New structure needed: CEO of Universities SA Ahmed Bawa says a new type of body is needed to provide financial aid for students. Picture: TSHEKO KABASIA /SUNDAY WORLD
New structure needed: CEO of Universities SA Ahmed Bawa says a new type of body is needed to provide financial aid for students. Picture: TSHEKO KABASIA /SUNDAY WORLD

The board of the troubled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will soon be dissolved, the department of higher education & training confirmed on Sunday.

The department said it was hiring an administrator who will take over the running of the multibillion-rand scheme for a period yet to be determined. Department spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele said higher education & training minister Naledi Pandor had convened a special meeting with the board on Friday during which appointment of an administrator was ratified.

This follows the resignation last week of board chairman Sizwe Nxasana. A former CEO of FirstRand Limited, Nxasana announced he was stepping down on Thursday after three years at the helm.

"The time is right for me to step aside," Nxasana said. 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".

NSFAS has been struggling to ensure the smooth roll-out of free higher education. Many students have complained about delayed payments, which sparked protests at various tertiary institutions earlier in 2018. The baseline allocation to NSFAS to support poor and working-class university and TVET students, will increase from close to R9.9bn in 2017/2018 to about R35.3bn in 2020/2021.

In July Pandor asked NSFAS to suspend applications for 2019 due to a backlog in the allocation of student funding for 2017 and 2018.

"The minister has serious concerns [about the delay in payments] … so we are now in the process of appointing an administrator.… We are not sure when the appointment will be made, but once the administrator is in place, the board will be dissolved. The administrator will take over the management, administration, and the running of NSFAS," said Ngqengelele.

He confirmed that another board member, Themba Mosia, had also resigned. However, the board was quorate and would remain until the appointment of an administrator. Neil Garrod, deputy vice-chancellor of the Central University of Technology, was appointed chairman of the board.

The challenges facing NSFAS are complex and emanate from the 2017 roll-out of the "student-centred model wherein serious problems were experienced, once it was implemented in all post-secondary institutions", said Ngqengelele.

Last week, observers in the higher education sector said Nxasana’s decision to step down suggested that there was a serious crisis at the scheme.

Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities SA, said there was a realisation now that the need existed for a different kind of financial aid institution "which is much more effective and more connected to the process of applications and admissions in universities. A new structure."

"Mr Sizwe Nxasana as chair of the NSFAS board, brought an important business-like edge and innovation. The problem is that NSFAS was never designed to meet its targets. Demonstrations have been going on at our universities for more than 15 years, driven primarily by financial aid issues," Bawa said.

In December former president Jacob Zuma effectively overruled the Heher Commission report into the feasibility of free higher education when he announced free higher education for poor and working-class students.