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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
27 January 2004
National Student Financial Aid Scheme: briefing
Documents handed out:
NSFAS PowerPoint presentation: Building A Sustainable Financial Aid Scheme
Dr Allan Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), provided an overview of the organisation's achievements and challenges, including those of its predecessor, the Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa (TEFSA).
There had been some miscommunication about the starting time of the meeting. (Members had been sent SMS messages that the meeting was to start at 11 when it was actually to start at 9. The meeting started at 9.45, after members had been contacted and alerted to the correct time.)
The Chair reminded the Committee of its programme for the next few weeks. On 3 February, the Department of Education would brief them on the improvement in mathematics and science in schools; on 6 February there would be a briefing on HIV/AIDS in schools and on 10 February, the Minister of Finance would take the Committee through the Public Finance Management Act to aid them in their oversight function. After 11 February, the Programme Committee would begin to work out a short-term programme. The date for the UNESCO courtesy call to the Chair's office was set and the members agreed that the Chair should attend the sub-regional meeting of foreign African parliamentarians in Namibia on 14 and 15 February.
Dr Allan Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), provided an overview of the organisation's achievements and challenges, including those of its predecessor, the Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa (TEFSA). Students needed to be registered at an institution before they could become eligible for a bursary. The initial cash outlay for this continued to bar some students' access to the fund.
Prof. S. Mayatula said that the Committee was concerned about students' inability to pay registration fees, which might be R2 000. (A student had to be registered before he or she could apply for financial aid.) Mr Taylor agreed that this was an ongoing concern. Higher education institutions (HEIs) in some cases relied on the income derived from registration to increase their cash flow the beginning of the year. Students who persisted in trying to access the scheme should succeed in registering - 'historically white' institutions were less sensitive to the students' predicament than others.
Prof S Ripinga (ANC) and Mr M Kgwele (ANC) supported Prof. S. Mayatula's raising of this "perennial concern". Mr Kgwele said, however, that the scheme's facilitation of access of previously disadvantaged individuals to tertiary education was cause for celebration. His other concerns were that schools were not aware of the scheme that impacted on learners' motivation. He noted the incidence of learners who requested bursaries before choosing a course of study, which indicted that career guidance was inadequate. He remembered that NSFAS had enlisted NGOs to help with this, as they were closer to the learners than HEIs.
Mr T Abrahams (ANC) agreed that knowledge of NSFAS was lacking, especially in rural areas, and career guidance was urgently needed in all areas. He was distressed to learn that ring-fencing funding for particular fields of study had not increased enrolments in those areas, commenting that the learners at agricultural schools were predominantly white. He asked for details on the incidence of debt recovery problems.
Other MP's requests for more information were on the means test, what would happen to the debt if a student made no academic progress, and what would happen if the financial aid were insufficient to cover tuition. Mr K Moonsamy proposed that the private sector be targeted vigorously for funding and proposed that the loans should not have interest levied on them.
Mr Steel (DA) asked how loans were recovered from debtors who went overseas.
Prof. S. Mayatula asked for more details on the Department of Labour's bursary scheme, the Ernest Oppenheimer fund and other schemes mentioned by Mr Taylor in the Bursary Administration Section of the NSFAS.
Dr N Badsha (Department) acknowledged that some of the above issues had been discussed repeatedly without resolution. They had commissioned a review of NSFAS and the findings were being studied in the Department. She hoped that the Minister would release the findings for comment so that resolutions could be implemented in 2005.
Dr Badsha added that the total NSFAS allocation was divided among HEIs. The allocation took race into account but not levels of poverty - the level of poverty at the University of Fort Hare, for instance, was much more severe than at some other institutions where the student body was predominantly black. The review made recommendations to correct this. Regarding the size of the aid relative to the cost of tuition, she said that richer HEIs could offer larger bursaries and even supplement NSFAS aid. Other HEIs spread the aid more thinly among more students. This was addressed in the review, as was the problem of upfront registration fees. She suggested that the Committee and the present visitors examine the review together when it became available.
She also reported that Minister Asmal had highlighted the need to publicise NSFAS and all matriculants had received information on it, along with their results. In future, the information would be sent earlier.
Staff of the proposed Central Fees Office had met with the Vice-Chancellors Association, the South African University Vice-Chancellors Association and the Committee of Technikon Principals to implement the centralisation of fee paying. They had discussed the issue of how to improve careers guidance for school learners. NSFAS should also gather data on private sector scholarship schemes administered by HEIs.
Her colleague said that the Department of Labour had made an additional R100m available to NSFAS. Much funding of the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) was not taken up, but NSFAS was constrained by the fact that it had to be used for the various industries' SETAs.
Mr Taylor said that NSFAS was looking at getting information to school learners with their matriculation examination registration. Many of the envelopes mailed in 2004 were returned because schools' post office boxes were not available, and many of the brochures also did not make it beyond the principal's office. NSFAS had received much coverage on community radio and on television.
He continued that R5 million had been allocated to be distributed via NGOs but some NGOs had been dropped from the partnership because they did not meet the necessary requirements. The lack of career direction and knowledge of options was a problem, and this had not previously been part of NSFAS' mission.
He was happy with the debt recovery but said that all organisations involved were currently subject to an actuarial review. Twice as many loans were written off in 2003 because of the death of the debtors. The death certificates usually gave opportunistic infections as the cause of death. A negligible number of NSFAS students went overseas.
The means test did take the cost of study into account, along with what the family could contribute, but he admitted that some HEIs could supplement NSFAS aid and some could not. Students complained about interest charges (7%), but he felt that the amount recovered should take inflation into account.
MPs offered to publicise the scheme and Mr Taylor promised to send them information packs.
The meeting was adjourned.
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