Poor students bear brunt of chaos at student funding scheme
About 100,000 registered students who qualified for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding in 2018 had not yet received their allowances, Parliament’s portfolio committee on education heard on Wednesday.
Another 29,473 students had not received their funding for 2017, painting a sordid picture of administrative chaos at the scheme.
The chaos was a major setback for disadvantaged students who depended on NSFAS funding to further their education, DA spokeswoman on higher education and training Belinda Bozzoli said on Wednesday.
She called for an emergency fund to be set up to assist students in dire need and for extraordinary efforts to be made to bring the NSFAS crisis to an end.
Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor and her department acknowledged there was a failure of systems across the board, in both NSFAS and the institutions.
"Only 45,338 university students and 15,348 TVET [Technical and Vocational Education and Training] students meeting funding criteria have signed their contracts, which they must do before they are paid," Bozzoli said in a statement.
"In fact, NSFAS has not even issued the appropriate contracts to these students, while the information being provided by institutions and students themselves is often incomplete or unusable. University, college and student representatives told the education committee that the much vaunted ‘student-centred funding model’ brought in by NSFAS as a way of streamlining payments had failed in the context of this crisis.
"Whereas in the old system, universities and colleges could advance money to students from their own funds whenever there were backlogs at NSFAS, they are, in the student-centred model, less able to do so," Bozzoli said.
"NSFAS claims that partial upfront payments to universities and colleges have all been paid, implying that students should have received funding from their institutions, in spite of the fact that funding is now meant to be student centred.
"However, both university and college representatives state categorically that this was not the original intention of the funding and that they, especially colleges, don’t have the capacity to bail out NSFAS’s administrative crisis," she said.
Bozzoli said colleges were in a far more serious crisis than universities, as they were both underfunded and lacked administrative capacity to manage the complexities involved in the funding scheme.