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HIGHER EDUCATION

Nzimande lashes out at detractors amid NSFAS funding uproar

Nzimande lashes out at detractors amid NSFAS funding uproar
Students march to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s head office in Cape Town on 24 May 2023. The students accused the scheme of ignoring their plight and criticised the scheme’s revised payment methods. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says detractors of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme are just jealous of the ANC government’s successes.

Higher Education, Innovation and Science Minister Blade Nzimande has lashed out at ANC “detractors” who said that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was in a crisis.

This follows the DA’s unveiling of an alternative NSFAS model earlier this month. The DA said at the time that the current model was failing students.

nzimande nsfas

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

There have been student protests at some universities, as well as at the Union Buildings and Nzimande’s department relating to unpaid allowances and calling for the new NSFAS direct payment system to be scrapped.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Students march to Union Buildings to demand that NSFAS scrap new ‘extra-fees’ payment system

Nzimande criticised “detractors” during a media briefing at the Government Communication and Information System offices in Pretoria on Tuesday about progress made by NSFAS in distributing funds to beneficiaries this year.

NSFAS was known as the Tertiary Education Fund of SA (Tefsa) from 1991 to 1999.

In its Tefsa days, Nzimande said R21.4-million had been disbursed annually to beneficiaries from working-class and poor households. That had risen to almost R50-billion this year.

“This is a clear indication that government has prioritised a massive increase in student funding to radically broaden access to those sections of our community who had no access to post-school education and training before.”  

He said the other notable milestone for the scheme had been the integration of universities and TVETs to a new student-centred model, which enabled them to apply directly to NSFAS. 

“Insofar as it successfully services the needs of the vast majority of students, it is not in a crisis as many of our detractors would like the public to believe. We may have glitches here and there, but the scheme is not in a crisis,” he said.

Actually, Nzimande said, they had turned the tide in the funding of students.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Human Rights Commission urged to probe claims of shambolic distribution of NSFAS funding scheme to poor students

He claimed NSFAS was the biggest student funding agency in the world.

“In fact, it is for these reasons that our detractors want to project NSFAS as being in a crisis because they want to discredit one of the most successful schemes of the ANC government.”

Funding this year

In this academic year, he said, 1,131,419 applications had been received through the scheme’s online application portal, 156,700 of which were from child grant beneficiaries.

At the beginning of the year, he said, his department ensured that NSFAS provided upfront payments to institutions of higher learning to cover costs related to registration, tuition fees and living allowances so beneficiaries could register at these institutions without paying an upfront fee.

“We have also ensured that we implement an inflation-linked increase of 5% on all allowances and we also implemented a 10% increase on the living allowance.”

NSFAS challenges

In January, NSFAS deployed its staff members to institutions across SA to ensure seamless data integration and the registration of students on the direct payment system.

“At that time, I also directed NSFAS to drastically improve its communications systems and urgently build capacity for prompt responses to all NSFAS enquiries, with a clear directive that not a single NSFAS query must be left unresponded to, and timeously.”

He warned students who were improperly benefiting from NSFAS and urged appropriate criminal and legal action against anyone found to be defrauding the system. 

Nzimande said that over the past two years, NSFAS had made strides in its implementation of the student-centred model for the implementation of the direct payment solution, better known as the NSFAS Bank Account, and the development of the NSFAS Student Accommodation Portal.

To date, a total of 509,220 NSFAS claims totalling R40-billion had been received from university students.

“Already, this is above the allocation for the running of the universities. We have already paid to 491,457 students an amount of R29.6-billion.”

He said 23,389 students with exceptions were currently being funded.

“These exceptions occur when NSFAS cannot confirm the funding pathway or funding rules are not complied with as per submitted registration records.”  

He said NSFAS had received 250,548 claims from TVET students to the value of R6.8-billion.

“NSFAS paid 209,352 students at R4.8-billion. The difference is 10,374 students which will be paid after the previous disbursement.”

He urged beneficiaries who were not connected to the new payment system to do so to enable NSFAS to pay their allowances without any further delay. 

Appeals

Nzimande said NSFAS had received 178,426 appeals from potential applicants who had been disqualified.

He said 63,331 of those appeals were approved and 8,528 appeals were rejected for a number of reasons, including duplications.

Nzimande said he had received an initial report about NSFAS challenges from the board. He had appointed Professor Lourens van Staden, Professor Ntombizozuko Dyani-Mhango and Lucian Kearns as additional board members following the resignation of two members. DM

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