Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) colleges should brace themselves for a wave of last minute, “walk-in” applications for places in January, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) warned on Tuesday.

NSFAS estimated that about 200,000 prospective TVET college students were likely to attempt walk-in registration early in 2019 as almost nine out of 10 applications received so far for the 2019 academic year had come from students aiming for university, its administrator, Randall Carolissen, told members of parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education. Applications for funding close on November 30.

 “That is a big problem, and will place NSFAS on the back foot,” he said, alluding to the administrative challenges posed by such a high volume of last minute applications.

NSFAS disburses funding only after students register at a university or TVET college.

Higher education institutions discourage walk-ins because they pose safety and security problems. The mother of a prospective student was killed in  a stampede at the University of Johannesburg in 2012 as parents and aspirant students waited to make late applications.

Considerable challenges

Higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor placed NSFAS under administration in August, and appointed Carolissen administrator. He told MPs that he found an organisation in which there had been a complete collapse of governance and financial controls.

While NSFAS still faced considerable challenges, there had been marked improvements since August, he told MPs. These included a more stable IT system and better communication and data exchange with higher education institutions.

“The system has been running for 51 days without failing. It previously crashed virtually every night,” he said.

NSFAS had also improved its turnaround time for screening  and assessing funding applications from prospective students, and had evaluated 95% of the applications it received for 2019, he said.

NSFAS was taking steps to reduce the risk of money being paid out in error, and planned to cut out middlemen in disbursing funding to students, he said.

Many higher education institutions turned to third parties to help disburse funds provided by NSFAS, but Carolissen said he was concerned about the legality of this and was seeking legal advice.

“You cannot outsource your mandate. You cannot have a disbursement process being subject to commercial exploitation,” he said.

The issue came to the fore last year when a Walter Sisulu University student made headlines after R14m was deposited in her bank account instead of her monthly allowance of R1,400. The university had used a service provider called Intellimali.

“Most universities have effective disbursement systems. But the TVET’s don’t. We need to clean that up,” Carolissen said.