Parliamentary Committee Condemns NSFAS for Multiple Failures.The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is facing severe criticism from the Parliamentary Committee for Higher Education, marking a turning point where appeals for NSFAS failures will no longer be tolerated. In the wake of ongoing frustrations during the 2023 academic year, the situation surrounding NSFAS appears to be deteriorating.
Parliamentary Committee Expresses Concerns
One of the primary concerns raised by the Parliamentary Committee for Higher Education pertains to NSFAS’s recent appointment of four service providers for distributing funds to universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.
This move is part of the controversial direct payment method for NSFAS allowances, which has ignited controversy and dissatisfaction among both NSFAS stakeholders and student beneficiaries. The Public Protector is currently investigating this matter after a complaint was filed by William Sezoe, Stellenbosch SRC Vice Chairperson.
Questionable Service Provider Selection
An investigation by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has revealed that all four service providers partnering with NSFAS are inexperienced companies, lacking registration as Financial Service Providers at the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA).
The Parliamentary Committee also questions the legitimacy of appointing these financial service providers and criticizes NSFAS for revising its requirements for the direct payment system tender. Additionally, it questions why capable service providers were overlooked.
Despite the dissatisfaction expressed, NSFAS contends that the new payment system is both functional and necessary. It claims that the issues arose only after “big banks” failed to secure the contract, leading to media sensationalism. The Committee has called for a comparative assessment of the appointed service providers against the “big banks” or other capable alternatives.
Inadequate Handling of NSFAS Appeals
NSFAS has come under further criticism for its handling of student appeals. Among the 170,683 financial and academic eligibility appeals received, only 58,924 were funded, 6,337 were rejected, and 28,971 were invalidated due to various reasons. A backlog of 44,000 appeals dependent on external factors has further complicated the situation.
NSFAS attributes some of the issues to sector-wide instability throughout the year. Additionally, it cites a non-responsive query system as a reason for the prolonged appeal processing. NSFAS justifies its decision to defund over 40,000 students, alleging dishonesty among some who submitted fraudulent documents as legal guardians.
Students Left in Dire Situations
The failure of NSFAS to fulfill its obligations has left some students in dire situations, with reports of resorting to desperate measures, such as engaging in prostitution. The Committee criticizes NSFAS for poor communication and a non-functional contact center, demanding accountability from both officials and the NSFAS board.
Call for Accountability
Members of Parliament insist that NSFAS should play a pivotal role in the country’s development by ensuring that young people receive the education and support they need. They stress the need for swift corrective action and threaten consequences if NSFAS fails to address its shortcomings. Additionally, they aim to find a mechanism to ensure that individuals with the right ethics and mindset work in the public sector, including NSFAS.
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