Blade Nzimande Nsfas Defense Stability Amidst Funding Turmoil. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has defended the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) against criticism, emphasizing its stability despite facing numerous challenges. Student dissatisfaction and protests have erupted due to funding issues, but Nzimande maintains that NSFAS is not in crisis.
Challenges Facing NSFAS
- Student Funding Failures: Throughout the year, NSFAS has grappled with complaints about funding failures, adversely affecting thousands of students. Widespread protests at universities and even Parliament have arisen due to unpaid allowances, erroneous defunding, and calls for the elimination of the new direct payment system.
- Detractors’ Claims: Minister Nzimande criticized detractors, accusing them of attempting to tarnish the reputation of the world’s largest student funding agency by portraying NSFAS as being in crisis.
- Progress and Issues with the New Payment System:
- Direct Payment System: NSFAS introduced a new direct payment system, sparking controversy. Students have voiced concerns about excessive bank charges, system glitches, difficulties accessing service providers, and a lack of clarity on accessing funds.
- Bank Charges Review: Minister Nzimande requested that NSFAS reevaluate the bank charges imposed by contracted service providers for student allowances. These providers include Tenet Technology, Coinvest Africa, Ezaga Holdings, and Norraco Corporation. He urged the board to consider measures to further reduce costs for beneficiaries.
- Investigation into Appointing Companies: The minister awaits a final report on investigations into the appointment process of the four companies, following public allegations of impropriety.
- Suspension Pending Investigation: Mr. Nongogo, the NSFAS CEO, has been placed on leave of absence while independent legal firm investigations into allegations against him are ongoing. Nzimande clarified that this action does not imply guilt but aims to ensure transparency.
Addressing Student Fraud
- Criminal Charges for Fraud: Nzimande recommended criminal charges against students and parents who improperly benefited from NSFAS funding. NSFAS initially terminated funding for over 40,000 students, reinstating 14,703 after re-evaluation.
- Defrauding NSFAS: The decision to defund students was prompted by NSFAS’s payment of over R5 billion to ineligible recipients. The minister urged NSFAS to establish a 24-hour call center and pursue legal action against fraudulent beneficiaries.
Directives for NSFAS Improvement
Minister Nzimande issued several directives to enhance NSFAS’s operations:
- Redesigned ICT System: Implement a redesigned Information Communication Technology (ICT) system to leverage modern technologies for seamless service delivery.
- Review Processes and Allowances Model: Review all processes, operations, and the allowances disbursement model.
- Governance and Management Review: Examine overall governance and management to ensure effective mandate execution.
- Performance Management Framework: Implement a new performance management and accountability framework to foster a high-performance organizational culture.
- Stakeholder Engagement: Enhance stakeholder, media, and communication relations to improve transparency.
- Timely Responses: Ensure prompt responses to all inquiries.
Despite the challenges and criticisms, Minister Nzimande maintains that NSFAS remains a vital resource for the majority of impoverished students and is not in a state of crisis. The government is actively addressing issues to improve the funding scheme’s effectiveness and transparency.
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