NSFAS Faces Criticism Over Handling of 2023 Appeals in September. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is currently in the hot seat, grappling with intense scrutiny from the Parliamentary Committee for Higher Education. Throughout the 2023 academic year, NSFAS has been at the center of student discontent, and the situation appears to be deteriorating.
Parliamentary Committee Scathing Critique of NSFAS
The Parliamentary Committee for Higher Education has not minced words in its critique of NSFAS. A range of issues, spanning allowance disbursements, appeal processes, student accommodation backlogs, and the implementation of a new direct payment system, has drawn strong condemnation.
NSFAS Appeals Under Fire
One major point of contention is NSFAS’s handling of student appeals. Out of 170,683 financial and academic eligibility appeals submitted to NSFAS, only 58,924 were approved, 6,337 were rejected, and a staggering 28,971 were invalidated due to issues like withdrawals, deletions, or duplications.
Backlog of Appeals and Timelines
NSFAS has faced severe criticism for the backlog in processing appeals, with 44,000 appeals dependent on external factors from February until now. The Committee sought clarification on the timeline for reducing this backlog, with NSFAS responding that internally dependent appeals were set to be resolved by 30 September, while those reliant on external factors, such as educational institutions, had until 31 October.
Questionable Defunding and Document Mishandling
Numerous students who were eligible for funding were left without proper documentation, and a significant number of students were wrongly defunded. NSFAS appeals offer students the opportunity to request a re-evaluation of their applications within 30 days of receiving an “unsuccessful” status.
NSFAS has defended itself by citing sector-wide instability throughout the year and the non-responsiveness of the query system, which led to delays in processing appeals. The scheme also justified its decision to defund over 40,000 students, alleging dishonesty in document submissions.
The Committee expressed concern over the appointment of four service providers responsible for distributing funds to universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges under the new direct payment method for NSFAS allowances. This system has sparked controversy and led to an investigation by the Public Protector.
Service Provider Controversy
According to investigation findings by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), all four service providers partnering with NSFAS are inexperienced companies not registered as Financial Service Providers. The Committee questioned the legitimacy of these appointments and criticized NSFAS for revising its requirements for the direct payment system tender.
Defending the Direct Payment System
NSFAS countered by stating that the direct payment system was universally accepted and only became an issue when bids from major banks were not successful, leading to media sensationalism. The Committee called for a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the appointed service providers versus major banks.
Students Left in Dire Situations
During the COVID-19 pandemic, some students resorted to extreme measures, such as engaging in prostitution, due to NSFAS’s inability to fulfill its duties promptly. The lack of effective communication from NSFAS has exacerbated these issues.
Call for Accountability
Mr. T. Letsie from the ANC criticized NSFAS for its non-functional contact center and called for accountability, stating that employees were failing students. He demanded action from the NSFAS board or threatened board resignation.
CEO Corruption Allegations
Allegations of corruption against NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo, related to his previous work at Services SETA (SSETA), have cast a shadow over NSFAS. The board requested Nongogo to take a leave of absence pending investigations, which are currently underway with preliminary and final reports expected soon.
NSFAS finds itself embroiled in controversy and criticism from various quarters, with serious concerns about its handling of appeals, the direct payment system, and allegations of corruption involving its CEO. Students, who should be the primary beneficiaries, are facing dire consequences as these issues persist.
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