Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor had recently told NSFAS that funding should be halted for 2019 as there was a backlog of funding from 2018 and 2017. Picture: Henk Kruger/ANA/African News Agency

Johannesburg - Following the resignation of NSFAS board chair Sizwe Nxasana, questions have been raised about the future of the funding scheme which thousands of underprivileged students rely on.

Nxasana handed in his resignation to Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor on Monday citing the increased strain on NSFAS’ system and processes as the reason for his departure.

Pandor had recently told NSFAS that funding should be halted for 2019 as there was a backlog of funding from 2018 and 2017.

It’s not clear who will replace him.

Former Free State University vice-chancellor Jonathan Jansen said NSFAS’ “centralised” approach to student financial aid does not work.

This approach means students have to apply for funding directly from NSFAS and not through their institutions, but this process has seen a number of challenges with some students complaining that they have not received funding.

Jansen said universities should be allowed to handle the funding and application process and for the government to provide them with resources.

“The system (NSFAS) does not need to fail. The solution is not to think that you can centralise a process and then make it more efficient. What the Minister should say to the 26 universities is that you manage the application and allocation of NSFAS and we will give you the resources needed,” said Jansen who was being interviewed on Talk Radio 702.

Jansen said the December 2017 announcement of free higher education by former president Jacob Zuma had placed the funding scheme in a difficult situation.

“The announcement by former president Jacob Zuma during the ANC conference in December caused havoc for NSFAS. Because you cannot make that type of decision and not think of the consequences it will have on the administration.  It was two weeks before the matric results would be released and you were giving this institution only weeks to deal with, what was usually only a few applications in the past, to now dealing with over 600 000 applications. 

“The system really only dealt with loans and bursaries and now with the announcement they were being told to deal with the loan book and also make an avenue available for dealing with free higher education. There is no system that can do that in such a short space of time,” he said.

He said the fund would be in trouble if its model was not addressed.

Meanwhile, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) welcomed Nxasana’s resignation saying he had never raised money to help fund the scheme and instead relied on funds from the government.

The union is calling on Pandor to change the NSFAS board and management as a step to making sure that the fund's mandate is adhered to.