ANC government still fails to provide promised funding to 75 000 NSFAS students in 2018

Officials from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) admitted in Parliament today that there are still nearly 75 000 students who have been granted funding for 2018, but have still not received their funding. This leaves thousands of students out in the cold, with no clarity or funding for their studies and living costs.

While Universities countrywide are gearing up for a national protest on NSFAS problems, with five Universities already on strike or experiencing protests, the Higher Education Portfolio Committee has taken the initiative in getting to the bottom of the NSFAS saga. Unconvinced by the presentations it receives from NSFAS itself, the Committee has run its own questionnaire-based survey on the actual situation in Universities and Colleges whose students are meant to be funded by NSFAS.

Very serious dysfunction was revealed. The Parliamentary questionnaire found that at least R600m worth of funding was still outstanding from 2017, that many 2017 students were not migrated to the 2018 year because of late 2017 payments, that the IT system at the heart of the NSFAS was barely adequate to the task, that institutions had themselves taken on the responsibility of funding students left without money, risking their own resources, and that students ineligible for funding had in fact been funded in numerous cases because of inaccurate information. Multiple other problems emerged.

Very few of the students who applied for NSFAS after the announcement of free higher education have actually been funded yet and it was these students who were struggling with food and accommodation. Universities and Colleges complained that the communication from NSFAS was poor and timelines non-existent, while the integration of data was very slow and poor.

Officials have managed to catch up on funding of many of the students left high and dry earlier in the year but have little grounds for satisfaction on this score since it is already halfway through August, and the academic year ends in twelve weeks or so.

The Chief Executive conceded that NSFAS is grossly understaffed, its last staff establishment having been decided in 2013, and that staff seconded to boost the system last year have now all left, reducing capacity to a minimal number once more. As a result, even this late in the year, there are still nearly 75 000 students who have been granted funding for 2018,  but have not received their funding. This leaves thousands of students out in the cold, with no clarity or funding for their studies and living costs.

NSFAS has previously pointed out that there are many students who have not signed loan agreements, and that higher education institutions have not sent through registration data. However, it is clear that the dysfunction within NSFAS and the inadequacy of its IT systems also play a major part in these failures. For example, figures provided today showed that NSFAS had in fact received registration data for over 13 000 of those not paid, but failed to “link” them with applicants.

Shockingly, another 22 800 students awarded funding for the 2017 academic year also did not have agreements generated, despite registering successfully. This is an abject failure of NSFAS administration.

When former NSFAS Chairperson, Sizwe Nxasana resigned last week, he stated that the reason for the disarray at the institution was the surprise announcement on free higher education by former President Jacob Zuma, without any consultation, leaving NSFAS unable to cope with the massive influx of student applications.

It has taken the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, eight months into the academic year to admit this. Her department has now shut down applications for 2019, causing considerable concern amongst students and their families.

There are in fact two people squarely to blame for this situation: former President Jacob Zuma for making a desperate political promise of free higher education in December last year, and President Cyril Ramaphosa for not having the insight to realise that it was essential to postpone the implementation until the bureaucracy could be made ready, or the guts to actually announce a postponement. The collapse of NSFAS processes shows that far more planning and far greater investment in the bureaucracy was needed before expanding funding and changing its form, but weak leadership from the President rushed the implementation.

Higher education is vital for securing lasting employment. Compromising the futures of students only compromises the future of our economy.

As long as the ANC government continues to break promises, young South Africans will struggle to find jobs. Nothing will change as long as the failing ANC continues to place politics before the lives of students and their families

The ANC is ultimately to blame for the collapse of NSFAS

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is in the throes of imploding, and the loss today of its board chair, Sizwe Nxasana, is a sign of a very serious weakness at the heart of the Higher Education system.

Mr Nxasana was brought in from his high-powered job as CEO of FirstRand Ltd in 2017 to revamp NSFAS after serious problems began to emerge over a period of about five years. He set about doing so, introducing a new CEO, and a set of radical new systems which were designed to end corruption, boost repayments of loans and simplify the transmission of grants to students.

However right in the middle of this process came the bombshell announcement by President Zuma in December 2017 that free higher education, including grants for fees, food, accommodation and study materials, would be introduced to all existing grantees plus thousands of additional students as from January of this year.

No bureaucracy could survive the ensuing onslaught. The numbers of students, the terms of their grants, the types of payments and the scale of the whole operation changed fundamentally overnight. The system could not cope. To date, there remain thousands of students whose 2018 grants are still not paid.

Without educating our youth, we cannot hope to create jobs. The DA believes that by investing in higher education sector, we can create more job opportunities and economic growth our country desperately needs.

The Minister has been rightly firm in her insistence that the systems be stabilised before the next round of student applications is to start. But it is extremely doubtful whether NSFAS will be able to meet this requirement.

President Ramaphosa was ideally positioned to postpone the introduction of the Free Higher Education system for a year or two, so that the bureaucracy could adjust, when he was elected to the Presidency. However, he did not do so.

The ANC, President Ramaphosa and former President Zuma have shown a degree of recklessness which is unacceptable, and which will cause lasting damage to our students, their Universities and the Higher Education system itself.

Violent protest action at institutions of higher learning has cost R800 million

Institutions of higher learning have suffered nearly R800 million in protest damage in the past three financial years alone. This was confirmed by Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, in 2 detailed replies to DA parliamentary questions.

This is not even the full cost of this period, as Universities and Colleges have also had to bear the costs of extra security, repeat classes and exams, and many others, while many students have lost considerable study time as a result of long closures of their campuses.

Campus protest is not new – in fact over several decades student protests have been characterised by destruction of property, intimidation and clashes with security providers.

The surprise announcement of expanded funding in December last year did nothing to halt the damage. It was hasty and ill considered. As a result the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been unable to cope with a flood of extra applications and qualifying students, with tens of thousands having not yet received their funding over half way through the academic year.  And so the protests have grown rather than subsided during 2018.

We deplore the use of violence to solve problems, and we will be urging institutions to press charges for illegal acts upon University campuses. But we also are appalled at how badly government has managed the funding crisis, partly a result of their own indecisiveness over a long period, followed by an impulsive decision in December 2017 to expand funding to all whose family income was below R350 000.

Because of this chaos, funding applications for 2019 have now been put on hold. This will probably lead to a logjam in applications in the last quarter of the year, causing great distress to new students and their families. This will also increase the possibility of more protests.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) must immediately make public the timeline for opening applications, and the action plan for ensuring that the government’s confusion does not collapse student funding entirely.

University and College campuses suffered over R786 million in damages, with the worst hit being North West University (R198 million), University of Johannesburg (R144 million) and University of KwaZulu-Natal (R101 million). These three institutions together account for over half of the total losses.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges suffered R13 million in damages.

Since the start of the 2018 academic year 12 universities and 11 TVET colleges have experienced protests and damage. Now the Minister and NSFAS have finally conceded that former President Zuma’s decision, made without consultation, has crippled NSFAS.

It is not sustainable for young South Africans to have to place their future studies and employment on hold while the ANC struggles to come up with a credible policy for funding universities and TVETs. It is time our Higher Education institutions once more became peaceful places where learning can take place without hindrance.

The DA believes that investing in higher education will translate to more job opportunities and a boost to economic growth. Our country needs the kind of change that ensures that student learning is prioritised.

Fee-free Higher Education is floundering as more than 120 000 students are affected by NSFAS failures

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has revealed in a reply to a DA Parliamentary Question that at least 121 974 students have been affected by a delay in the payment of allowances. This is a much higher number than we initially thought and is cause for serious concern.  Of this number, 83% are university students, while 17% are Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students.

And not only that –  they have conceded that there are many more in the pipeline, still to be processed and paid, but they are unsure how many more. The much vaunted fee-free higher education system is failing tens of thousands of young people.

Only 17% of the known payout delays have been as a result of students not signing their agreement forms, while 83% were due to alleged “technical problems” in matching registration data for students.

NSFAS has been reluctant to take responsibility for depriving these students of accommodation, food and other necessities. The DA has therefore called for the immediate establishment of an emergency student allowance fund by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, to ensure that this problem of delayed payments is brought to an end.

NSFAS has noted that 12 universities and 11 TVET colleges have been disrupted and faced protest action since the beginning of the year many as a result of NSFAS problems. This is unsurprising, given the students’ frustration.

In an attempt to deal with the situation, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has made a number of upfront payments to universities and TVET colleges to help cover costs in the meantime. But neither Colleges nor Universities are equipped to pay out grants accurately, and to the right students.

At TVET colleges, where living allowances are disbursed by the TVETs themselves, the DHET has “requested TVET colleges to proactively identify all students in need of allowances and submit their details to the Department for intervention.” But NSFAS has not confirmed to them who the eligible students really are.

NSFAS declined to say precisely how many students overall were still to receive allowances, despite admitting that while they know of 120,000 students who haven’t received payment, they actually simply do not know how many students in total should still be receiving allowances.

The academic year has reached its halfway mark, yet students are still uncertain as to whether they will be given living allowances the next month or if their institution will be shut down by protest. This has a devastating effect on their academic studies, sabotaging their chances of gaining employment.

There are already 9.5 million jobless people in South Africa and the country’s economy has contracted by 2.2%. We certainly cannot afford to have an increase in unemployment. The NSFAS situation threatens to lead students to give up their studies. Many young people have dropped out because of the delayed payments. Without educating our youth, the country cannot hope to create jobs.

South Africa needs the kind of change that ensures that students are be prioritised. The DA believes that investing in higher education will translate to more job opportunities and guaranteed economic growth, and that students need to be treated with fairness and dignity. What is happening now is a travesty.

DA calls for emergency fund to assist students failed by NSFAS

Please find attached pictures of the visit here, here, here and here.

Yesterday, DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training, Belinda Bozzoli MP, DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Andricus van der Westhuizen MP, and DA Constituency Head for the Masilonyana, Tokologo and Tswelopele Local Municipalities, George Michalakis MP, visited three campuses of the Maluti TVET College after property there was destroyed following violent protests in the last few weeks.

Maluti TVET College is one of many institutions of higher learning that has been badly affected by the systemic failures at the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

The administrative systems within NSFAS have proved completely unable to cope with the new “student-centred funding model”. Former President Jacob Zuma’s promise to deliver “free higher education for the poor” has also failed dismally and students are feeling the effects of this failure.

The DA will now call on the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, to set up an emergency student allowance fund to assist students who are unable to continue because of her department’s failure to deliver. She must also explain why so many students across the country have not received their NSFAS allowances.

The main grievance Maluti students expressed was that the promised NSFAS funding under the new “free higher education for the poor” policy of the ANC has not fully materialised.

They blame the college for this. At fault, however, is NSFAS which, in a desperate attempt to get money to students in time, transferred millions to the colleges and universities and required these institutions to disburse the money.

These institutions have no systems in place to make this possible and require confirmation from NSFAS as to which students are eligible before they can disburse any money. This confirmation has still not been received.

It now appears that higher learning institutions are solely to blame for the untenable situation students now find themselves in, while the national government is to blame for this crisis which has left many students without food, accommodation or transport.

Many other students may have possibly dropped out due to the lack of funds. Minister Pandor must therefore do the right thing and account for this disastrous situation. Students’ futures have been destroyed due to the government’s populism and, to avert further disaster, an emergency student allowance fund must be established without delay.

Poor students are now in danger of not completing their studies due to the massive failure by the Department. We will never begin to resolve the unemployment crisis if students are being let down in this manner. Close to 10 million people are without jobs, that number will continue to increase if this funding matter is not resolved.

Government’s December “free higher education” announcement has brought student funding system to its knees

Parliament was told today that at least 100 000 registered students who qualify for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding in 2018 have not yet received their allowances.  Another 29 473 students have not even received their 2017 funding.

The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, and her department acknowledged that there was a failure of systems across the board – in both NSFAS and institutions.

NSFAS itself has not paid funding directly to a single student and those who have received funding have only done so via the lump sum payments given, in desperation, by NSFAS to the institutions at which they are registered.

Only 45 338 University students and 15 348 TVET students meeting funding criteria have signed their contracts – which they must do before they are paid. 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.

This level of administrative chaos is absolutely unprecedented and a major setback for disadvantaged students.

University, College and student representatives told the committee that the much vaunted “student-centred funding model” brought in by NSFAS as a way of streamlining payments has 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.

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.

Colleges are in a far more serious crisis than Universities, as they are both underfunded and lack administrative capacity to help them manage the complexities involved in the funding scheme.

Thousands of students who have not received funds have been vulnerable to eviction by private accommodation providers, who depend on NSFAS funding for their own cash flow, leading to immense hardship and often the end of the student’s studies. Others have no access to food, transport, or study materials. Many do not attend classes.

Once again the hasty, crowd-pleasing promises made to the poor by the ANC-led government and the actual reality of what is delivered at the grassroots are poles apart. This is shameful, the result of a mismatch between the populist instincts of the ANC and its capacity to deliver.

Even more urgent action is needed by the Minister than that which she has already announced. Instead of bringing student protests to an end, free higher education has given rise to widespread dissatisfaction and disruption. Colleges have been closed, or, as in the case of Maluti TVET College, even burnt down. Long term damage has been done to the system and to the hopes, lives and careers of students.

The DA calls for an emergency fund to be set up to assist students in dire need and for extraordinary efforts to be made to bring this crisis to an end.

NSFAS must account for Nelson Mandela University student funding crisis

The DA will write once again to the Higher Education and Training Portfolio Committee Chairperson, Cornelia September, requesting her to urgently summon the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to explain why thousands of students have still not received funding.

We have already written once to Ms September but no definite response has been received, while ANC members of the Committee were actually adamantly against having NSFAS appear.

The Nelson Mandela University and other colleges have been shut down, allegedly since Wednesday, as a result of being unable to buy food, supplies, or pay rent. Protests are likely to escalate.

Students are disappointed and frustrated by ANC promises of a new fee-free model having failed to materialise due to a lack of payment.

When President Zuma suddenly promised fee-free Higher Education in December last year he totally failed to take into account that this would be difficult to implement immediately.

The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, is aware of this crisis and has herself expressed frustration at its continuation right into the middle of the year. But so far, little movement has been made in improving the situation.

NSFAS should come to Parliament in the coming week, and explain to the public what it intends to do to address, as quickly as possible, this crisis.

DHET fails to answer why poor students have not been paid their NSFAS allowances

The DA will write to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, Cornelia September, requesting an urgent meeting with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) on why thousands of students have reportedly not received allowances in months.

NSFAS and the Minister of Higher Education, Naledi Pandor, needed to answer three key questions at their press conference today:

  1. How many students have not received their allowances;
  2. Why has this happened; and
  3. When will these students receive their funding?

Unfortunately, they failed to do so, aside from some vague assurances that they are “working on” some problems that have arisen with loan agreements and data integration.

This kind of vague answer means nothing to students who have nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat, as has been widely reported in the media.

It is shocking that the Minister did not demand proper answers from NSFAS officials when protests continue around the country over unpaid NSFAS funding. We will therefore ask NSFAS to answer these questions before Committee.

NSFAS confirmed today that their budget for 2020/2021 will reach R35.3 billion to be distributed through the student-centred funding model that will help them allocate the right amount of money to each student.

This system should be able to tell them immediately how many students awarded funding have not received it, and why this is. If it can’t, how can we expect it to handle paying out a R35 billion budget?

It is pointless to praise a new bursary model when NSFAS cannot cover the basic needs of students. NSFAS must do the right thing and account for not delivering on their mandate of providing funding for all deserving students.

Treasury confirms it has not done a full costing on free Higher Education plan

Treasury officials admitted yesterday that they have not done a full costing of former President, Jacob Zuma’s, promises on fee-free Higher Education.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) officials said in January that all the answers on the new policy would be provided in the yesterday’s budget.
While the allocation of R57 billion was announced, no clarity was given on where this money would go. The budget therefore only caused more confusion and uncertainty.
The fact is NSFAS and universities cannot confirm how many students would need to be funded this year as application and registration processes are still underway.
The current proposal cannot simply be estimated on last year’s figures, as many qualifying students wouldn’t have applied for this academic year due to the last minute surprise announcement by Zuma.
The Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, has made a desperate attempt to pacify concerned students, parents and institutions by throwing a large cheque at the problem without knowing how much is actually required.
Minister Gigaba even admitted as much by saying “The announcement on fee-free education was unexpected, and we preferred an announcement that was mindful to the sensitivity of the budget planning process. Fee-free is free on the student, but not free for government and the people of SA”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa must urgently address the feasibility of this model, provide clarity on exactly how much funding is required and how his government intends to provide it. Without this clarity, he is playing fast and loose with the future of millions of young people.

Populist excess meets nationalist ineptitude: Higher education heading for paralysis under Zuma’s directionless administration

The DA remains deeply concerned by the complete lack of leadership from Jacob Zuma’s administration on the higher education funding crisis.

Today’s press conference by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Hlengiwe Mkhize, has proved only one thing: Jacob Zuma is a lame-duck president and his administration is paralysed by a lack of leadership and clear policy direction. Today, the Minister provided few answers to the many questions raised following Zuma’s reckless 16 December 2017 announcement on higher education and training funding.

South Africans have still not been told exactly how much money has been made available to give effect to the free fees proposal or where and when government will source this money in the fiscus. As a result we remain in the dark as to how many students will qualify for free fee subsidies.

Moreover, the Minister was silent on Zuma’s announcement of 16 December 2017 that the NSFAS loans of existing students would be converted into grants, meaning existing students in all years of study also remain in limbo regarding the funding of their studies. Vague and contradictory comments have been made by NSFAS, Treasury and other spokespeople on radio and elsewhere.

The DA is also deeply concerned by the presence of State Security Minister, Bongani Bongo, at the press conference. While it was claimed Bongo’s presence was warranted by his involvement in the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Higher Education Funding, Minister Mkhize appeared to be panicking – Bongo’s presence was nothing more than an act of intimidation which could only serve to further inflame the potentially violent crisis surrounding registration.

Instead of Minister Bongo it would have been more instructive and reassuring had the Minister of Finance been present – but he appears to be AWOL on this particular matter.

It is clear that there is no unity in message or policy direction on the higher education funding crisis in Zuma’s administration and the ANC. Zuma’s populist excess has met his administration’s nationalist ineptitude. Every government department involved, from the Department of Higher Education and Training to National Treasury, is unable to give effect to Zuma’s ill-conceived and hasty announcement.

The R55m Fees Commission Report, with its detailed recommendations, remains shelved, and students remain in the dark.