By Gaby Ndongo & Malique George
NSFAS lifespan will not be more than five years from now, said a Democratic Alliance (DA) Member of Parliament (MP) in a statement issued by the DA on Wednesday.
“We predict that it will be absolutely impossible for the scheme to continue for more than five years, as our economy flounders, without a crisis developing,” said Belinda Bozzoli, in response to the crises facing what she termed as a “complex and possibly failing system” found in NSFAS.
The demise of the scheme will be evident in times when there will be insufficient funds for grants and so institutions will make up for the differences by deducting funds from their own pockets.
“This is precisely what has happened in New Zealand for example – and that is a country with a strong economy compared to ours. It has also happened in Scotland. And elsewhere,” said Bozzoli.
While in Scotland foreign fee-paying students’ admissions have left inadequate space for non-feepaying local students, “serious concerns” have been raised regarding the standards and sustainability of New Zealand universities.
These occurrences were coupled by attempts from the institutions to find alternative sources of funds as a decrease in payments came along with increase in operation costs.
The very same situation looms over South Africa. “The problem is that we are trying to operate the most generous higher education system in the world in one of the most desperate and failing economies in the world,” said Bozzoli.
Other countries, such as Brazil, New Zealand, Germany, Scotland, only provide for tuition fees, while in South Africa all the costs pertaining to “fees, accommodation, food and other expenses [are] fully paid for, with no expectation of having to pay any of it back even if they obtain an extremely well-paying job after their studies,” Bozzoli added.
“This means the system is hugely generous and expensive. R58billion has been set aside for it over three years – but our prediction is that this will not be sufficient, as students of all years of study join the system over time.”
Positive steps taken
Placing NSFAS under an administration has brought about a wave of change to the scheme’s operation and consequently outcomes. The funding aid scheme has experienced several changes in its key positions.
A new chairman, Neil Garrod, and administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, were appointed. The appointments occurred after student protests for grants in certain universities across the country, inclusive of University of Venda (Univen).
Students at Univen boycotted classes because they had not received their allowances since February of 2018. Activities at the University were suspended for two weeks in August. NSFAS leaped to solving this crisis by working with the institution, deploying its staff on campuses to ensure payment of allowances, amongst other functions.
Univen SRC President, Gcina Mhlabane, has confirmed to The Open Journal the presence of NSFAS staff on Univen campuses: “Some way, somehow, there has been an impact they’ve made. Rather than calling NSFAS in Cape Town, students were consulting here directly. So, it was much better.”
NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo, in an email response to The Open Journal, said that the appointment of the new administrator has facilitated the distribution of allowances in various universities. The online application process has also gotten a make-up.
“Registration process is quicker, application process is shorter, uploading documents is easier and the evaluation process for everybody starts immediately after completing the application,” said Mamabolo.
The distribution of allowances has coupled the reopening of the 2019 applications, which started on 1st Sept. 2018.
A total of R2.2 billion from NSFAS has been distributed since Thursday last week (6th Sept. 2018) for institutions to avail for tuition fees and allowances. Universities and colleges have confirmed that they have received the funds, which will then be allocated to respective students.
Under Dr Carolissen’s leadership, it has been possible for the beneficiaries of the previously distributed R11billion to be identified. The amount was allocated to institutions before he came to office but could not be directed to the right students.
“A total of 211 000 First Time entering students at TVET Colleges and Universities have received the relevant funds, while close to 239 000 of the 241 000 returning students have been successfully linked to the system,” said Mamabolo.
The scheme has been able to deal with the 2017-2018 payment backlog through the assistance of respective institutions’ staff and members from student representative councils. This coupled with an appeal process and the deployment of NSFAS staff to institutions.
Possible recurring future challenges
Dr Carolissen, when speaking to the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, said that an increase in NSFAS beneficiaries in TVET colleges will result to administrative challenges.
“The change that has emanated from the administration has also pointed to the critical need for more support to be provided to TVET colleges to develop systems and capacity for student financial aid administration,” said the Minister of Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor as quoted by Eye Witness News.
“We are particularly concerned about the fact that a lot of the problems seem to have arisen from the mismatch between the systems in NSFAS and those in Universities and Colleges,” said Bozzoli.
“This is a hugely frightening bureaucratic mess, which will be extremely complex to undo. It is very similar to the case of the mismanagement of certificates in Colleges – a problem which was similar, and which has taken four years, at least, to begin to solve.”
“There is a very grave risk that the students of the future might find themselves with inadequate support even if NSFAS becomes as efficient as Amazon or as smooth running as Alibaba.”
On the other hand, Bozzoli further predicts the reoccurrences of protests in institutions as the modest grants provided by NSFAS will not meet the rising cost of living.
The use of further violence as a tool to secure funds, according to Bozzoli, is another concern. “The students’ use of violence on campuses to blackmail universities and the state to concede to their demands.”
“What we are seeing here is the future elite of our society capturing through violence enormous amounts of funding for themselves, funding which has been paid for by raiding the budgets for the very poorest people – housing and basic education.”
Reporting by Gaby Ndongo and Malique George; Editing by Kupakwashe Kambasha