Is NSFAS a Bursary or Loan in South Africa?

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in South Africa is a critical institution providing financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Over the years, NSFAS has played a pivotal role in helping thousands of students access higher education. However, there is often confusion about whether NSFAS provides bursaries, loans, or a combination of both. This essay aims to clarify the nature of NSFAS financial support, its evolution, and the current state of its funding model.

Is NSFAS a Bursary or Loan

Understanding NSFAS: A Hybrid Model

NSFAS financial support has traditionally been a hybrid model, incorporating both loan and bursary elements. This approach ensures that students receive the necessary financial aid to pursue their studies, with certain conditions influencing the repayment structure.

The Loan Component

Historically, NSFAS primarily operated as a loan scheme. Students received financial aid to cover tuition fees, accommodation, and other study-related expenses. Upon completion of their studies, recipients were required to repay the loan once they secured employment and earned above a specified income threshold. This model aimed to make higher education accessible while ensuring the sustainability of the funding system through loan repayments.

The Bursary Conversion

A unique aspect of NSFAS’s financial support was the bursary conversion feature. If students passed all their subjects in a given year or semester, 40% of the NSFAS funding for that period was converted into a bursary. This meant that students only needed to repay 60% of the loan amount, effectively reducing their debt burden. This incentive encouraged academic performance and timely completion of studies, aligning the interests of both the students and the funding body.

Recent Developments and Changes

In recent years, NSFAS has undergone significant changes, particularly in response to the growing demand for financial aid and the evolving educational landscape in South Africa. One of the most notable changes is the shift towards providing more bursary-based funding, reducing the reliance on loans.

Increase in Bursary Funding

Due to the significant increase in funding, NSFAS has been able to provisionally fund more applicants, moving closer to a predominantly bursary-based model. This shift reflects a broader commitment by the South African government to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and to alleviate the financial burden associated with higher education.

Checking Application Status

Prospective and current NSFAS beneficiaries are strongly encouraged to regularly check their application status on the myNSFAS portal. This is particularly important given the recent updates and changes in the funding model. Keeping track of their application status helps students stay informed about their eligibility, funding allocations, and any required actions to secure or maintain their financial aid.


NSFAS in South Africa has evolved from a primarily loan-based scheme to a more hybrid model with significant bursary components. While it historically required repayment of financial aid, the conversion of a portion of the loan into a bursary based on academic performance provided a balanced approach to student support. Recent developments indicate a shift towards increased bursary funding, reflecting a growing commitment to making higher education accessible and reducing the financial burden on students.

In essence, NSFAS can be seen as both a bursary and a loan, with the specific terms dependent on academic performance and the evolving funding policies. This dual approach aims to support students’ educational journeys while ensuring the sustainability of the financial aid system.

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