NSFAS students wait with bated breath for living allowances after service provider contract fiasco
NSFAS says it will continue to disburse allowances to funded students through its direct payment partners until an ‘official’ communication indicates otherwise. The fund scheme has stopped contracts with four service providers implicated in wrongdoing with its former CEO. But for affected students, these events happen during preparations for year-end exams.
It is Wednesday 1 November, and students funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) are waiting for their monthly living stipends to be paid for essentials such as food, transport and hygiene products. The aid scheme says it will continue to disburse allowances through its direct payment partners after contracts were stopped due to alleged wrongdoing between the affected companies and former NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo.
Now, these students are worried that as they start preparations for their end-of-year exams, they will be left without food. NSFAS said it would “continue to disburse allowances to students with its Direct Payment partners until an official communication indicating otherwise”.
Daily Maverick spoke to several students studying in Cape Town about the cancellation of service providers. Four companies were tasked with direct payments to provide funded students their monthly allowances for essentials such as food, transport and hygiene products.
Read more in Daily Maverick: NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo faces axe after ‘conflict of interest’ in appointment of payment providers
The contract’s cancellation was announced during a media briefing by NSFAS on Wednesday, 18 October. However, board chairperson Ernest Khosa said students won’t be negatively affected by the cancellation of the contracts.
At the briefing, NSFAS announced that its CEO Andile Nongogo had been given seven days to respond to allegations of improper conduct against him over his alleged involvement in the handling of the contracts. He was recently fired by NSFAS.
Read more in Daily Maverick: NSFAS CEO fired by board over student payment irregularities and conflicts of interest
So far, students said they have not received any information from NSFAS about the matter, or confirmation about whether they will receive their allowances.
One student, Katleho Mofokeng, who is studying towards a BCom at the University of the Western Cape, told Daily Maverick on 1 November that he had not been paid his allowance. “I am very dependent on NSFAS. I don’t have any other source of funding, this worries me a lot because now I won’t be able to purchase toiletries and essentials I need to last me these few days before my last exam. I am broke and honestly don’t know what to do next.”
Mofokeng described the lack of communication as “draining”. He’d planned to return home to the Free State after finishing his exams early, but because of this lack of funding, he wasn’t sure about how he would be able to get home. “I am going to lose concentration as I have to make other plans to try and have money that will get me home,” he said.
Other students have similar tales. Calvin Matjele, a third-year Geographical and Environmental Science student at the University of Cape Town said his biggest concern was about whether he would receive his allowance on time. “I have finished my lectures for the year and now, having to study with a concern of when our allowances will be paid at the back of my mind is truly affecting my studies. I can’t prepare properly due to everything that’s unfolding now,” he said.
Matjele added that “soon, before the end of November, we’re finishing writing exams and universities are closing. We need that allowance to fund our trips going back home” and that he had concerns about whether he’d be able to purchase a travel ticket or else “be stranded here in Cape Town”.
Matjele confirmed that he had not yet received his allowance for November.
Daily Maverick has sent queries to NSFAS since Thursday, 26 October, about students’ concerns, to no avail.
On Tuesday, 31 November, NSFAS released a statement that denied claims of late payments to students. “NSFAS confirms that payments of allowances have been processed on time to all NSFAS beneficiaries,” said the scheme.
It said that due to “phishing threats” in disbursing allowances, NSFAS had to put in place additional security measures to protect the system from potential fraud.
“As a result, the system upgrade caused delays in disbursing funds to universities. However, NSFAS is still on track to disburse allowances to students on the 1st of November 2023,” the scheme said in a statement.
“We understand the critical importance of these funds to our students, and we are continuously working to make the payment process as efficient as possible. Our commitment to the higher education community remains steadfast, and we are dedicated to providing financial assistance to those in need,” said NSFAS Board Chairperson Ernest Khosa. DM