Students First: Time For A Complete Overhaul Of The NSFAS – The IIE

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Despite its critical role in ensuring access to higher education for hundreds of thousands of South African students, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has left students perpetually in the lurch as it limps from one crisis to another – and The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) says a complete overhaul of NSFAS is long overdue, instead of simply applying a band-aid each time the next problem arises.

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The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) plays a critical role in ensuring access to higher education for hundreds of thousands of South African students. However, it has been limping from one crisis to another for years, leaving students perpetually in the lurch and unable to realise their vision for their futures and careers.

The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s leading private higher education provider, says the time has come for a complete overhaul of NSFAS rather than band-aids being applied whenever yet another problem arises, as was the case again recently with the dissolution of the board.

While The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) is a private higher education provider, its commitment to the welfare and access to higher education opportunities for all deserving students in South Africa extends beyond its campuses.

Despite its students not being eligible for NSFAS funding due to the existing policy of only funding public university students, The IIE recognises the critical role played by the NSFAS in ensuring equitable access to quality higher education. The IIE’s interest lies in the broader goal of empowering as many students as possible, regardless of their financial backgrounds.

“The NSFAS transformation requires more than cosmetic changes. It demands a commitment to transparency, a willingness to confront corruption head-on, and the establishment of robust systems,” says Dr Linda Meyer, MD of The IIE’s Rosebank College.

She says it is beyond time for all stakeholders to demand lasting change to ensure equal educational opportunities for all while safeguarding public resources.

Calls for change often focus on replacing the board or management. While leadership accountability is crucial, it is not enough. Simply reshuffling personnel without addressing the underlying issues will yield limited results. A complete overhaul is required to address lack of transparency, inadequate systems, and political interference.

Lack of transparency makes the scheme susceptible to corruption, inadequate and outdated systems are prone to manipulation, and political interference has resulted in kickbacks and favouritism.

“The futures of young South Africans will perpetually be compromised if we continue to take the approach of implementing knee-jerk half-measures,” says Dr Meyer.

Key to turning the scheme around is implementing robust and transparent systems and ensuring ethical governance.

NSFAS is a government organisation and as such, it should be taken over by the government, says Dr Meyer. Funds should be disbursed to the universities where accountability measures are in place.

The fact is that the corruption within NSFAS is so endemic and structural that changes to the board will accomplish nothing. The issues are deeply embedded in the organisation's procedures, culture, and perhaps even its informal norms and practices.

“Universities are already owed in the region of R19.2 billion arising from student debt, yet even after last year's fracas, the same four entities are still dispensing (or indeed not dispensing) funds to students despite being cancelled at the end of last year.”

Dr Meyer says the situation is so bad that students are starving and sleeping on the streets. Yet responses often involve going on strikes against the very universities that are also victims of NSFAS corruption and mismanagement.

“Stakeholders need to demand accountability and transparency to ensure that the next generation of students has a real chance at accessing quality higher education.”

Suggested Article:

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More than a million students rely on funding from NSFAS. Challenges with their funding led Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to dissolve the NSFAS board. 

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