NSFAS and Blade Nzimande snub Parliament hearing on student funding failures
The portfolio committee will issue a summons if NSFAS and the minister fail to attend the next meeting
- The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande failed to attend a parliamentary briefing on Wednesday.
- They were expected to present a turnaround plan for the failing student funding scheme.
- The portfolio committee for higher education rejected NSFAS and Nzimande’s apologies.
- Meanwhile, Nzimande says NSFAS is “far from being in a crisis”.
Representatives of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande failed to attend a parliamentary meeting with the portfolio committee for higher education on Wednesday. They had been expected to present a turnaround plan for the funding scheme’s failures.
Earlier this month, the beleaguered NSFAS briefed Parliament on its new direct payment system and various other issues. NSFAS was sharply criticised by the committee for continuing problems and given a two-week deadline to present a plan to fix them.
But on Wednesday, committee members were stunned to learn that neither NSFAS nor Nzimande would be attending.
Chair of the committee Nompendulo Mkhatshwa (ANC) said NSFAS had sent a letter on Monday morning requesting a postponement to mid-October. Later that evening, Nzimande also sent a letter, asking that the meeting be postponed to allow the ministry to prepare “a comprehensive response”.
Mkhatshwa said the committee had responded that a decision had been taken two weeks ago to meet, and the meeting would go ahead.
NSFAS representatives then sent a letter saying they would attend the meeting. But later on Tuesday, they sent another letter indicating that they would not be there.
The service providers of the direct payment system – Tenet Technology, eZaga, Noracco Corporation and Coinvest Africa – were also expected to brief Parliament on Wednesday.
“We have actually been very considerate to NSFAS to say, let’s give you time to properly think about what you are going to say and how you’re going to respond because often the responses we get don’t inspire confidence. We’ve just been in a vicious cycle of continuously interacting with NSFAS”, said Mkhatshwa.
Karabo Khakhau (DA) said NSFAS’s failure to pitch up indicated that the scheme did not know how to fix the “mess” it was in. Their absence, she said, is “disrespectful to the committee, Parliament and taxpayers”.
Regarding the minister, she said, “He comes and goes as he pleases. He doesn’t take the deliberations of this committee seriously.”
“This is why it is so easy for NSFAS to follow in his footsteps and not take us seriously, because their boss does not take us seriously,” said Khakhau.
Mandla Shikwambana (EFF) criticised NSFAS for being disorganised and failing to appear before the committee to respond to questions.
He said NSFAS and Nzimande’s absence “disrespected students and the public at large” when students “as we speak, don’t have food, book allowances, or accommodation”.
Meanwhile, in a tweet, Nzimande wrote, “Contrary to what some of our government detractors would want the public to believe, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is far from being in a crisis.
“In reality, we’ve made significant strides in improving funding accessibility for students from poor working-class backgrounds.”
During a media briefing on Tuesday, Nzimande said he would propose an alternative funding scheme for students who don’t qualify for NSFAS. This proposal will be tabled before Cabinet before the end of the year.
He also said there were concerns about students and parents who unduly benefited from NSFAS, and instructed the funding scheme to institute criminal proceedings against students who benefitted fraudulently.
Chantel King (DA) said it was “disheartening” that Nzimande had discussed issues on Tuesday that were already raised within the committee and “pass it off like it was something new”.
On Nzimande’s alternative funding proposal, King said it should have been tabled in June. “That screams that there are serious challenges with the way the minister is handling this portfolio and the issues of NSFAS.”
Shikwambana said Nzimande’s claim that NSFAS is not in crisis “speaks volumes”, since the committee had identified multiple problems two weeks ago and given NSFAS another opportunity to respond.
“Blade doesn’t take this committee seriously,” said Shikwambana.
Walter Letsie (ANC) said: “If student queries are not resolved, their allowances have not been paid, and their appeals have not been resolved … It drives them to mental collapse … we can’t take this lightly,” he said.
Mkhatshwa said the committee rejected NSFAS and Nzimande’s apologies and would request a meeting next week.
“We will expect [them] to appear before the committee next week as [they] have committed. If they don’t come, immediately after that meeting we will issue a summons,” she said.
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