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

Issued by Belinda Bozzoli MP – DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education & Training
30 May 2018 in News

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.