Saturday, July 13, 2024

South African Parliament Grills NSFAS Over Student Funding Failures

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) were questioned by Parliament and the portfolio committee for higher education over its ongoing failures on the payment of student allowances.

The Chair of the committee, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa (ANC) opened the meeting with harsh words for the funding scheme, saying the failure of the NSFAS is an embarrassment.

Last month, NSFAS announced that its CEO, Andile Nongogo had taken a leave of absence, while the board investigated allegations against him related to his conduct in awarding bids at NSFAS.

According to the Organization Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), NSFAS hired businesses without banking licence registrations to handle direct payment to students and these businesses charged much higher rates than commercial banks.

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Mkhatshwa said the fund had disbursed R32-billion to universities and TVET colleges. Its annual budget is just under R50-billion.

NSFAS acting chief operations officer, Vuyokazi Mafilika said the fund has received 170,683 financial and academic appeals from first-time and returning students who were defunded or rejected.

Of these, 58,924 students were funded again, 6,337 applicants were rejected, 28,971 were deemed invalid because of withdrawn, deleted and duplicated appeals.

A further 44,561 appeals are dependent on institutions to load academic results and on applicants to upload missing information, the remaining 31,890 are in progress.

Mafilika said for next year’s application process, NSFAS will take 72 hours to make funding decisions for all students.

It also plans to digitise the application process so that there will no longer be manual applications but parliamentary members were sceptical of NSFAS’s ambitious plans.

Karabo Khakhau (DA) said NSFAS needed to be reminded that the majority of the students they fund are poor.

Students live in communities where they do not have access to cell phones.

Mandla Shikwambana (EFF) said at least 1,300 students at Free State University still haven’t received their allowances since March.

He said the committee had met five times with NSFAS this year about the same issues.

NSFAS acting CEO, Masile Ramorwesi said the fund has received 2.1-million applications from first-time and recurring applicants.

Of these, 24% were rejected, 2.4% withdrawn, 62% accepted and 11.6% pending, largely due to missing information from students, third parties, or institutions.

Ramorwesi said 45,927 students were disqualified for submitting falsified or fraudulent documents.

He confirmed that after NSFAS re-evaluated the applications, 14,703 applications were reinstated, while 31,224 remained disqualified.

The main reason for disqualification was that most first-time entering students had a household income of more than R350,000, while returning students either did not meet the required academic progression – which is 50% of all registered modules – or exceeded the minimum number of years allocated to achieve the qualification.

Ramorwesi admitted the new payment system had caused issues, but said any new system in its year of first implementation experiences challenges.

Ramorwesi said NSFAS plans to resolve all internal appeals by 30 September.

The committee gave NSFAS a two-week deadline to present a plan for how it will resolve the issues raised in the meeting.

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