SOWETAN | Students victims of fund failures

Higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande.
Higher education, science and innovation minister Blade Nzimande.
Image: Freddy Mavunda/Business Day

The dissolution of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) board by higher education minister Blade Nzimande last week was hardly surprising given the crisis that has beset the fund.

The collapse of the board, which took effect on Friday, means that the fund will now be headed by an administrator to oversee governance and management of the entity.

This marks the second time in over five years that NSFAS has been under administration following a similar move in 2018. On the face of it, while welcome, it makes a mockery of the state’s commitment towards the education of majority poor black students who rely on the government to access the doors of learning.

In the latest mismanagement problems, thousands of students have gone weeks without receiving their allowances, with some being evicted from residences due to nonpayment of rent. NSFAS, which was set up to assist poor students with access to higher education, has been in turmoil for a long time.

The unpaid allowances debacle came after the fund was forced to terminate its contract awarded to four companies to disburse allowances to students at public universities and TVET colleges.

An investigation by law firm Werksmans Attorneys last year found that the appointment of the companies was shrouded in conflict of interest which led to the suspension of then CEO Andile Nongogo.  

In January, board chair Ernest Khosa took leave of absence amid allegations of fraud and kickbacks from service providers levelled against him made by Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse.  Khosa  denied the allegations which are yet to be tested.

Amid these management upheavals, thousands of students have been left in limbo with allowances not being paid on time and universities being blamed for delaying submitting students’ registration data.

Meanwhile, there has been no clarity on when the termination of the contracts with the four fintech companies will take effect.

This has created another chaotic state of affairs in the disbursement of students allowances as NSFAS has decided to forge ahead with its direct payment scheme.

What is evidently clear, however, is that NSFAS lacks the capacity and capability to handle the scale of student allowances it is meant to administer. This is completely inexcusable as it places unnecessary hardship on the needy students.

The awarding of direct payment contracts is an example of the fund’s poor administrative capability.

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