Funding your studies through the NSFAS

In South Africa, getting a tertiary education is unfortunately a privilege not afforded to everyone. Thankfully, convincing your parents to take out a second mortgage on their house isn’t the only way to ensure you can attend university. The South African National Department of Education and Training is the primary benefactor of the Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The NSFAS offers loans and bursaries to help those who are academically strong but who lack the necessary finances to attend a public university and, ultimately, to get a degree. Here’s what you need to know.


Much like any other loan, an NSFAS loan is given to students who meet certain criteria and have submitted their completed applications together with all the necessary supporting documentation. These loans need to be paid back with interest, which is on par with the national inflation rate. What sets these loans apart from conventional student loans is the ability for you to transform part of your loan into a bursary if you consistently get outstanding academic results.


There are a variety of criteria that must be met for you to be eligible for an NSFAS loan. Here are some of the main ones:

  • You must be a South African citizen who is interested in studying at a public educational institution.
  • You need to be academically strong and in need of financial aid.
  • The application form needs to be complete, correct and submitted with all other required documentation before the closing date (as per the NSFAS website).
  • You need to be either a first-time undergraduate studying a higher education qualification or a postgraduate student completing a course to further your career (but not an MBA, MBL, DBA or DBL) .

There is more than one NSFAS bursary and set of qualifying criteria. The bursaries are awarded to students who the NSFAS feels meet the criteria (as detailed on their website). These bursaries don’t have to be paid off unless the conditions of the bursary are ignored or broken, in which case the bursary will become a loan that must be paid back with interest.


If you don’t qualify for these loans or bursaries, or if you are not sure whether they are the best option for you, don’t worry. There are alternatives. To learn you about the other finance options available to students, see our article on bursaries and scholarships. Alternatively, read our article on student loans.