Dissolution of NSFAS Board part of a turnaround strategy,  Nzimande

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Higher education, science and innovation minister Dr Blade Nzimande. PHOTO: Eddie Mtsweni

Johnathan Paoli

Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande has said that the dissolution of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) Board was an important step in turning the entity around, and was not a decision taken lightly, but considered all critical factors, including the impact on students.

Minister Nzimande briefed the media on recent developments related to the financing scheme on Sunday afternoon in Pretoria, following the dissolution of the NSFAS board last week, and its subsequent placement under administration.

The department said the decision was made as part of interventions meant to improve the efficiency of NSFAS, and comes on the heels of the resignation of the board’s former chairperson, Ernest Khosa, amid allegations of corruption, which also fingered the minister.

Nzimande said he had no choice but to dissolve the board, but confirmed that the dissolution will not affect the normal functioning of NSFAS, including the disbursement of funds.

“People must not panic, we are changing things. We are not going to change our commitments just because the scheme has been placed under administration,” the Minister said.

He confirmed that the administrator will have the authority to appoint expert opinion and assistance in his administration, and was expected to submit a written report every three months, detailing the progress in addressing the critical issues.

Nzimande appointed the former head of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, Freeman Nominal, as the administrator for the scheme. The appointment was published in the Government Gazette and signed by Nzimande on Thursday.

However, EFF deputy President Floyd Shivambu has called on Nzimande  to wait until after the elections before appointing a new board.

Shivambu said that the outgoing Minister must not rush to appoint a new board, but allow the incoming government to appoint the new board to sort out the crises he created in NSFAS.

“We as EFF Members of Parliament conducted an oversight visit to DHET in January and cautioned the Ministry, Department and NSFAS board about an impending crisis and they did nothing. The ANC must be voted out of power for the damage and crisis they are causing to Higher Education,” Shivambu said.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) condemned what it referred to as the “shocking mess” in NSFAS, with Shadow Minister of Higher Education Chantel King saying the allegations implicating both Nzimande and Khosa had weakened the foundation of trust in the administration of student financial aid once again.

“Khosa had previously asked to be placed on leave in the wake of allegations against him by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa). The organisation accused him and Minister Nzimande of corruption, ” King said.

Opposition party ActionSA welcomed both the dissolution of the NSFAS board and the resignation of Khoza and reiterated its demand for the immediate resignation of Nzimande.

However, when asked about the calls for his resignation, Nzimande reiterated his claim of innocence and said that in terms of the detractors, he would not resign simply because opposition parties such as the DA and EFF have called for it.

Nzimande said that neither the DA nor the EFF appointed him, so he was not beholden to them, and furthermore, questioned why he should resign when he has contributed so much to the growth and expansion of the financing scheme.

Student organisation South African Students Congress (SASCO), along with other organisations, have renewed calls for NSFAS to terminate its contracts with four service providers who run the funding scheme’s direct payment system.

While the board adopted a report that proved there were some irregularities in the appointment of the service providers, SASCO said there has not been any urgency from the funding scheme in resolving the matter.

Secretary Alungile Kamtshe says this should be done with immediate effect.

“We are largely interested that in the interim the money must be distributed by institutions of higher learning up until the method for direct payment is fine-tuned so there is no middle person, it becomes direct, not indirect,” Kamtshe said.

Over the last year, NSFAS has been riddled with challenges, including allegations of corruption from OUTA bringing about more issues for the embattled funding scheme.

Thousands of students were left stranded without allowances, after the implementation of the direct payment system in June last year, which led to backlash from students, and protest action.

In October 2023, CEO Andile Nongogo was fired for interfering with processes to appoint service providers, and in December, OUTA released a report and audio implicating Khosa in corruption, with the chairperson taking a leave of absence in January, pursuant to his recent resignation.

The Minister said that further meetings and media updates would be scheduled for the coming weeks in which the administrator is expected to meet with all the relevant stakeholders as well as further updates by both him as well as NSFAS in order to give further details on the process of engaging the issues stalking the scheme and students.

INSIDE EDUCATION

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