The minister of higher education and training, Naledi Pandor has on Thursday announced that the 2019 National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) applications for new applicants would be opened on Monday after she halted the process last month to deal with a backlog of outstanding payments for 2017 and 2018.
In a statement released on Thursday, Pandor spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said the announcement to open applications follows a meeting between the minister and Nsfas administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“The decision to open the applications was taken after a process of testing the 2019 applications with a focus group of high school learners yielded positive results in terms of accessibility and user-friendliness. Nsfas has put in place a comprehensive communications plan, which involves partnering with institutions of higher learning and training, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), community structures and organisations to ensure that all eligible students are reached.
“Once a student has applied to Nsfas, a maximum waiting period before getting a notice of acknowledgement is a week. Should a student not receive the acknowledgement, they are requested to call Nsfas’ toll-free call centre, which is 08000 67327,” Ngqengelele said.
The student funding scheme has been marred by challenges which resulted in some of its key management figures leaving.
Earlier this week, the scheme’s CEO Steven Zwane was suspended and an investigation launched into maladministration allegations levelled against him.
The suspension came just 10 months after he was appointed following the resignation of the then Nsfas CEO Msulwa Daca.
Earlier this month, Nsfas chairperson Sizwe Nxasana resigned.
He admitted that Nsfas payments system had come under extreme strain after then-president Jacob Zuma announced last December that students from poor families would receive free higher education.
Pandor then appointed an administrator to oversee governance at Nsfas.
The department says it has made progress in resolving some issues at the student funding scheme.
“Nsfas has deployed staff to all institutions to facilitate the process of addressing the bottlenecks that have resulted from a range of factors. The necessary funds are available and steady progress is being made in getting the student support to the qualifying students. Nsfas has welcomed the enormous support from institutions and Student Representative Councils at universities and TVET colleges in clearing bottlenecks to the disbursement of funds.
“The support of the institutions and SRCs has been to assist Nsfas to ensure that students have completed and signed the necessary agreements; the agreements and the student’s course codes have been captured by the institutions and submitted to Nsfas; book allowances, s-Bux, and pre-funded student details are correctly captured and matched with Nsfas records,” Ngqengelele said.
He said of the 273 000 first time entering students at TVET colleges and universities, a total of 211 000 have received the relevant funds, while close to 239 000 of the 241 000 returning students have been successfully linked to the system.
“The minister is confident that the remaining and outstanding payments are being made as rapidly as details are being captured and verified,” Ngqengelele said.