS wallet, you can check out this companion article.
Can NSFAS fund your second degree?
This is by far one of the most asked questions concerning NSFAS funding. With our current career environment, one degree may not cut it.
Beneficiaries of this scheme who want to pursue further education either as post-graduate students, or simply a second bachelor’s degree, or just a professional qualification are always wondering whether NSFAS has their back.
The answer is not black and white.
While NSFAS does fund post-graduate studies, it does so for only select courses. As expected, the scheme has prioritized STEM courses, plus a few more.
These are the postgraduate courses that qualify for NSFAS funding.
– B Tech – Architecture/Architectural Technology
– B Tech – Biokinetics/Biomedical Technology/Biotechnology
– B Tech: Chiropractic
– B Tech: Clinical Technology/Dental Technology
– B Tech: Emergency Medical Care
– B Tech: Engineering (Chemical/Civil/Electrical/Industrial/Mechanical/Mechatronics/Metallurgy/Refractories)
– B Tech: Forestry
– B Tech: Homeopathy
– B Tech: Nursing/Nursing Science/Community Nursing/Primary Healthcare/Occupational Nursing)
– Postgraduate Certificate in Education
– Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting
– Bachelor of Laws/LLB
Other postgraduate diplomas, masters, or PhDs not listed here can try other funding options, such as the National Research Foundation.
There are also tons of student loan options offered by all major South African banks.
Can NSFAS stop funding a student?
Yes, there are instances when NSFAS can stop funding a student. For example, if you initially qualified for funding but then choose to pursue a course that is not supported by the scheme, your funding will be cancelled or not allocated.
“Your NSFAS funding is subject to you registering for a NSFAS-funded course,” a note from the scheme states.
Other than postgraduate courses not listed above, other courses that NSFAS does not fund include University Access Programmes or University Preparation Programmes.
In some rare instances, NSFAS can stop funding you if you no longer meet the financial declaration threshold. In 2020 for example, the scheme stopped funding a total of 5000 students after the SARS revealed to them that the students had declared total household income above the R350 000 threshold, for the financial year.
Another instance where NSFAS can stop funding is when they exclude certain courses from their supported programmes. In early 2021 for example, the scheme declared that financial aid for certain qualifications in teaching and nursing (Bachelor of Education (B Ed) and Bachelor of Nursing Science (B Cur)) will no longer be available for first year students.
The decision on which courses to fund is made at the highest level of the scheme, and often little explanation is provided.
At what age does NSFAS stop funding a student?
You’ll be happy to learn that NSFAS has no age limit for funding. As long as you meet all other requirements, it doesn’t matter if you are in your 20s or your 40s, you can apply and still get an equal chance.
The same applies for race. The scheme’s officials have repeatedly said that they don’t discriminate against age or race.
The conditions you need to meet are as follows:
– Be a South African citizen.
– Combined household income not exceeding R350 000 per year
– If you’re a person with disability, combined household income should not exceed R600 000 per year
– You should be applying to study at a public university or TVET college for a first time qualification, or for a supported postgraduate qualification.
Will NSFAS continue funding me if I fail?
The simple answer is Yes.
Unlike other bursaries or loan programs, NSFAS is government run and therefore tends to be very lenient when it comes to academic performance.
However, they still expect you to pass most of your modules (50%) as well as meet the specific institution academic requirements to continue with your studies there.
The scheme is guided by an N+1 rule, where N=the number of years your qualification goes for. This means NSFAS will continue funding you for 1 extra year if you fail to complete your studies within the normal period.
Initially, NSFAS was a loan scheme and the number of extra years used to be 2. After being converted into a bursary scheme in 2018, the bonus years were brought down to 1.