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Students will get NFSAS payments, says DHET

Aug 17 2018 11:50
Marelise van der Merwe


The Department of Higher Education is confident that students will receive their funding for the next year of study, despite a hold being placed on NSFAS applications for 2019, a spokesperson has said.

Interventions are also underway to resolve operational issues affecting student payments, the DHET added.

Department spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele told Fin24 that "a lot of work [had] been done" to resolve ongoing problems at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

Earlier this week, the department said applications for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS) funding would not open until the backlog of student payments was resolved.

Applications were due to open on Wednesday.

Asked whether qualifying students would receive payouts for the 2019 year, Ngqengelele said, "Of course. NFSAS exists to be able to give funding to students."

The Director-General had been asked, since March, to help "iron out" issues plaguing the scheme, he said.

"Even if one student does not receive their funding, it is a matter of concern." 

Earlier in 2018, Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor instructed Director-General Gwebs Qonde to lead a team of senior officials to investigate concerns at NSFAS and report back to her.

Ngqengelele did not give details on the forensic investigation conducted into allegations of fraud and corruption at NSFAS. A report was submitted to the department in March.

Operational problems

However, Ngqengelele said Pandor had suggested operations at NFSAS should be investigated to determine problem areas.

In an interview with CapeTalk earlier in the week, Qonde echoed this.

The decision to put a hold on 2019 applications had been taken because "the minister felt it would burden the system to start processing 2019" when some students had not received their money for 2017 and 2018, Ngqengelele said.

Streamlining processes while eliminating the backlog would mean that "come 2019, our system is operating optimally".

Other interventions, such as calling in IT experts to integrate systems between universities and NSFAS, and getting additional help with human resources, had been considered, he said, as there was a lack of capacity at NFSAS.

Operational problems included students not always signing the necessary contracts with NSFAS, or changing their personal details without notifying the scheme.

Earlier in July, NSFAS revealed in a reply to a DA parliamentary question that at least 121 974 students had been affected by a delay in the payment of allowances. Of these, 83% were university students and 17% were Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students.

17% of the known payout delays had been as a result of students not signing agreement forms, while 83% were said to be due to "technical problems" in matching registration data for students.

It was not clear how many future applications would still be affected.

The Department of Higher Education and Training made a number of upfront payments to universities and TVET colleges to help cover costs in the interim. 

Opposition party the Democractic Alliance called for the immediate establishment of an emergency student allowance fund by the DHET.

Chaos

Meanwhile, private training provider the Growth Institute threw its weight behind Pandor's decision to halt 2019 applications this week. The minister "owes the youth of South Africa the courtesy of tough and decisive action", it said in a statement.

The Growth Institute said "allegations of unethical behaviour and possible corruption" connected to student funding should not be taken lightly and Pandor should "make an example of perpetrators", should wrongdoing be found.

However, it warned, unpaid fees could result in protest action "as the impact of the Minister's decision […] starts to bite" and "fan the fears of parents and students that tertiary education is no longer a place of learning but a battlefield".

Ngqengelele said the Department was not concerned about protests at this stage.

"Because of this intervention, I think at this stage the students would understand that the minister is doing this in their favour," he said.

"But of course, protest is something allowed in the law. It is a Constitutional right of students to protest if they have issues. The department is always ready for that."

However, he said, it was not encouraged "because it takes away a lot of teaching time".

'Outrageous and unacceptable thievery'

Earlier in July, Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training Connie September slammed ongoing problems at NFSAS, expressing shock at media reports that students had still received student aid funding after graduation.

"This is outrageous and unacceptable thievery. Given the challenges that the system has, it is inexplicable how graduates would boast about receiving money from NFSAS," she said.

She called for an urgent update briefing to the committee on "how this kind of recklessness with taxpayers' money occurs".

She also called for a progress report on R14 million erroneously paid out to Walter Sisulu student Sibongile Mani.

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naledi pandor  |  higher education
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