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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Troubled multi-billion NSFAS to be run by administrator

Staff Reporter

The board of the troubled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will soon be dissolved‚ the department of higher education & training confirmed on Sunday.

Pressure mounted for higher education & training minister Naledi Pandor to fire the chief executive of NSFAS and disband its board following the ongoing challenges in disbursing money for students who were promised free education.

The department said it was hiring an administrator who will take over the running of the multibillion-rand scheme for a period yet to be determined.

Department spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele said Pandor had convened a special meeting with the board on Friday during which appointment of an administrator was ratified.

This follows the resignation last week of board chairman Sizwe Nxasana.

Sizwe Nxasana, chairperson of the National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), has resigned in the wake of mounting calls for him to step down.

Nxasana said in a statement on Thursday that he had informed Pandor of his resignation on Monday.

The former chairperson cited the “extreme strain” on the NSFAS payments system.

He said the NSFAS mandate and funding obligations increased exponentially, placing extreme strain on the organisation’s systems and processes since December 2016.

Nxasana was appointed NSFAS chairman in 2015. He was tasked with turning around the scheme which suffered corruption and mismanagement that resulted in many poor young people unable to access higher education

In recent months, NSFAS has been struggling to ensure the smooth roll-out of free higher education. Many students have complained about delayed payments. This sparked protests at various tertiary institutions around the country.

In a statement, he said: “While the last few years have been extremely challenging, I am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to immerse myself in education and contribute to finding sustainable solutions for the higher education sector. I am passionate about helping our youth access education and want to recognise the many thousands of students whose success inspire all of us and give us hope for the future.

“I would like to recognise the many patriotic and committed South Africans in government, business and academia who have contributed their expertise and resources to try and make quality education accessible. I will continue making a contribution in my different roles and capacities to support less privileged young South Africans acquire the knowledge and skills to allow them to participate meaningfully in the economy and our nation’s life.”

Nxasana added that it was  time to move on and make way for new leadership and to see how government will take this forward.

He said former President Jacob Zuma’s announcement to extend free higher education in December 2017 also added pressure on NSFAS processes.

In May, during a sitting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, Nxasana admitted there were still problems.

Referring to former president Zuma’s decision on December 16 last year to expand free higher education to students from poor and working class families, Nxasana said the financial aid scheme “literally had a few weeks to put systems in place” to distribute the funds.

“We are doing everything from our side.

“Yes, we had very limited time, from when the announcement was made, until the implementation,” he said.

NSFAS has received more than 417 000 applications for the 2018 academic year and funding decisions were made for about 358 000 of those.

At the time, Nxasana said the biggest problem was integrating NSFAS’ system with the different systems of the universities and colleges.

He said many institutions did not have the systems to administer allowances.

NSFAS came under fire recently after Pandor instructed the institution to halt funding for 2019 students because a backlog in disbursing aid for 2017 and 2018 had not been cleared. NSFAS has an annual budget of R30bn. Pandor reportedly wrote a letter to the board asking it not to open applications for next year until all 2018 processes were properly concluded.

In an radio interview, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Buti Manamela said the implementation of fee-free higher education policy found NSFAS trying to come to terms with some of the challenges that it has faced before. And it had to readjust its system in order to ensure all were in place.

He said the adjustment meant that some students could not receive their allowances. Some believe that their allowances are insufficient.



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