The alarming state of affairs at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) should be enough reason for the entire board, management and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to be replaced by people with enough energy to turn things around.
But because the bar is so low, Nzimande et al will find and use each and every trick in the book to avoid scrutiny for the obvious failures hurting not only the functioning of that entity, but the very people they are supposed to service: poor students.
That NSFAS failed to meet its self-imposed deadline of January 15 to settle the allowances of about 20000 students who it failed to pay last year and had to write exams on empty stomachs is a story that many of our readers have, sadly, become used to.
Thankfully some universities are often called to assist with the limited resources at their disposal. But surely this cannot be sustainable, as they often and rightfully lament.
NSFAS claims it has been able to settle 9128 allowances out of the 20000, and the remaining 11000, which will now be processed as part of the 2024 normal disbursement procedure, but it was not resolved because of delays in the submission of registration data by universities.
That may be the case, but surely this does not absolve NSFAS from taking most of the blame. Its management and board initially opted for a chaotic direct payment system – eventually abandoned –after a probe found a number of irregularities.
That probe led to the sacking of the entity’s chief executive, Andile Nongogo.
Board chairperson Ernest Khosa eventually took “leave of absence” amid claims he and Nzimande got kickbacks from service providers appointed to run the now defunct direct payment system. These cannot be perceived as mere allegations.
In “normal circumstances” the political head, in this case Nzimande, would do everything to clear his/ her name, including temporarily stepping aside for an independent investigation. Nzimande believes challenging them in court would vindicate him.
The NSFAS brand has suffered tremendously. But even more so poor students whose only hope in life is through education.