Sizwe Nxasana. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Sizwe Nxasana. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

Seasoned corporate executive Sizwe Nxasana has stepped down as chairman and member of the board of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

"After three years at the helm the time is right for me to step aside," Nxasana said in a statement on Thursday.

"I informed the minister of higher education and training of my resignation on Monday, August 6, and offered my support to ensure an orderly handover process. It has been a privilege and honour to serve as a NSFAS board member and chairperson. NSFAS was conceived to deliver financial aid to students from poor and working-class backgrounds, and in 2018 alone financed over 400,000 students."

Nxasana, a former FirstRand CEO, was appointed NSFAS chairman in 2015. He was tasked with turning around the scheme which had been dogged by corruption and mismanagement that resulted in many disadvantaged young people missing out on higher education opportunities.

In recent months, NSFAS has been struggling to ensure the smooth roll-out of free higher education. Many students have complained about delayed payments. This sparked protests at various tertiary institutions around the country earlier in 2018 that resulted in another disruption of academic activities and more damage to property.

In a surprise move in December, former president Jacob Zuma effectively overruled the Heher Commission report into the feasibility of free higher education when he announced that the government would subsidise free higher education for poor and working-class students.

This meant the multibillion-rand scheme had a few weeks before the start of the 2018 academic year to change its processes and systems to execute its new mandate (including converting loans into bursaries) while still running the old funding scheme.

Nxasana said that while the past few years had been extremely challenging, "I am grateful for the opportunity to have been able to immerse myself in education and contribute to finding sustainable solutions for the higher education sector".

"Since December 2016, the NSFAS mandate and funding obligations increased exponentially, placing extreme strain on the organisation’s systems and processes. I would like to recognise the many patriotic and committed South Africans in government, business and academia who have contributed their expertise and resources to try to make quality education accessible.… I will continue making a contribution in my different roles and capacities to support less privileged young South Africans acquire the knowledge and skills to allow them to participate meaningfully in the economy and our nation’s life," said Nxasana.