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Minister Sets Deadline for NSFAS to Resolve Allowance Payment Challenges Amid Student Outcry



Minister Sets Deadline for NSFAS to Resolve Allowance Payment Challenges Amid Student Outcry

Minister Sets Deadline for NSFAS to Resolve Allowance Payment Challenges Amid Student Outcry.In the midst of mounting concerns from students, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will persist with its implementation of the direct allowances payment system. The Higher Education Minister has intervened, imposing a deadline for NSFAS to address the challenges linked to this payment system. 

Two Weeks for NSFAS to Tackle Allowance Payment Hurdles

Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, has given the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) a two-week timeframe to present their strategy for tackling the issues related to NSFAS allowance payments.

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Comprehensive Support for Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds

NSFAS has been instrumental in providing comprehensive bursaries to South African students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These bursaries encompass not only tuition and registration fees but also various allowances aimed at supporting students’ living expenses.

NSFAS Allowances: A Lifeline for Financially Vulnerable Students

The NSFAS allowances play a pivotal role in enabling financially vulnerable students to manage expenses such as food, accommodation, and other essential materials while pursuing their education. In a departure from the past, NSFAS made the decision in 2022 to directly transfer these allowances to students.

Transitioning from Institutional Disbursement to Direct Payment

Traditionally, NSFAS would route allowances through institutions, which were then responsible for disbursing them to students. Some institutions even enlisted external service providers for this purpose. However, this method underwent a transformative shift with the introduction of the NSFAS bank account. This initiative, initially launched in Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, was later extended to universities in 2023.

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Expectations vs. Reality: The Challenges of Direct Allowance Payments

Despite its intent to streamline payment processes and provide students with payment predictability, the new direct payment system has not universally delivered on these promises. This discrepancy has triggered protests and objections from students, who have flagged concerns such as steep bank charges, delayed or missing payments, and difficulties in adapting to the new system.

Ministerial Directive: Addressing Allowance Payment Issues

Minister Nzimande has directed the NSFAS board to devise a plan addressing the above-mentioned issues tied to the direct payment of allowances. This plan is expected to be presented by 30 August.

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Minister’s Determination on the Direct Payment System

Undeterred by student opposition, Minister Nzimande remains resolute in the continued implementation of the direct payment system.

Scrutiny and Investigation: CEO Placed on Leave

In light of corruption allegations surrounding the appointment of service providers for managing NSFAS allowance payments, the NSFAS board has taken the step of placing CEO Andile Nongogo on a leave of absence pending an investigation.

Balancing Challenges and Necessity: Minister’s Stance on Direct Payments

Despite the ongoing challenges, the Minister contends that the direct payment approach is essential for curbing unauthorized access to allowance funds, preventing payments to non-existent students, addressing inconsistencies, and mitigating delays in disbursements.

A Reminder of NSFAS’s Financial Allocation

The Minister emphasizes that NSFAS received R47 billion to offer comprehensive bursaries to over a million deserving students. These bursaries encompass full tuition and an accommodation subsidy capped at R45,000.

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Accommodation Cap Controversy and Student Demands

While the introduction of the R45,000 annual accommodation cap aimed to curb profiteering by private providers, it has raised concerns as some students are being charged rents that exceed this NSFAS-provided amount.

Student Outcry and Demands for Change

Student leaders organized a protest and marched to parliament to address various issues tied to NSFAS, including the accommodation cap, bank charges for the NSFAS bank account, the 60-credit policy, and delayed appeal decisions.

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Their memorandum of demands calls for transparency in Student Representative Council (SRC) consultations, decentralization of NSFAS for faster solutions, immediate review of defunding policies, removal of the accommodation cap, support for “missing middle” students, elimination of the 60-credit policy, consistency in funding criteria, and rejection of the NSFAS Direct Payments system.

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