Minister Blade Nzimande Reassures Students That NSFAS Problems Will Be Solved

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Students and their families who have been frustrated when they haven't received payments or even funding decisions were reassured by the Higher Education Minister that he is taking action to get them the answers - and the action - that they need.

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Minister Blade Nzimande Promises NSFAS Action

Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande said publicly on Thursday that the student funding scheme NSFAS was working 'round the clock' to pay students who were waiting for allowances.

Possibly in an effort to show he was leading from the front, Minister Nzimande spent his birthday chairing a media briefing to introduce the new NSFAS Administrator and the reasoning behind his decision to appoint him to head the organisation.

Student organisations, political parties and individual students have been crying out in recent weeks about the problems they have been having with their funding. Allowances were not paid to many students, and others were only partially paid.

"Why Should I Resign? For What!"

This has led to calls from student organisations and political parties for the responsible Minister to resign. Minister Blade Nzimande flatly rejected those calls at the media briefing.

"Minister must resign! Who is saying that? The DA, the EFF, this new entity call MKP. Thank you very much I am not appointed by them. For growing NSFAS to a R50billion entity today. For the things that I have done for TVET Colleges - extending NSFAS to that".

The Minister responded:

I am not going to resign. I am not appointed by them. Maybe the day I am appointed by the DA I will go. They support genocide in Israel. 90 professors have been killed.. in Gaza. All the universities in Gaza are closed as I am talking to you now. So I am not going to resign because there is no reason why I should resign.

Successes of NSFAS

He spent a number of minutes outlining the the success of the student funding scheme over its 33 years. He announced that NSFAS has supported more than 5 million beneficiaries, "enabling poor and working-class families to give their sons and daughters the gift of education", Nzimande proudly announced.

The Minister is clearly proud of the scheme's achievements and once again referred to it as one of the ANC government's greatest achievements. He rebuffs many of those who criticise it publicly as, 'enemies and detractors'  who have an ulterior motive to attack the government generally.

Minister Takes Action To Solve Problems

However the individual students who have not been receiving their student allowances do garner the Minister's sympathy. This is the exact reason, he says, that he has taken this action over the last few days - firing the entire NSFAS Board and appointing Sithembiso Freeman Nomvalo as the NSFAS Administrator.

Nomvalo was previously the CEO of the chartered accountants organisation SAICA and is very experienced with government financial management.

A lot of the current problems started with the appointment of four 'fintech providers' to distribute allowances to students. These inexperienced and unqualified companies were appointed ahead of more obvious options like the banks. A subsequent legal investigation reported that the decision to appoint these providers was irregular and they should be removed. 

The Minister says he met with the Board in December and it was decided that NSFAS should go to court and remove the providers. It is now April and this has not happened. This was one of the reasons Nzimande took his decision.

So the calls from student organisations for these fintech providers to be removed were not rejected by the Minister. In fact he seems to have been equally annoyed that NSFAS was not taking action fast enough.

The Minister was at pains to point out that the work of NSFAS will continue and things should be improved under the Adminstrator.

In the interim, allowance payments to students will be handled by universities. This will continue for the moment but it isn't expected to be a permanent solution. 

Most TVET Colleges are not able to make payments to their students, according to the Minister so he has asked the NSFAS management to address this problem. He has suggested to NSFAS, and their administrator, that they consider using the major banks for payments to students.

The NSFAS COO explained that 'catch up payments' would be made on Monday the 15th April from payment partners. This would only be for those students whose data was up to date on the NSFAS system.

Government Gazette - Terms of Administration For NSFAS

The general and specific terms of the Administrator during this period will be to:
• Ensure the effectiveness in terms of the finalisation of funding guidelines of loan for the missing middle.

Resolving data integration challenges as a matter of urgency, finalising all necessary funding decisions, ensuring reconciliation of funding data between universities and TVET colleges and NSFAS, ensuring that all the necessary agreements are in place and that students are accurately funded and recorded, and making sure that all NSFAS qualifying students receive funding.
• Oversee the opening of the 2025 online applications process (both bursary and loan), ensure that all necessary partnerships for managing the applications process are in place and can be effectively monitored, and develop and manage a communications plan for the application period.
• Develop, in consultation with the Department, universities and TVET colleges, an effective and realistic plan for the 2025 funding cycle and ensure that all parties understand all the roles and responsibilities, and any necessary implementation support is made available as needed.
• Ensure that the entity pays adequate attention to both TVET colleges and universities in all aspects of its core business processes.
• Put in place the necessary management and governance controls to ensure that all risks of the 2025 student funding cycle are appropriately managed, with the support of the Department and institutions as necessary.
• Ensure that adequate plans are in place to make funding decisions at the earliest possible time of the year as close to the period of registration as possible.
• To manage the day -to -day work of the entity, and steer NSFAS to address its operational challenges fully. This will include the strengthening of structures, systems and policies that will ensure good governance and effective management of the core operational mandate of NSFAS.
• To oversee all necessary forensic and other investigations necessary for the effective operation and management of the entity.
• The Administrator will report to the Minister of Higher Education and Training or his delegated officials. Besides other forms of communication and interaction with the Ministry and Department of Higher Education and Training, the Administrator must submit a written report every three months on the progress regarding the above issues.
• The Administrator may appoint technical experts where necessary to assist in the different areas.
• The Administrator will commence duties on the date of publication of this notice.

Suggested Article:

Minister Nzimande and NSFAS Board Chair

Hours before the NSFAS board was dissolved, the board chair handed in his resignation. This comes after several challenging months for NSFAS. 

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