The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board chairperson, Ernest Khosa, said the funding scheme’s student-centred model is one of the reasons for delays in funding decisions including appeals processing and disbursements.
This comes after many students from different higher education institutions across the country took to social media to say they cannot afford food, pay for reading materials or attend classes because of delays in NSFAS payments.
NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo said NSFAS is continuing to receive registration data from institutions to process which will allow the funding scheme to be able to make more payments for students.
“The processing and disbursement of allowances to institutions to ensure that students do not sleep hungry has already commenced.
“However, we are aware of some delays in payments as a result of system integration challenges and delayed registration data that needs to be submitted by institutions,” said Nongogo.
Khosa said because of the student-centred model, the time it takes for appeals processing, disbursements, weak queries resolution mechanism, policy issues such as the N+ 2 rule, absentee parents, postgraduate funding, and student accommodation takes longer than it should.
The NSFAS board chairperson said the funding scheme’s organisational structure is not aligned to the student-centred model.
Khosa was speaking at a media briefing following the NSFAS Board address to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology last week.
According to NSFAS, the briefing was on the important role the financial aid scheme has played in the country, as well as some of the problems encountered by the scheme.
“We met with the portfolio committee today to discuss these issues,” said Khosa.
Khosa said it is public knowledge that in 2018, the scheme was converted into a fully bursary fund from being a provider of student loans.
He said given that there was a short time to execute this new mandate, the scheme was not appropriately designed and prepared to handle this change.
“Consequently, this led to operational challenges that are widely known, which ultimately contributed to the organisation being placed under administration,” said Khosa.
He said the lack of consequence management and the lack institutional performance management continue to mar the organisation.
He added that other challenges include negative audit outcomes as well as systems that are not fully responsive to the core business of the organisation.
“In today’s engagement with the portfolio committee, the board shared its strategies to address amongst other issues, the issues listed.
“On the student funding, we will support the work of the department of higher education and training in assessing funding mechanisms. Furthermore, the board is developing a fund-raising strategy.
“On the student-centred model, we have commissioned an application system and process that will make real time funding eligibility decisions,” said Khosa.
He added that appeals will be immediate for new students and for continuing students a new appeal portal will be introduced in the second semester which will assist in timely decision making.
However, despite these challenges, we have offered some strategies to resolve them to the portfolio committee. Adding that the scheme has also continued to grow in spite of these challenges.
He said 1 263 671 students have been assessed as eligible for funding in the current academic year.
He added that 712 428 of these students were first time higher education entry students and 551 243 were continuing students.
Of these figures, 940 226 students are at the country’s universities while 323 445 are registered with Technical and vocational education and training (TVETs).
“There were 254 826 students funded, and 40 564 graduates were produced in 2017. In 2018 these number grew by 41,84% leading to 361 449 students funded, and 59 249 graduates were produced. In the current tenure of the new board, we have higher achievements – 1 263 671 students have been assessed as eligible for funding,” said Khosa.
Khosa said the board was working with the department of higher education and training to explore some funding policy issues.
He said the board has also established the Human Resources, Ethics and Remuneration Committee, Operations Committee, ICT Steering Committee to dedicate attention to some of the challenges faced by the organisation.
Khosa said the NSFAS board has also dedicated attention to addressing negative audit outcomes.
“While there is still a need to improve the control environment, we will be in a position to submit our financial statements within the statutory deadlines,” said Khosa.
“However,” he warned, “it should be noted that some issues can only be fully resolved over a longer period,” he said.