Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande has said a R100 million information technology (IT) system the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) started using around 2013, was found to be inadequate four years later.
This IT system and several other administration and business operating inefficiencies will form part of an investigation by a Ministerial Task Team reviewing Nsfas business processes.
Nzimande briefed MPs during a virtual sitting of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology on Friday.
“It’s something I am concerned about. I remember approving, around 2013, about R100 million for the procurement of a new IT system for Nsfas. By 2017, it was exposed as being inadequate. I don’t understand why,” Nzimande said.
“I am still very concerned to go back to that and understand why we paid R100 million for an IT system which is found [four] years down the line, to be terribly wanting. This caused huge delays.”
The committee found:
- Nsfas did not have the requisite capacity and technical knowledge required for a successful student financial aid administration from the start of the applications process to successfully funding students;
- The IT platform and systems built to manage the processes were not able to function effectively;
- There were huge delays in paying students and making funding decisions and it was necessary for outside assistance to be brought in to resolve the 2017 funding cycle; and
- By August 2018, there were still aspects of the 2017 student funding cycle that had to be resolved, and these had a knock-on effect on the 2018 funding cycle.
“We need to move to sophisticated data analysis and we need that for Nsfas. That is why one of the things I am looking at is the possibility of changing one of the chief directorates to become chief data systems. That is where the world is going. I was the one who raised the issue [the R100-million IT system] and I will go back to find out why the system was so wanting,” he said.
Nzimande said the investigation will review specifically the interface between the Nsfas IT system and the IT systems at universities and colleges.
“This review must identify the critical issues that have led to the failure of the integration of data between Nsfas and institutions, and make recommendations on the possibility of adaptation to automatically support data transfer,” he said.
EFF MP Phuti Peter Keetse said the R100 million IT system was a waste.
“We were jubilant about your appointment as minister. We were hopeful, yet this IT system of R100 million could not assist anyone. When we reflect on your department, you will agree with the young people out there calling for your resignation,” he said.
Committee chairperson Philly Mapulane welcomed the establishment the Nsfas committee but said more needs to be done to cater for the so-called “missing middle” students.
Nzimande said there should be a discussion on the use of public and private pension funds to help fund more students, especially the missing middle.
“In any case, Covid-19 is telling us to actually build a new economy. Building that new economy means we have to mobilise domestic resources in a manner that will direct funds towards building a productive economy, investing in infrastructure and so on. Why can’t we engage and debate that? I honestly do believe that we can be able to find a viable scheme,” he said.