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In future students who qualify for university admission will have to apply for funds to study through a centralised application system.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS) Board Chairperson Mr Zamayedwa Sogayise and the Department of Education and Training’s Director-General, Mr Gwenkundla Qonde, appeared before government's Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, to brief it about the implementation of NSFAS’ proposed Central Application System.
Also present in the meeting were representatives from other national student organisations, including the South African Union of Students.
Sogayise emphasised that the transformed programme (student-centred model) due for implementation, unlike the current one which excludes the student, puts the student at the centre. “Students are disconnected from NSFAS, there is no direct relationship,” said Mr Sogayise. He also said the current loan management system is outdated and inadequate.
This new system will go live in the next two year, NSFAS told MPs. It will allow NFSAS to channel funds directly to students rather than through the university of their choice.
The new system would avoid the channeling of funds to students via a third party, the acting CEO of NSFAS Nathan Johnstone explained to the portfolio committee on higher education.
Johnstone also said the new system would start operating in the 2013/2014 financial year as the organisation was installing a new IT system that would accommodate all students studying through their loans and bursaries.
NSFAS is a government institution that keeps billions of rands to help students who come from poor families.
According to Johnstone, the central application system had been identified as the most single aspect that would resolve the problem of students applying late for loans and bursaries and therefore denied admission at universities.
The NSFAS would issue a R98m tender to get a company that would install the new IT system for central application for loans and bursaries, he said.
Johnstone also said that the NFSAS will start engaging with students from Grade 9 in order to brinbg them up to speed with applying for funds.
Students would be given a card that would be loaded with the amount of cash that they require, the head of finance at NSFAS, Msulwa Daca, told MPs.
However, Daca cautioned that tuition and accommodation fees would be paid directly to the respective institutions they are attending while they keep the balance for their other educational needs.
Government responded with the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Advocate Ismael Malale, telling the Sogayise and Qonde that the overarching role of public accountability resides with the Portfolio Committee even though there are other role players.
He proceeded to say that people sometimes question Parliament’s role in NSFAS. “All those who use public money become accountable here at Parliament and that includes universities. Professors that lead South African universities account for public money used at universities before this Committee,” said Advocate Malale.
Advocate Malale told Sogayise and Qonde that the Committee realised the contradictions that sometimes lead to student protests at certain FET colleges and universities arise from a lack of understanding of NSFAS policies. This is why the Committee invited representatives of student organisations to the meeting. “We should be on the same page,” he said.
Members of the Committee appealed to the NSFAS’s Board Chairperson and the Department of Education’s Director General to have strong and effective debt recovery strategies in place as NSFAS’s sustainability also depends largely on debt recovery. “NSFAS and students themselves must closely work together, especially for the purposes of loan repayment,” they said. Members of the Committee also told student representatives to ensure that students use NSFAS bursary money productively.
“Tell your constituencies to use the bursary wisely as you use bursaries from the private sector. Students with bursaries from the private sector use them wisely as these bursaries are withdrawn once a student fails,” emphasised members of the Committee.
Student representatives appealed to NSFAS and the Department of Education and Training’s Director-General to ensure that the family income threshold of R220 000 per annum, which determines assistance to needy students, is increased to R300 000. According to NSFAS policy, students who come from homes earning R220 000 and more do not qualify for NSFAS assistance.