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Despite Its Threat To Young People – NSFAS Profits Well Connected And Opportunistic

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Despite Its Threat To Young People - NSFAS Profits Well Connected And Opportunistic

Despite Its Threat To Young People – NSFAS Profits Well Connected And Opportunistic. Every time I hear about the bungles at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), my heart sinks – not because it is another state agency in crisis, but because someone in desperate need of money suffers as a result.

That someone is a version of myself: a child from a poor background, whose only hope to unlock their potential lies in the hands of public servants who very likely have experienced first-hand what it feels like to be helpless.

Surely, they personally know a helpless NSFAS beneficiary in their own families, extended families, or communities? Then how does such a person play the part they do in engineering this vicious circle? It boggles my mind – the heartlessness, the inhumanity, the lack of consciousness and empathy.

Endless Trouble

Yearly, without reprieve, NSFAS is in the news for all the wrong reasons. The stories follow the plight of beneficiaries at South Africa’s 26 universities and 50 technical vocational education and training colleges who are let down by crumbling systems.

If it is not delayed allowances, then there are discrepancies in the system, corruption, or mismanagement. The government has been unable to get NSFAS right. It has chopped and changed the scheme’s leadership over the years, but problems persist.

Seasoned professionals with impeccable credentials have failed to make NSFAS work. Many have resigned or were fired. But we hardly hear about any of them being sentenced for fraud, theft, or corruption.

This is apart from the case of Walter Sisulu University student Sibongile Mani, who was convicted for the theft of R14 million that was accidentally credited to her NSFAS account in 2017.

Mani was sentenced to five years in prison, which was later overturned and changed to a suspended sentence after she appealed. She was found guilty of spending R818,000, whereas she was entitled only to a R1,400 food allowance. There have been several arrests of NSFAS officials in the past, but unlike the Mani case, no outcome has been communicated publicly.

Confusion And Controversy

The Special Investigating Unit announced in April 2023 that NSFAS paid R5 billion to 40,000 undeserving students in 76 institutions of higher learning.

The investigation also revealed that there was an alleged syndicate involved in private accommodation which benefited.

Poor financial controls were found to be at the centre of problems at NSFAS, which led to the inability to reconcile annually the funds disbursed to institutions and a list of funded registered students.

This resulted in overpayments and underpayments to different institutions from 2017 to 2023. But these problems have been around since way before 2017.

I recall that the government conducted pilot studies when I started working as an education reporter. This was from 2012 to 2014. The model it was then trying out entailed NSFAS having direct contact with students and disbursing their funds.

Institutions where the pilot was not conducted continued to be responsible for distributing funds through their financial aid offices.

The pilot project was meant to test whether NSFAS could directly interact with students and cut out institutions, which act as middlemen. This was meant to curtail discrepancies and delays in approving funding applications and payment of allowances.

The pilot system did not seem to work. Then things got confusing. It became unclear whether financial aid offices were still functional at some universities and who was actually responsible for disbursing funds. Things continued to limp along.

The Recent Tender Controversy

Recently, there was a controversial tender that appointed four fintech companies to pay allowances directly to students.

An investigation into the tender conducted by Werksmans Attorneys and advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC in August 2023 led to the dismissal of NSFAS chief executive Andile Nongogo by its board for being implicated in irregularities uncovered during the tendering process.

Board chairperson Ernest Khosa, who allegedly is linked to the four service providers, later resigned before Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande indicated that he was placing NSFAS under administration.

I have lost count of how many administrators and boards have taken over NSFAS through the years. It is a revolving door.

But something must change. We need to hear about arrests and the outcome of those cases. The government should not just accept resignations, dismissals, and questionable mutual settlements when taxpayers’ money has been misused and the future of so many beneficiaries tragically derailed.

The Ripple Effects

The ripple effects of this failure to act are monumental. Progress is hindered in poor families. Generations of young people in these families remain hopeless and jobless, and some of them drink their lives away in self-pity, their dreams shattered.

At least the government could be seen to be taking a serious step towards rectifying the chaos at NSFAS by acting against officials and councillors implicated in wrongdoing through recovering the funds misused under their watch.

There must be accountability, or NSFAS will remain a cash cow for opportunistic and politically connected people at the expense of our youth.

If It Were To Work

As beneficiaries, we are required to pay back NSFAS loans. I agree with this policy, even though it took me years to pay off mine. I was someone starting from the bottom and trying to catch up on unresolved legacies dating back generations before me, plus I had my own personal responsibilities.

When I finally did it, I felt good knowing that someone like me would also benefit in turn, that the money was flowing so that others could succeed.

But this endless mismanagement is so disheartening, not to mention making it more difficult for the government to convince others to do the same and pay back the money.

NSFAS is a public good. It can help to protect the lives of young people and bring hope and progress to their poor families. The debate is not whether NSFAS is viable or not. It is. We just need practical, working models, and good people in charge.

There are many positive case studies that confirm how crucial NSFAS is to our society. I’m one of them.

Conclusion

Despite its noble intentions, NSFAS has become a symbol of dysfunction and mismanagement, harming those it was designed to help. It must be reformed, with stringent accountability measures and ethical leadership. Only then can it fulfill its promise of uplifting young South Africans from poverty and providing them with the educational opportunities they deserve.

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NSFAS News

NSFAS To Pay Eviction Allowances This Week

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NSFAS To Pay Eviction Allowances This Week

NSFAS To Pay Eviction Allowances This Week. Recently, students at TVET Colleges faced eviction from their residences due to delayed accommodation allowance payments by NSFAS. Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has assured that payments will be processed promptly, urging landlords to exercise patience during this period of financial reconciliation.

Addressing The Issue

Freeman Nomvalo, the Administrator of NSFAS, has taken decisive steps to resolve the payment delays affecting King Sabata Dalindyebo (KSD) TVET College. Reports surfaced regarding students being evicted due to NSFAS’s failure to disburse allowances on time, highlighting systemic challenges in financial aid distribution.

Understanding NSFAS

NSFAS plays a pivotal role in providing bursaries and loans to eligible students enrolled in approved courses at universities and TVET colleges across South Africa. These financial resources encompass tuition, registration fees, and crucial allowances for living expenses, learning materials, and accommodation.

Impact Of Accommodation Allowance

The accommodation allowance is vital for students, enabling them to reside closer to their educational institutions and facilitating a conducive learning environment. Delays in these allowances, exceeding six months in some cases, have resulted in severe consequences such as student evictions.

Immediate Action And Commitment

Responding swiftly to the outcry, Nomvalo engaged stakeholders at KSD TVET College to address the pressing issue of allowance payments. Following extensive consultations, NSFAS has committed to initiating payments for affected students at the Ngcobo campus starting June 25, 2024, thereby mitigating further hardships faced by students and landlords alike.

Call For Collaboration

Nomvalo appealed to landlords not to evict students over outstanding payments, assuring them of NSFAS ongoing efforts to clear all legitimate dues promptly. Landlords were encouraged to submit their claims through the designated email address, [email protected], to expedite the resolution process.

Future Initiatives

Looking ahead, NSFAS announced the launch of provincial accommodation roadshows commencing in July. These roadshows aim to streamline accommodation procedures and guidelines across institutions, ensuring smoother processes for the 2025 academic year. By enhancing communication and support mechanisms, NSFAS intends to improve the management of student allowances and accommodation logistics comprehensively.

Conclusion

In conclusion, NSFAS remains dedicated to resolving accommodation allowance challenges swiftly and effectively. With proactive measures in place and ongoing stakeholder engagement, NSFAS aims to uphold its commitment to supporting students educational pursuits while fostering positive relationships with accommodation providers nationwide. Through collaborative efforts, NSFAS strives to ensure that no student faces unnecessary financial distress due to delayed allowances.

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