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Dysfunctional NSFAS needs overhaul

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While the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Northern Cape condemns the violent riots and damage to property in Kimberley, De Aar, and Upington yesterday by students of the Northern Cape TVET College, there can be no denying that growing unrest across the country is symptomatic of a dysfunctional National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) that is in urgent need of a complete overhaul.

Just yesterday, NSFAS’s briefing to parliament’s select committee on Higher Education once again highlighted the scheme’s lack of capacity to deal with student applications, which results in errors and backlogs. A lack of management within the scheme was also glaringly evident at a previous meeting scheduled two weeks ago, whereby NSFAS was shown the door due to them failing to submit the necessary documentation for the meeting beforehand.

In effect, delayed operations by the dysfunctional NSFAS mean that students are not paid their allowances on time, which in turn impacts on their transport and accommodation, also creating a situation whereby students are unable to purchase the required books.

The concerningly low uptake of bursary applications, which according to NSFAS saw only 171 Sol Plaatje University Students apply for bursaries, also makes one question whether, given NSFAS’s lack of capacity, applications are not getting lost in the system or are just never being processed.

On top of all of this, NSFAS has also been slow to deal with maladministration and sexual harassment cases being made against its own staff. NSFAS has further blamed failed disbursements and instances whereby certain students were paid twice, on its malfunctioning ICT system which it stated was in need of an “overhaul or replacement”.

Given all of the above, it is not surprising that students are becoming increasingly angered and that urgent and drastic action needs to be taken while NSFAS undergoes a complete overhaul. This includes NSFAS expediting disbursements directly to students; setting clear timelines for clearing of historic debt for poor students; engaging with the Departments of Public Works and Human Settlements to allocate unused buildings for student accommodation, and standardising allowances for students at university and TVET Colleges.

The DA sincerely hopes that these measures will be prioritised before we see a situation whereby our tertiary institutions are burned to the ground and other students’ rights to education are infringed upon.

Written by DA, Delmaine Christians

Juan Badenhorst