The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) provides students with various allowances each month, encompassing accommodation, meal, and learning material allowances. Without these allowances, students face the risk of hunger and even homelessness.
NSFAS spokesperson Slumezi Skosana attributed the allowance payment delays for November 2023 to a data adjustment process.
The scheme says the news article “NSFAS leaves students starving during exams” casts aspersion that the NSFAS, “deliberately neglected” to pay allowances to students at the University of North West, University of Venda, Durban University of Technology, University of Limpopo and the University of Cape Town.
Skosana says this process affords institutions the opportunity to rectify their data, to address scenarios such as student module additions or cancellations and changes in allowance types, such as transitioning from transportation to accommodation.
The article fails to appreciate the fact that accountability and financial prudence is also an important part of the NSFAS allowances disbursement policy.
NSFAS argues that the article also fails to appreciate measures introduced by NSFAS to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of student information provided to it by institutions. All these efforts are aimed at ensuring that NSFAS pays the right student allowances and to minimize delays in the disbursements of allowances.
The NSFAS Board remains concerned when allowances are not paid to students and the institutions on time. NSFAS understands the critical importance of these funds to students and institutions. In this regard, the NSFAS apologizes to all students who could not receive their allowances on time.
Skosana mentioned that some data glitches caused delays in allowance payments at the start of November 2023. These delays occurred during a crucial period when thousands of students were taking their final examinations.
The NSFAS spokesperson affirmed that NSFAS is diligently working to address all issues related to allowance payments.
We are collaborating closely with institutions to address this, which is why we have managed to process payments over the weekend.
Skosana expressed disappointment that matters discussed during an operational meeting were made public, raising questions about the intentions behind making these recordings public.
Addressing NSFAS Challenges
Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, has expressed deep concern regarding the challenges facing the NSFAS. The findings by Werkermans Attorneys have brought to light potential corruption related to a tender that could amount to billions.
The investigation specifically focused on irregularities linked to Bid NO. SCMN022/2021, concerning the appointment of service providers for direct allowance payments.
The findings revealed a possible relationship between NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo and the selected Fintech companies responsible for distributing student allowances. Several other issues were identified, including a lack of a feasibility study and amendments to bid specifications that may have favoured the selection of Fintechs for allowance distribution.
Nzimande commended NSFAS' Board for accepting the report, its findings, and considering its recommendations. However, the Minister expressed concerns about the Board's role throughout the investigative process.
Given the serious nature of the matters under investigation, questions do arise about the Board's role throughout this saga.
The Minister requested the Board to furnish a comprehensive plan for implementing the report's recommendations, underlining the critical need to stabilise the organisation and prevent further issues.
Therefore, I require a detailed explanation of the role played by the Board during the entire process, outlining the information provided to the Board, stages of the process, and approvals sought from and granted by the Board.
Nzimande called for close collaboration between the Board and management to implement the organisational turnaround plan. This collaboration is deemed essential to ensure that past lapses, including delays in student allowance payments and student accommodation accreditation, do not recur.
Without turning the Board into an operational structure, I implore you to work closely with management as they implement the organisational turnaround plan devised during the last board meeting a few weeks ago.
Additionally, Minister Nzimande directed the NSFAS Board to conduct a comprehensive investigation into allegations made by the former NSFAS CEO concerning the process of issuing off-take agreements.
The Board is expected to submit the results of this investigation to the Minister within the next three weeks.