Discover the Truth: Is NSFAS a Loan or a Bursary? Unveiling the Facts with 6 Key Points

Is NSFAS A Loan or A Bursary
Is NSFAS A Loan or A Bursary

Is NSFAS A Loan or A Bursary : Access to higher education often represents a pivotal step towards economic empowerment and social mobility. In South Africa, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has emerged as a crucial system to assist financially underprivileged students in accessing tertiary education. However, a common question arises: is NSFAS a loan or a bursary? This article will delve into the nuances of NSFAS and explore its financial nature.

The Essence of NSFAS: A Hybrid Approach

The NSFAS, established in 1999, is a South African government initiative aimed at providing financial assistance to eligible students attending public universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. The ambiguity around whether NSFAS is a loan or a bursary stem from its hybrid model. Before the start of the semester, it’s advisable to perform an NSFAS status check to ensure your financial aid is in order.

The Bursary Element : Is NSFAS A Loan or A Bursary

A bursary is typically a monetary award made by an institution to individuals or groups of people who cannot afford to pay full fees. In recent years, particularly post-2018, NSFAS has largely been referred to as a bursary scheme, especially for undergraduate students who are first-time entrants from families with a combined annual income of up to R350 000. These students do not need to repay the amounts allocated to them, assuming they adhere to the specific academic and non-academic conditions stipulated by NSFAS. This non-repayable aspect adheres to the conventional definition of a bursary.

The Loan Element

Conversely, the loan element of NSFAS becomes evident when considering students who were funded prior to the 2018 transition. For these individuals, the funding provided by NSFAS operated largely as a loan, which needed to be repaid upon completion of their studies and once they began earning above a specific income threshold. Also, postgraduate students and those who don’t meet the bursary criteria might be subjected to the loan component, requiring repayment under specified conditions.

The Evolution of NSFAS: Shifting Towards Accessibility

NSFAS has undergone numerous transformations since its inception, particularly with regard to its funding model. The shift towards a more bursary-centric approach was motivated by multiple socio-economic and political factors, primarily the #FeesMustFall movement, which significantly shaped the discourse around higher education financing in South Africa.

The Impact of NSFAS on South African Education

The NSFAS has played an instrumental role in facilitating wider access to tertiary education for thousands of South African students, thereby alleviating some of the financial barriers to accessing higher education.

  • Educational Access: NSFAS enables students from low and middle-income families to access and afford higher education.
  • Reducing Financial Strain: By alleviating financial pressures, NSFAS allows students to focus on their studies rather than being burdened by financial anxieties.
  • Enhancing Employability: Through enabling access to tertiary education, NSFAS indirectly contributes to enhancing the employability of South African youth in the global job market.

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Challenges and Criticisms

Despite its positive impact, NSFAS has encountered various challenges, including administrative bottlenecks, delayed payments, and issues related to the transparency and fairness of its allocation process. Ensuring that NSFAS operates effectively and equitably remains crucial to sustaining its role in supporting educational access in South Africa. Keep an eye on the official NSFAS website for updates and announcements regarding the NSFAS application opening date.


In conclusion, NSFAS cannot be strictly categorized as either a loan or a bursary in its entirety but rather represents a hybrid model that has evolved over time. The scheme encapsulates elements of both loans and bursaries, with its current incarnation leaning more towards a bursary system for undergraduate students from low- and middle-income families. NSFAS plays a vital role in facilitating greater access to higher education in South Africa, yet ongoing challenges necessitate continual refinement of its operations and policies to ensure it effectively and efficiently serves the South African student population.

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