The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has disputed claims that the organisation is on the verge of collapse. Despite several challenges, the scheme reaffirmed its commitment to providing comprehensive funding to thousands of students.
NSFAS has been providing financial assistance to deserving beneficiaries for post-school education and training since its inception in 1999. At the time, NSFAS oversaw a budget of R21 million.
In 2023, NSFAS received a budget allocation of around R50 billion from the government to fund more than one million students enrolled in approved courses at universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.
Since 1991, NSFAS funding has grown from disbursing R21.4 million to almost R50 billion to fund children of the working class and the poor seeking to further their studies in public universities and TVET colleges
While the increment in the NSFAS budget allows them to assist more than a million students in achieving their academic goals, the scheme is currently navigating several challenges.
The challenges plaguing the scheme in recent months prompted the South African Union of Students (SAUS) to call for an intervention from Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande as they fear the scheme is on the brink of collapse.
Asive Dlanjwa says they want the minister a 14-day ultimatum to restore executive and operational structures at NSFAS, open applications within seven days, and ensure that outstanding allowances are paid and appeals are adjudicated promptly.
If the minister fails to act within the given timeframe, we will lobby progressive organisations across the country to petition the president to relieve the minister of his duties
At least one of these calls has been answered, however, it is unknown whether SAUS sentiments prompted the opening of NSFAS 2024 applications. NSFAS finally revealed when 2024 applications will open.
SAUS expressed support for efforts to clean up the NSFAS system but highlighted the importance of not neglecting the day-to-day funding of students. The union rejected claims of defunding undeserving students, asserting that the real issue is the collapse of NSFAS systems.
The beneficiaries of NSFAS, based on the means test, are children of the poor and the working class. Failing in this mission denies them the necessary opportunity to relieve themselves out of the chains of abject poverty
In response to the concerns raised by SAUS, NSFAS outlined ongoing reforms and initiatives:
This includes redesigning the Information Communication Information (ICT) system, reviewing all the processes, operations and their allowances disbursement model and reviewing the overall governance and management design to ensure the full execution of its mandate/
NSFAS adds the implementation of a new performance management and accountability framework in a bid to establish a high-performance culture within the organisation. They are also committed to improving stakeholder, media and communication relations by implementing a 24-hour call centre and taking necessary action against all students and institutions who have been defrauding or owing NSFAS.
The NSFAS Board hinted at further reforms and appointments at the executive and senior management levels, underscoring its commitment to addressing concerns and enhancing the efficiency of the organisation. As the dialogue between SAUS and NSFAS continues, the fate of thousands of students reliant on NSFAS support remains a focal point for both parties.