The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is due to begin disbursing outstanding funds to tens of thousands of students on Thursday, says higher education & training minister Naledi Pandor.
Fielding questions from MPs on Wednesday, Pandor assured legislators that the NSFAS was moving swiftly to ensure eligible students received the money they were due.
The NSFAS had for years battled to manage applications for funding while collecting on outstanding student loans, and then buckled under the extra demands created by former president Jacob Zuma’s surprise announcement in 2017 that students from poor and working-class families would be entitled to free higher education from 2018. Thousands of students have faced delayed payments, prompting protests at tertiary institutions earlier this year.
Pandor placed the scheme under administration earlier in August and appointed Randall Carolissen as administrator.
Statistics provided by Carolissen indicated about 63,000 students, the majority from technical and vocational education training colleges, were due to receive funds, she said.
"What is pleasing is that in the first seven days of the administrator’s work, we have had massive support from institutions and student organisations to get students to sign documents to ensure disbursements. Within the next four days we will see significant disbursement of funding," Pandor said.
Pandor said the NSFAS had been failing to fulfil its mandate before Zuma’s announcement, as it had launched a "student-centred model" without evaluating a 2016 pilot programme. The NSFAS tried to manage the administrative load, cutting tertiary institutions out of the loop.