NEWS

Why is NSFAS failing to provide that much needed aid to previously disadvantaged students or its more of a cash-cow as Gatvol MPs now demand accountability?

WHAT is meant to help previously disadvantaged students with their academic studies is fast becoming a major headache.

And the Portfolio Committee on Higher education is now Gatvol with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board, for failing to address challenges faced my students timeously.

If its not late processing of funds to their accounts, it is seeking financial assistance, to accommodation and now recently, 45 927 students face disqualification for funding due to discrepancies in the processing of their applications.

As a result the Committee has ordered NSFAS to appear before it next week, having failed to do so, if they do not, a legal summons will be issued.

The minister of higher education and training, Dr Blade Nzimande has also been ordered to appear and account.

This week the Minister disclosed that NSFAS is actively collaborating with the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), the South African Revenue Service (Sars), and the department of home affairs to scrutinise the information provided by students who face funding disqualification.

The latest report released by the Nsfas board highlights that these disqualifications fall into three main categories;

  • hybrid applications,
  • missing parental relationships,
  • and latency data from the higher education management information system (HEMIS).

In the case of hybrid applications, Nzimande revealed that approximately 14 703 continuing students applied erroneously, often due to transitioning from the old to the new system or simply out of panic.

He assured that all these students have now been funded, while 31 224 students remain unfunded pending further assessment of their financial eligibility and academic standing.

Regarding missing parental relationships, Nzimande pointed out that some students initially declared one parent, or the “incorrect” parent, whose details were not verified by the department of home affairs.

Consequently, these students were initially funded. 

However, Nsfas subsequently identified additional parental relationships through an internal relationship matrix. These relationships were then subjected to Sars verification, leading to the discontinuation of funding for some students.

Additionally, an incomplete academic eligibility review due to delays in data received from HEMIS impacted the N+Rule, which dictates the number of years students will receive funding to obtain their qualifications.

Nzimande reported that Nsfas has received a staggering 178 426 appeals in response to these disqualifications. Of these, 63 331 appeals were approved, while 8 528 were rejected.

Furthermore, 30 712 appeals were deemed invalid, 41 438 required the submission of external dependencies, 20 908 were awaiting supporting documents and 20 530 students claimed they did not progress academically.

Currently, 11 284 appeals are under evaluation, each assigned to a case worker for processing. Nzimande assured the public that all appeals would be addressed urgently.

In April, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) uncovered that Nsfas disbursed over R5bn between 2018 and 2021 to students who did not qualify for bursaries.

Students whose household incomes exceeded R350 000 and those who failed to submit their parents’ details upon application were among those affected. The SIU is actively interviewing affected students and parents to gather additional information.

Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the reliability and bank charges associated with the scheme’s online payment system. Nzimande disclosed that he is awaiting the final report on the direct payment of funds to Nsfas beneficiaries.

“I am currently awaiting the final report on the Nsfas investigations into the process of the appointment of the four direct payments programme partners following public allegations about the process of their appointment,” says the Minister.

Those partners are Tenet Technology, eZaga, Noracco Corporation and Coinvest Africa.

EFF MP Naledi Chirwa said: “This is not the first strike, there is a habitual behaviour. The repercussions are on the ground. Nzimande does as he pleases, in other committees these things don’t happen but here it happens. They are playing the victim card of being attacked and abused but it’s them abusing us and the public. We cannot fail in the last months, we cannot afford to be toothless as a committee. We need to hold them accountable. There have been no consequences to NSFAS and this is not beyond our control. We need to write to the Speaker and take action against them now.”

ANC MP Tebogo Letsi said everyday appeals were not resolved, and he was concerned that the entity, which was meant to provide a service that protected students from social ills, was driving students to that point due to desperation.

“One day without payment it’s a day too long for students. Even today we have appeals that date back from February. NSFAS was meant to change the past and give hope to students.

They couldn’t respond to many of our questions earlier this month and they are not here today.

“They could have written to us last week, we are disappointed and feel disrespected.

“NSFAS failed to submit to AG last year amid a disclaimer opinion the previous year.

“They are failing to deliver services to students and (this) will lead to mental issues and stress. Let’s write to the Speaker to ask for a special dispensation and have the meeting next week.

“This falls out of the normal parliamentary programme,” said Letsie.

Committee chairperson, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, said NSFAS and the minister requested postponement with the entity requesting it be moved to October.

“We have rejected this.

“The service providers are here, they sent their presentation and are ready to brief us, however this is not possible without NSFAS being here.

“I’m very concerned with what is happening.

“We have been very considerate to NSFAS and gave them time to think about their responses as they had requested.

“We will write to NSFAS and notify them we will issue summons immediately if they fail to come next week.

There is a breakdown of communication in the ecosystem of higher education.

The Speaker has been notified of this.

We have also rejected their apologies,” she said.

Universities and students had detailed to Parliament their struggles in relation to NSFAS decisions and delayed payments.

NSFAS mandate is, and will be, to aid those students from poor background to seamlessly progress with their studies but it seems they’re failing our own!

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