Students Challenge Minister Nzimande Rejection of NSFAS Crisis Concerns. Over a million students depend on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to finance their tertiary education, yet mounting issues in fund disbursement have raised concerns about the agency’s stability. Despite these challenges, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande firmly denies any crisis at NSFAS.
Minister Nzimande Rebuttal
Earlier this week, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande publicly asserted that NSFAS remains in a stable state, dismissing the apprehensions of many beneficiaries. This declaration has prompted a spirited response from student leaders who take issue with the minister’s perspective on the bursary scheme.
The South African Union of Students (SAUS) strongly opposes Minister Nzimande’s stance and contends that NSFAS is indeed grappling with serious issues, adversely affecting the nation’s neediest students. SAUS spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa argues that the delays in allowance disbursements unequivocally demonstrate a crisis within NSFAS. These delays, which occurred in September 2023, left students struggling to cover essential expenses such as rent, meals, and study materials. Additionally, SAUS anticipates further allowance payment delays in October 2024.
NSFAS Financial Struggles
Dlanjwa points to the billions of rand lost by NSFAS in recent years as further evidence of a systemic crisis. He emphasizes that these losses reflect a deficiency within the government’s bursary scheme rather than a problem with the students themselves. Dlanjwa criticizes the efficiency and robustness of NSFAS’s systems, suggesting that such losses should have been prevented if the systems were well-constructed.
In August, NSFAS revoked funding for approximately 40,000 students accused of providing false information during their bursary applications. However, concerns have arisen regarding the fairness of these defundings, with some students allegedly being unfairly penalized for perceived attempts to manipulate the system.
Undisclosed Parental Relationships
Nzimande revealed that a significant number of first-time students initially approved for NSFAS funding were subsequently defunded due to the discovery of undisclosed parental relationships. These relationships were unearthed through data from government agencies like the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Some students had falsely claimed single-parent households or provided inaccurate parental details, which had initially gone unnoticed and resulted in them receiving funding.
To rectify this issue, NSFAS launched initiatives to verify the parental relationships of students. They developed an internal relationship matrix to uncover previously undisclosed relationships. Subsequently, SARS verification revealed that some students hailed from households with incomes exceeding NSFAS’s income threshold, leading to the discontinuation of funding for these individuals.
Students who were defunded were provided an opportunity to appeal their cases.
Reforms and Appointments
In response to these challenges, Minister Nzimande announced the appointment of three new board members and introduced several directives aimed at enhancing the efficiency and governance of NSFAS. These directives encompass modernizing the organization’s ICT infrastructure, streamlining its operations, and bolstering governance and accountability.
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