Committee of inquiry appointed to find lasting solutions for NSFAS

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande.
Higher education minister Blade Nzimande.
Image: GCIS

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande has appointed a ministerial committee of inquiry to conduct an independent investigation into the business processes, systems and capacity of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

He wants the committee to make recommendations about the short-term and long-term changes necessary for an effective financial aid system at NSFAS.

In a notice published in the Government Gazette on Thursday but dated May 8, Nzimande set out the terms of reference of the committee, whose members are still to be named.

Nzimande said the reason for the appointment of the committee was the inability of NSFAS to move to a new model of funding which it rolled out in 2017 and which led to the scheme being placed under administration.

The “student-centred” model involved the direct funding of students by NSFAS and was intended to provide an improved information technology platform for submitting and processing student applications, where students applied directly to the scheme through an online application system.

Nzimande said NSFAS underestimated the magnitude of the processes and timelines required to implement the new model effectively.

He said 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.

“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.”

Nzimande said this led to NSFAS relying almost entirely on institutions to make payments to students.

“Many students remained unconfirmed and unfunded late in 2018, and there was evidence of multiple data and IT integration/system problems at NSFAS.”

He said the root causes of these problems were multiple and complex, and related to problems in the areas of business processes, policy and controls, and staffing capacity.

These problems led to the minister placing NSFAS under administration in August 2018 for a period of 12 months.

A second phase of administration began in 2019 and many of the problems and additional concerns have been unearthed during the period thus far.

Nzimande said the NSFAS management and administration team will be expected to work closely with the committee of inquiry and provide all relevant reports, reviews and investigations undertaken by the NSFAS to the investigation team.

According to the gazette, the investigation should be completed within six months from the date of appointment of the committee.

“The members of the committee will be identified before publication in consultation with the minister.”

Higher education department spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said though significant progress had been made at NSFAS during the period under administration, there was a need for an inquiry to consolidate the work and undertake any further investigation necessary.

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