Nzimande urged to come clean on Nsfas funding

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Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says there is a NSFAS shortfall due to Covid-19 and budget cuts. Picture: Gallo Images/ Sowetan/Thulani Mbele
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says there is a NSFAS shortfall due to Covid-19 and budget cuts. Picture: Gallo Images/ Sowetan/Thulani Mbele

NEWS


The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) spent almost R7 million on forensic investigations during the 2019/20 financial year to investigate irregularities within human resources payroll processes and the disbursement of funds to students, the standing committee on public accounts was told on Tuesday night by the scheme.

During a virtual hearing following the announcement by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande earlier this week that Nsfas was facing a shortfall in its funding for the 2021 academic year, the scheme said it had completed 13 investigations, instituted disciplinary processes, issued one warning to some of its employees who had been implicated during the investigations and dismissed one employee, while another employee resigned pending the disciplinary process.

While the social relief of distress grant confusion has since been blamed on an ill-informed worker and seemingly cleared up, the fact of the matter is that there is little transparency over who will receive funding from the scheme.
Blade Nzimande

Meanwhile, the DA has called on Nzimande to come clean to South Africans and confirm whether Nsfas had run out of money, saying that students deserved to know the truth regarding their futures.

READ: Unending problems with student financial body

“The minister and Nsfas seem to be trying to divert attention from the fact that there does not appear to be enough money to support poor students to access quality education. Students deserve to know the truth regarding their futures. They need to plan and put contingencies in place should Nsfas fail them. Keeping them in the dark will only exacerbate the problem,” said Chantel King, the DA’s shadow minister for higher education, science and innovation.

She said the nondisclosure by Nzimande and Nsfas had the potential to lead to a massive disruption of South Africa’s higher education institutions, as parents and students would have to carry the burden of finding ways to pay for their education.

King said Nsfas CEO Andile Nongogo announced a fortnight ago that certain key study areas would not be financed on a postgraduate level and that others won’t be financed at all, in complete contradiction of the critical skills list.

Because of the deteriorating economic situation, many Nsfas applicants who were not previously meeting the funding requirements for Nsfas now do.
Blade Nzimande

Some of the key issues that need to be addressed, according to the DA, are the uncertainty over whether first-year students and the missing middle will receive funding for this academic year and whether students who have received a special social relief of distress grant of R350 will be disqualified from the scheme’s funding.

“While the social relief of distress grant confusion has since been blamed on an ill-informed worker and seemingly cleared up, the fact of the matter is that there is little transparency over who will receive funding from the scheme. Both Nsfas and the minister are muddying the water at every turn, creating more anxiety for students who have already suffered through a traumatic 2020,” she said.

Earlier this week, Nzimande said that Nsfas was facing a shortfall in its funding for 2021, which meant that it would be unable to provide funding for new university students.

He said one of the reasons for the shortfall was the Covid-19 pandemic whereby Nsfas had had to continue to pay allowances to students even though universities were closed.

READ: 'Bugged or debugged?' The Nsfas spyware saga

“This means we had an extended academic year which we had not allocated additional money for. Secondly, we had budget cuts across government departments. Thirdly, because of the deteriorating economic situation, many Nsfas applicants who were not previously meeting the funding requirements for Nsfas now do. Due to Covid-19, most of them qualified because their parents lost their jobs in the process,” he said.

Nzimande said that, in terms of the laws and policies regulating public finances for departments and entities, including the Public Finance Management Act, Nsfas was not able to commit to funding students without the requisite budget available to support this commitment.

However, he did say that all returning Nsfas beneficiary students who met the academic and other relevant criteria would be funded to continue their studies.


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Gcina Ntsaluba 

Journalist

+27 11 713 9001
gcina.ntsaluba@citypress.co.za
www.citypress.co.za
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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