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Student protests around the country over the past week or so have really captured the imaginations of South Africans and raised conversations and debate around funding for education. But the protests and concerns, as we know, are not new. Many university students and particularly previously black-only institutions have been decrying financial exclusion fees and other issues for years now.

NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) – its working, its funding, its ability to get money back from loans granted in the past – is also coming to the fore once again. It’s the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. They’re currently giving aid to just over 420 000 students a year.

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Initiatives costing billions alleviates fee burden of university students

The Department of Higher Education and Training has to date established a variety of initiatives costing billions of rands to reduce the responsibility of fees from poor parents and students in South Africa.

Student loans and bursaries given by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) have already been increased substantially during the last three years and this has contributed significantly in aiding academically deserving and poor students.

“Funding the loans and bursaries has tripled from R2.375 billion in 2008 to R6 billion in 2011. Aside from that, the department has also made available R50 million for post graduate scholarships and R63 million for students with disabilities said,” said Higher Education and Training Minister, Blade Nzimande.

 

 
Replying to a letter of complaints received by the department from the South African Students Congress (SASCO) not too long ago, asking for free education, Nzimande stated he was wholly committed for the introduction of “fee-free” education for the poor growing to be a reality sooner rather than later.

Having said that, he mentioned that SASCO’s discontent with the launch of a Ministerial Working Group on Fee-Free University Education for the poor. He explained the fact that the working group was not replicating the work carried out by the NSFAS Review Committee, as SASCO’s memorandum claims.

“I would argue that the working group be actually allowed to complete its work in order to advise me on the content and scope of a policy framework within which fee free education should be implemented in South Africa,” Nzimande said.

 

Both SASCO and the department share common concerns pertaining to making improvements to the living and learning environments for students at higher education and training institutions, as well as the escalation fees at the institutions. Methods to address these issues were currently being investigated as an element of the work undertaken by the funding review committee.

Nzimande additionally reminded students that tuition fees charged by higher education institutions happen to be dependent upon individual university councils decisions and not by the ministry.

Nzimande called on SASCO to make submissions on all investigations which are presently underway in relation to Higher Education and Training in the country.

Source: BuaNews

NSFAS allocates R3.6bn to varsities

 

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) anticipates it will probably budget for more than R3.6 billion to universities this coming year, increasing from R3.4 billion in 2011.

Additionally, it has at the same time set aside in excess of R1.7 billion for Further Education Training (FET) colleges for 2012 as compared to R1.2 billion given last year in the same period.

Responding to MPs on Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, NSFAS’s new chief executive Nkosinathi Khena stated that when assigning funds, their criteria, among others, took note of historically disadvantaged institutions, together with precisely how money ended up being spent in the previous year.

He explained the fact that these monies were for student funding only and definitely not for the operations of the institutions.

By way of example, he revealed that Walter Sisulu University would obtain almost R2.5 million in 2012 in comparison to the R148.7 million it received during the past year, while Tshwane University of Technology would likely receive R393 million as compared to 2011’s R42.7 million.

 

Limpopo University has been earmarked to get R203 million compared to the R186.9 million last year, while North West University would get R124 million compared to the R115.9 from last year.

Regarding FETs, Boland College would get R35.7 million in 2012 compared with last year’s R23 million, while King Sabata Dalindyebo FET College would get R24 million compared to the R17 million it received in 2011.

The committee in most cases welcomed the work being carried out by NSFAS, but brought up some issues impacting on higher education.

Azapo MP Jake Dikobo mentioned that there have been accusations that a number of students being funded for accommodation ended up renting their rooms and opting to stay in shacks in townships. There have also been assertions that some lecturers were renting out these rooms.

ANC MP Zondi Makhubele agreed, stating that some individuals have been claiming refunds at the end of year and spent the money on items that were not associated with their studies.

He explained that such students would make a complaint that they did not have money to register at the outset of the following academic year. He cited an case in point of a student that had claimed R11 000 and spent it all.

Khena said students were not meant to claim refunds at the conclusion of the year. He added that they would get to the bottom of the issues brought up by the committee.

Higher Education South Africa acting chief executive, Jeffrey Mabelebele, who was requested to respond on the matter, explained that he was not aware of such incidents.

“Certainly, without facts at my disposal, it sound illogical (students claiming refunds), I need the facts.”

 

For more information, contact NSFAS directly – click here for contact details.

 

Source; BuaNews

Overcharged students to be refunded by NSFAS

 

About 34 000 students who were overcharged interest on study loans by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in previous years will be paid back.

This has been disclosed by Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande during the announcement of the results of the turnaround strategy carried out to deal with difficulties experienced by the NSFAS.

The interventions, which included the restructuring of the board of NSFAS in December 2010, has witnessed NSFAS move from an audit disclaimer to an unqualified audit.

Nzimande pointed out that when the NSFAS recalculated every student loan in its books, it established that it had overcharged interest on some student loans in past years.

“The annual financial statements show a provision of R77.8 million to refund former students. NSFAS is going to be getting in touch with each one to make necessary arrangements for the refund,” Nzimande said.

He was quoted saying that one of the primary tasks of the turnaround strategy was to correct the value of NSFAS loan book, where a comprehensive exercise was performed with the assistance of a team including accounting, auditing and actuarial experts.

 

 

 

He noted that the NSFAS loan book, which accrued irregular expenditure of R25.6 million over the last financial year, is now correctly valued at R5.2 billion.

“All the reasons for disclaimer have already been resolved to the satisfaction of the Auditor General,” said Nzimande.

The reasons for the disclaimer included the inability to produce scientifically compelling evidence to the Auditor General for writing off R589 million in interest on outstanding loans, along with the failure to provide evidence with regards to how management reached its estimate for doubtful debts.

The Auditor General has additionally pointed out the wrong calculations of interest income of R181 million, when it ought to have been more.

Nzimande further declared that R200 million has been made available to make it possible for NSFAS to grant loans to students who have finished their studies however have not yet received their certificates or graduated as a consequence of outstanding debt.

“This will make it possible for approximately 25 000 students to receive their certificates and enter the job market. All students who fulfilled the requirements for graduation between 2000 and 2010 and eligible for NSFAS loans can apply for this special funding through their student financial offices,” Nzimande explained.

NSFAS board member and executive committee member, Collette Caine, pointed out that every effort will be made to refund students.

“We are committed to track and refund all of them,” said Caine.

NASFAS Chairperson of the Finance Committee, Nathan Johnstone, said universities were in the process of finalising the list of students who have finished their studies and qualified for the grant.

“We are at present not able to provide the final figure of those students as the universities are still finalising the number of qualifying students.”

 

The hotline for students who have problems regarding access to NSFAS is 0800 872 222.

 

Source: BuaNews

Government to assist 25 000 students waiting to graduate

The Department of Higher Education and Training is coming to the rescue of approximately 25 000 students from universities who have finished studies however are not in a position to graduate and obtain work for the reason that they have not yet finished paying student loans.

Briefing the media prior to his Budget Vote in Parliament today, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, talked about how his department is going to set aside roughly R200 million to assist students who had obtained loans and had since graduated, but still owed monies to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

All those who qualify to graduate between 2000 and 2010, and furthermore eligible for NSFAS loans can apply for this particular special funding with the aid of their respective student financial-aid offices, he explained.

Nzimande, who also made several other announcements on the NSFAS, said the new measure would apply to students that registered for loans from April 1.

These included a doubling of disbursements under the fund – from R2.7 billion in the 2010/11 financial year to R5.4 billion this financial year – and placing a limit on interest charged on student loans, so that students no longer have to pay the interest on their loans until 12 months after their graduation.

At present, interest charged on loans kicks in the moment you sign for a loan, unlike in Brazil and Canada, where interest payments on student loans only become payable after a student graduates.

Added to this, R50 million has been provided for post-graduate students who require financial assistance to complete their degrees.

These students will enter into loan agreements with the NSFAS and the money they pay back would be earmarked to fund post-graduate students, Nzimande, said.

But Nzimande hastened to add that this wasn’t a license for other students to not pay back their NSFAS loans.

He said the department would approach SARS to assist in tracing and forcing those NSFAS loan beneficiaries, who are now working but are not paying back loans, to pay back their loans.

The department is also looking to increase the number of university accommodation available to students.

 

Currently only 18.5 percent of students stay in university accommodation and the department had set aside R686 million for the years between 2010 and 2012, to build and refurbish student residences, he said.

Nzimande said preliminary reports were being studied by the department on setting up universities in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, while work is also under way to increase the number of universities that offer courses for teachers that want to teach in African languages.

The department was also busy overhauling Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and department officials had already visited all 50 FET colleges to assess how to give hands-on support.

The minister said the career advice services programme, run by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa), was launched in January this year and a website was now up and running – www.careerhelp.org.za, as well as a Facebook group – www.facebook.com/careerhelp.

The department is partnering with the SABC, which is running 30-minute career guidance slots on nine radio stations, reaching about 2.3 million listeners per week.

The programme is broadcast in nine African languages and Nzimande said the department intended expanding the radio programme to Afrikaans as well.

Turning to the transformation of the Skills Education and Training Authorities (Setas), Nzimande said the department was strengthening Seta governance and had reduced the number of Setas from 23 to 21.

He said the department is tackling underspending at Setas and has told boards to reduce the trend.

Setas would be reconfigured to spend more on long-term workplace-orientated training.

The department would also be setting up a task team to analyse where Setas spend money and how much use Setas make of public learning bodies, rather than just private consultants.

Commenting about media reports on the appointment of ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s wife Nolwande as a member of the new Services Seta’s board, Nzimande said Mrs Mantashe is a human-resource expert and should be seen on her own merits as a professional, rather than be judged on who she is married to.

Nzimande said the Green Paper on Higher Education would be released later this year.

The appointment of a new director general is in process and the department would begin interviewing candidates soon, he said.

Source: BuaNews