Nsfas paints picture of state neglect

Authorities should investigate the Nsfas, workforce and its institutional culture, the writer argues.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) has been a lifeline for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But in recent years it has become a nightmare of financial mismanagement and incompetence, leaving thousands of students dealing with funding issues and service providers grappling with tardy payouts.

The crisis surrounding Nsfas is yet another reminder of how government has failed to fulfil its most basic duty of providing fair access to education for everyone.

READ: Blade Nzimande pleads for patience amid Nsfas fiasco, slams violent protests

This dysfunction in Nsfas is a reflection of an overall picture of government neglect and disinterest in the condition of South Africa’s youth.

The United Democratic Movement (UDM) has for years been advocating for Nsfas’ reform and calling for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to be taken to task over his political interference in his department,

Nsfas and sector education and training authorities. Despite the UDM’s numerous letters to President Cyril Ramaphosa regarding Nzimande’s alleged misconduct, there has been no response.

Ramaphosa has remained silent on claims of nepotism, political interference and wasteful expenditure.
An example is Nsfas’ decision to move to a new building, using a turnkey solution.

This hiked monthly rent from R500 000 to R2 million – while students face delays in payments and others are denied access to much-needed funds.

Nsfas has also reportedly spent millions on new furniture for its office, instead of using furniture from its previous office.

The UDM has asked the Hawks and the Special Investigating Unit to investigate this matter.

Under the previous board that was recently dissolved by Nzimande (a decision which the UDM agrees with), Nsfas has been unable to effectively and efficiently discharge its mandate of disbursing student funds and has also failed to account to parliament with annual reports for 2021/22 and 2022/23, respectively.

Its IT-related inadequacies have also not been addressed, causing delays in the disbursement of funds to universities and student allowances.

The long waits for cash payments defeat the purpose of the funding programme by worsening financial hardships. Nzimande has been dragging his feet in addressing the critical challenge of “missing middle” students.

ALSO READ: Nsfas needs a complete overhaul

In January, he revealed that government had set aside a R3.8 billion initial capitalisation fund to support the missing middle student.

The UDM welcomes the fact that 70% of the loan will support science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

To date, the Nsfas integrated trans-action action control systems have not been capacitated to meet the demands of administering funding to missing middle students.

Another crisis is students being unable to register in institutions of higher learning due to historical debt.

In 2021, the total historical debt had jumped to R16.5 billion. University sustainability is at the heart of this
problem and academic results are withheld from students.

Government is aware of this, yet has not found funding methods to help these students.

Withholding qualifications amid SA’s high unemployment rate and stagnant economy worsen the problem.

Student debt continues to be a barrier for many students to participate in the economy or access economic opportunities.

After the chaos surrounding the Nsfas board’s collapse, the financial aid programme is pleading with institutions to keep student allowances flowing until July.

This shows the scheme’s current state of chaos and highlights how crucial it is to have an operational leadership structure in place to oversee the allocation of funds.

The main concern with the ongoing chaos in Nsfas is that it brings instability to the universities and technical and vocational education and training colleges, due to unpaid allowances and challenges with accommodation.

Student protests at many affected institutions disrupt academic programmes, which, in turn, affects the students’ academic performance.

Nsfas must bring in qualified board members and fire the four outsourced companies responsible for distributing funds.

It is concerning that Nsfas has been placed under administration because changing board members is not effective in addressing its challenges.

What is more important is to investigate the current Nsfas workforce and the institutional culture.

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