Parliament rallies behind NSFAS leadership's turnaround efforts
Student funding body going after more of its debtors after only recovering R628m of what is owed
Parliament has vowed to give its full support to the embattled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which is under the leadership of a new CEO and board.
The expressions of support came after the scheme presented its strategic plans for the 2021/2022 financial year to the portfolio committee on higher education and technology on Wednesday.
CEO Andile Nongogo told the committee that the need for NSFAS had increased rapidly due to the coronavirus pandemic and a weak economy. The scheme was, as a result, exploring a number of ways to raise more funds. He said they had been able to secure R1.9bn from other funders and sought to increase this by an additional R39.9m in the current financial year.
This as the scheme had also recovered R628m from its debtors.
The entity was previously in trouble after being hit by billions in irregular expenditure, maladministration, allegations of corruption and nepotism.
Nongogo said it would be critical for the scheme to improve a number of inefficiencies to change the face of the organisation. These included improved methods of debt collection.
“We want to make sure that beneficiaries that were funded pay back the loan. What is important about this is that it may be very difficult for beneficiaries to pay with all these inefficiencies. Our aim is to improve in all aspects of the scheme and to showcase some of the good work that we have done to increase our recovery of [money owed].
The scheme provides funding for students whose combined household income does not exceed R350,000 a year. NSFAS said it was looking into the possibility of catering for deserving students who did not meet this criteria.
“We are discussing whether there could be a possibility — of course subject to funding — of looking at whether those that are above threshold can be assisted ... Other funders have been participating in the same pool, therefor end up funding the same student twice.
“We have had a session with them and requested that we focus on the R350,000 and above pool, and this was taken positively by our other funders,” he said.
NSFAS board chair Ernest Khosa told the committee that the board had taken over the reins during a critical time, when the image of the scheme had been under public scrutiny and [there were] bad audit outcomes.
However, portfolio committee members lauded the work done thus far and urged the leadership to focus on addressing the multiple inefficiencies which continued to exist.
“The new leadership must invest more time to make sure that they deal with inefficiencies in the system. As long as that remains the preoccupation of the leadership, you have got our full support as the portfolio committee. We will give you all the necessary support to make sure that you turn about that institution [so that] it becomes a very efficient and effective institution that is at the cutting edge of student funding, because the constituency you are dealing with is the poor and working class, the most vulnerable in the society,” said chairperson of the committee Philly Mapulane.
Among other strategies, the scheme said it was considering paying student allowances at fixed dates monthly, the 15th and 25th, and improving the data-exchange platforms it has with various institutions.
The committee heard submissions from the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa) which previously had serious funding challenges.
It in its submissions, the authority said Covid-19 challenges experienced in balancing the 2020/21 budget resulted in major expense and projects being deferred to the 2021/22 financial year.
However, committee members applauded it in its attempt to address previous challenges.
“The leadership of Saqa really seems to be taking the bull by the horns and trying its utmost to run the entity during these difficult times,” said MP Nompendulo Mkhatshwa.