Statement of importance on NSFAS to the National Assembly by Minister Naledi Pandor
There has been growing public concern at the inability of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to efficiently administer the processing of application and disbursement. These concerns do not begin this year, they have existed for several years. The public, higher education institutions and students are right to be concerned given the important role NSFAS plays in ensuring the transformation of the human resource profile of South Africa. Since its inception the scheme has ensured that funds are made available to thousands of young people from poor and working class backgrounds to support their access to and success in higher education. Efficient administration and disbursement of the funds are essential for ensuring that young people benefit from this critical support for the skills development of our country’s youth
Honourable members are aware that we have had serious concerns about the scheme for several years. In 2013 the scheme introduced a new “student centered model” for applications and disbursement. This created a direct link between students and the scheme and bypassed institutions. The model was piloted for two years in 5 universities and 14 colleges and then expanded to all institutions in 2017.
At the beginning of 2017, the scheme had a breakdown of it’s computer systems and processes. Various processes of the scheme had to be undertaken manually and the absence of data and systems integration worsened the problems. Due to these difficulties many 2017 processes were incomplete by the end of 2017, many applications were not finalized, and funds were not disbursed.
2018 began with this backlog intact, and the scheme confronted with inadequate systems processes and staff also had to administer the new full bursary programme that introduced free higher education for poor and working class first year students.
The DHET began to work closely with NSFAS from early January in an effort to address the changes and deal with the backlog of 2017. The board also provided extensive hands on support to NSFAS to help address continued inadequacy. In February, I was alerted to the backlogs and the fact that many institutions were owed funds while thousands of applications had still not been processed. It became clear that the problems were very severe.
I had always received full support from the Board, Mr Nxasana. Following various Board attempts to intervene and assist, and even support from DHET the board and ministry agreed that extraordinary measures were warranted. I appointed a support team of DHET and institutional staff for a six week period to support the processing of applications and to ensure disbursement. This team made some progress in resolving some of the backlog. However, it became clear that much more was needed.
Following the board chair informing me of his immediate resignation in August I decided to seriously consider the appointment of an administrator. An emergency board meeting affirmed my intention and indicated the board had intended to propose the appointment of an administrator. I was also asked to do so by unions represented in NSFAS and by student organisations at TVET colleges and universities.
Source: Government of South Africa