NSFAS on student accommodation; with Deputy Minister
Higher Education, Science and Innovation
22 March 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
The Committee met with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to receive a briefing on the student accommodation cap matter and related matters on student allowances. NSFAS informed Members that in determining the cap of R45,000, NSFAS examined existing NSFAS data for accommodation claimed historically across all institutions, both universities and TVET colleges; recommendations from the Ministerial Task Team report and available market data which looked at the generic student housing market. Given that NSFAS was implementing the student accommodation cap for the first time, NSFAS identified that more work needed to be done to determine the relevant variables in line with the minimum norms and standards for student accommodation and determine the grading that will assist in determining actual amounts that may be paid by NSFAS above the cap.
To assist institutions negatively affected by the cap, NSFAS engaged with the institutions involved in trying to find solutions for funded students that could not be placed because of the cap.
NSFAS is fast-tracking the accreditation of accommodation providers and beds registered on the portal to place students. By 20 March, a total of 393 227 beds were registered by 20 751 service providers across the country. NSFAS appointed 38 accreditors who have been trained in the last month. 3027 beds were accredited between 13th and 17th of March. By the end of this week, there should be another 3 000 beds and more that are accredited.
Regarding the payment of allowances: for TVET colleges, two payment runs had already been made based on the registration data received from the colleges. Students with no user profiles were subsequently paid by 18 March. NSFAS has since committed to pay weekly. The majority of students not paid were due to late registration data submitted by institutions.
Upfront payments were made on 31 January 2023 to both Universities and TVET Colleges. Another upfront payment was made to Universities on 06 March 2023. This was paid as institutions were still finalising allowance allocations and claims for the registration data. After concurrence by the Minister of the 10% increase in allowances, institutions have started to load registration data inclusive of this confirmed increase.
Members welcomed the presentation and stressed with emphasis that the Committee supported the R45,000 cap on student accommodation. NSFAS would submit research that informed the R45,000 cap. For far too long, students, parents and government have been subjected to exploitation by service providers providing student accommodation to students. Service providers charged students exorbitant amounts for small rooms. The cap allows the government to stretch its limited resources to support more students who do not have access to funding for student accommodation. However, Members were extremely concerned that some stakeholders, including universities, did not support the cap. Out of the 26 universities, 11 indicated that the cap would negatively impact them, of which five were affected more than the rest.
Regarding the matter of the NSFAS, Members indicated that they were satisfied with the responses provided by NSFAS in its letter to the Committee but cautioned NSFAS to prevent false allegations circulating for too long without a response as it affects public perception. The new premises accommodated the newly approved organisational structure and would adequately house the human resource capacity of NSFAS.
By the end of the meeting, NSFAS had sent the Committee its research on the R45 000 cap.
The Chairperson welcomed everyone present and received apologies. Members had observed developments at the University of Cape Town (UCT) through the media and they wished to interact with UCT. The Minister undertook to report to the Committee once he received a report from the UCT Council. This was scheduled for the first term of the year, which was today. The Committee received confirmation that the UCT Council report had been sent to the Minister. The Minister was in a Cabinet meeting and thus apologised to the Committee for the present meeting. The Committee tried to set a date for this term, but the Minister indicated he was unavailable. Another date will be set for the second term. This will be prioritised going into the second term and following up on the National Skills Fund and the UCT issue. The Committee will request that the Minister send the UCT report to the Committee in the meantime.
An engagement with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was then prioritised on issues related to student accommodation. This issue has been of great concern. Through the accommodation cap, NSFAS was attempting to assist the sector in addressing the shortage of student accommodation. Citizens willing to adhere to the cap were encouraged to indicate their interest in rendering this service.
Members have been concerned about some of the issues that have emerged regarding the efficiency of the student accommodation portal of NSFAS. Members want NSFAS to ensure that this portal is efficient. Members also wanted to be briefed on the research used to determine the R45 000 cap. This information was requested from NSFAS but did not seem to have been sent. Members also wanted to be briefed on the payment of allowances to institutions. Engagements with Universities SA (USAf), the South African Union of Students (SAUS), SATVETSA, THE South African Public Colleges Organisation (SAPCO) and the Dept of Higher Education and Training (DHET) have occurred in the context of developments that have brought instability to the sector. Members need to know if allowances have been paid to institutions and how the appeal process unfolds. Lastly, Members asked for information regarding leasing new NSFAS premises. A written report was received from NSFAS on this. Today’s engagement will cover all these areas with NSFAS.
The Committee’s programme included an international study tour. There had been delays in organising it but a consensus emerged between the Committee and DHET. The countries identified as providing the kind of information the Committee was interested in are Finland and Sweden. Members will be informed via email of what has been confirmed with these two countries. The Committee would also like to send Members to different locations across the globe to learn more about systems in other countries.
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General, DHET, said that NSFAS was established in terms of its Act. It clearly defines its autonomy, among others. It is important to understand the relationship between NSFAS and DHET so that if any policy proposals are made, it is understood that NSFAS is a Departmental entity. Established governance processes must be followed to make amendments to its policies. It is the duty of DHET to ensure that good governance practices are established and maintained. If institutions make proposals to amend any NSFAS policies, this must be done with the understanding that even if the Minister agrees with the proposals, such proposals would still be subjected to the NSFAS governance processes. The cap is official policy. This policy was subjected to all the processes that are required. NSFAS has sent a communication to clarify that the policy is prospectively applied, eliminating one of the two issues that were a problem. This year, 11 of the 26 universities were concerned about the cap. This matter was discussed and of the 11 universities which were negatively affected, five institutions were affected more than the rest. When interventions are discussed, they must be understood as short-term, emergency measures so students are not left unattended. The Minister is concerned about the welfare of all students, especially those from poor backgrounds.
Due to loadshedding and connectivity problems, Dr Sishi had to interrupt his presentation and the NSFAS briefing was presented.
Briefing by National Student Financial Aid Scheme
Mr Andile Nongogo, Chief Executive, NSFAS, commenced with an apology for not having sent the information that the Committee requested in the last session. This information will be sent after the meeting.
Ms Nthuseng Mphahlele, Chief Operating Officer, NSFAS, informed Members that in determining the cap of R45,000, NSFAS had considered existing NSFAS data for accommodation claimed historically across all institutions, both universities and TVET colleges; recommendations from the Ministerial Task Team report; and available market data which looked at the generic student housing market. NSFAS was implementing the student accommodation cap for the first time, and identified that more work needed to be done to determine the relevant variables in line with the minimum norms and standards for student accommodation, and to determine the grading that would enable amounts to be paid by NSFAS above the cap.
To assist institutions affected by the cap, NSFAS started engaging with the affected institutions to find solutions for funded students that could not be placed because of the cap.
NSFAS is fast-tracking the accreditation of accommodation providers and beds registered on the portal to place students. By 20 March, a total of 393 227 beds were registered by 20 751 service providers across the country. NSFAS appointed 38 accreditors who have been trained in the last month. 3027 beds were accredited between 13th and 17th of March. By the end of this week, there should be another 3 000 beds and more accredited.
As for the payment of allowances, for TVET colleges, two payment runs were already made based on the registration data received from the colleges. The students with no user profiles were subsequently paid by 18 March. NSFAS has since committed to pay weekly. The majority of students who were not paid were on account of late registration data submitted by institutions.
Upfront payments were made on 31 January 2023 to both Universities and TVET Colleges. Another upfront payment was made to Universities on 06 March 2023. This was paid as institutions were still finalising allowance allocations and claims based on the registration data. After concurrence by the Minister of the 10% increase in allowances, institutions have started to load registration data inclusive of this confirmed increase.
[See presentation on NSFAS accommodation and payment issues]
Mr Nongogo said that in determining the accommodation cap, NSFAS discovered that many institutions were charging below the proposed cap of R45 000 while other institutions were charging significantly above the cap. Some came in as high as R100 000 per annum for a student. NSFAS ran a three-day workshop in Bloemfontein which tested issues on student accommodation and probed what cap would be acceptable to the market. NSFAS also assessed research conducted by the IFC (International Finance Corporation) on the landscape of student accommodation in South Africa. The proposed cost for an NSFAS-type bed was also considered, which was between R28 000 and R33 000. These factors are entered into consideration in determining the cap.
There were problems with certain institutions where the cap was not being implemented. NSFAS has tried to speed up the accreditation process to ensure beds are available for students without accommodation.
On leasing the NSFAS premises, procurement processes were followed and NSFAS was constrained by market rates. Several processes were transacted to ensure that due diligence was done, market assessments made and an independent firm was engaged prior to the audit of the AGSA to examine compliance issues. All the proper procurement prescripts were followed and the premises were acquired on the basis of the approved organisational structure. NSFAS was still in the process of concluding that structure as it was approved last year.
[See the presentation slides on the procurement process of its new premises]
Dr Sishi resumed his introductory remarks. He quoted the Constitution, Chapter Two of the Bill of Rights, Section 29 1A and 1B, that everyone has the right to basic education, including adult basic education. The state must, through appropriate measures, make Further Education progressively available. From the NSFAS presentation, one can conclude that the Department continues to drive the process of access to education through meaningful means as indicated in the Constitution. If a single student is complaining about education, the Department cannot rest.
The NSFAS presentation clearly defined the value proposition of NSFAS to ensure that students are assigned to available accommodation, that it continues to accredit accommodation through key policy directives; and that the cost of accommodation is assessed through principles of accessibility. This also applied to the grading of accommodation. To a very large extent, the presentation also indicated the challenges. Today, we can conclude that the R45 000 cap was not generated from a thumb suck but through an evidence-based process. One might argue that this evidence was inadequate but credible research by banking institutions that consider the local market and other available data has been considered. All this information must be provided to the Committee.
Some have argued that the cap should be raised to accommodate certain institutions. When the Minister was confronted by these issues, he met with USAf. It is difficult to identify USAf’s voice lately as it brings all universities to a meeting. One is unable to distinguish the voice of USAf from the individual universities present. The cap was implemented for the first time this year and the Department will keep a closer eye on the implementation of this policy. There is still work to be done because 11 universities have indicated that they would be negatively affected by the cap and must be assisted in the short term while the policy instruments are being refined.
From the beginning of March, NSFAS worked to ensure that additional beds were made available to the sector. More than 3 000 beds became available to affected students in five universities through the accreditation process. Many VCs have taken the initiative to ensure that emergency beds were provided to students. He indicated that 38 accommodation providers had been engaged but he did not know their geographical distribution.
Allowances have also been increased by 10% as it was clear that existing allowances were inadequate. Every week NSFAS would make payment tranches to ensure that whatever funding decisions are taken, students do not wait until the end of the month for allowances. These weekly payments will be made four times a month. The data on university payment dates showed that up to 800 000 students have been paid upfront from 31 January to 06 March 2023.
The DHET will work with the Department of Basic Education to ensure that in future, when registration commences, all student data is available so that there are no delays in the registration process. The late release of matric results affected planning for the beginning of the academic year. DHET will continue working with DBE to strengthen this area and ensure that decisions are communicated timeously. He was pleased that the small team appointed by the Minister to work on these issues had commenced its work.
The Department will continue working with NSFAS to refine its policies. USAf has argued that there is a need for an evidence-based approach, and it must provide such data.
The Chairperson thanked the NSFAS delegation, the Department and all stakeholders present for their continuous commitment to the work. The cap is a matter of social justice. She cited a presentation to the ANCYL over the past weekend by the Minister of Electricity. He gave a presentation on infrastructure and energy as the youth were interested in understanding those dynamics from a national level. She said there are various forms of infrastructure, including social infrastructure, which prompted her to think about the circumstances in which the PSET sector currently finds itself. The Minister of Electricity also said that infrastructure is political, which also made her realise the challenges faced by the PSET sector on this matter. There is direct infrastructure, such as teaching and learning infrastructure and student accommodation infrastructure, which supports teaching and learning. These are social infrastructures that seek to support the social development of the country. This is political, and speaks to the fact that the conversation around infrastructure is highly influenced by people’s social values and economic and political power. This is the reality we find ourselves in the PSET sector. The Committee has no issue supporting NSFAS, but Members want access to the research. When USAf was before the Committee, Members told them they did not take them seriously.
She strongly advised that NSFAS provide this research so that Members can have an informed position. The Committee has made it clear that it supports the cap and it will do so further when NSFAS provides the research to the Committee. The Committee also received letters appealing the cap from USAf that it sent to the CEO of NSFAS. She was unclear whether these letters provided adequate reasoning as to why USAf does not believe the R45,000 cap can be applied across the sector. USAf is a body that represents all universities and both USAf and NSFAS must start taking this Committee, and their students, seriously. She did not believe that USAf and NSFAS were serious about this issue and wondered how the engagements were going between these two stakeholders.
It is impressive that in a week, NSFAS is able to accredit 3 000 beds. Hopefully, this is not simply about increasing numbers but also paying attention to the quality of beds being accredited. She asked who the accreditors were and if NSFAS was able to address the demands at Stellenbosch University, UWC, CPUT and UCT.
She asked NSFAS to reassure Members that processes for troubleshooting for students are operating effectively and that there are adequate human resources to assist students. A great deal of money is being spent on leasing the premises and the owners must ensure that the maintenance is adequate because people have been complaining about the lifts, etc.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said that NSFAS is one of the mechanisms to respond to the country’s challenges. The “Better Life for All” project would not succeed if this fails. She suggested that we needed to strengthen marketing and publicity (communication) because, at times, Members hear about developments such as increases in allowances through media and social media platforms, which excludes those that do not have access to these platforms.
She advised NSFAS that if it had a problem with property valuation, it should request the assistance of municipalities in this regard. People who are robbing the state should be named and shamed.
It was also important that NSFAS convened stakeholders to enable student support officers in different institutions. These are the people who students contact first when students they experience funding issues and other matters. On slide 13, NSFAS indicated that support staff members were deployed at all TVET colleges. Are TVET colleges without such support staff? What were the criteria used to employ those people? There should be an NSFAS representative in every institution.
Ms C King (DA) was not pleased that the presentations were received on the day of the meeting. This showed the inability of NSFAS to provide a proper report and engage meaningfully, demonstrating that it did not take the Committee seriously.
As for the 10% increase the Minister asked for; this brings NSFAS accommodation support to roughly R49 500. Some universities will be excluded, and we are mindful that this is a short-term remedy to a long-term problem, which will occur because we have created a cap of R49 500 and those who were charging lesser are going to increase their charges to gain from NSFAS. She asked NSFAS to provide research on this and why it had not conducted a pilot study on the cap to assess how feasible it would be for students in different provinces. If a feasibility study had been conducted, it would have concluded that the cap would not be sustainable going forward. Most universities charge students for accommodation over ten months. If accommodation is required for more than ten months, it is more expensive.
Regarding the 38 accreditors appointed: what is the cost of these accreditors to NSFAS in determining if this was feasible? The 3 027 extra beds were released in one week but she wanted to see how many were accredited to date. She also asked for an updated slide on TVET Colleges’ payments and the actual payments made to date.
She was also concerned about the accreditation used by NSFAS; is it linked to norms and standards for student accommodation? She asked for the NSFAS student accommodation policy. She wanted to know what legislative changes had been made linked to the policy to ensure that NSFAS is not a player and a reference in providing student accommodation. NSFAS has previously indicated that 4% was spent on administration, which is inadequate. This will fall short of ICT requirements in the long run. Does the admin cost cover the lease costs of the new premises? How did the lease costs have a bearing on NSFAS’s financial position?
Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said that the Democratic Alliance made it clear that it did not support the cap so she disputes the Chairperson’s comment that the Committee supports the cap. Within the norms and standards of NSFAS, there are limitations and guidelines and if people are flouting these, why are they not being charged or reported for fraud? Did NSFAS investigate the service providers flouting the norms and standards of student accommodation? The cap did not prevent people from circumventing the cap to defraud the system. The cap has brought the whole system to a standstill. Some institutions cannot adhere to the cap because of where they are situated and the standard of living in those areas. Out of consultations with the stakeholders, what was discussed? Has there been any investigation to identify people who were defrauding the system?
She has met with stakeholders at the University of Free State who said that they would pay R3 900 to private service providers, but if it goes to R50 000 (R49 500); how much are they going to be giving? How does it work? Is the allowance different for Funza Lushaka students?
Service providers submit applications to NSFAS while other providers submit directly to universities; why is NSFAS not allowing universities to deal with the applications? Does NSFAS have the capacity for this because it was still struggling with appeals due to lack of capacity? Are the new premises adequate for NSFAS’ capacity and what about the people working remotely? Does NSFAS have any staff members working remotely and are the new offices fully capacitated?
The Chairperson replied to Ms Marchesi and said that when she said the “Committee’s position”, it is informed by a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the discussions that have been held. Following a discussion with USAf, six Members of the ANC, one Member from the FF Plus, Mr Mogale and Mr Zondo expressed appreciation that NSFAS has taken such a decision. We cannot allow state funds to be exploited; our collective concern informed the cap. Once Members have seen the research informing the cap, the Committee will say it ngesifuba (definitely) if the R45k cap is the right amount. There is consensus that the cap must be imposed but Members wanted to know how NSFAS arrived at the R45 000 figure.
Mr T Letsie (ANC) said this was not the first time Members spoke about the cap. NSFAS briefed the Committee on this on 16 November 2022 and the Committee accepted the cap. Thus, it is not the Chairperson’s view solely. If, as an individual Member, he did not agree with the cap, it did not mean that the Committee did not agree. Indeed, three weeks ago, in a meeting with USAf and DHET, the Committee clearly said that it supported the cap and asked USAf to provide quantitative data on all university-leased properties and those that belonged to the universities.
Further, a cap does not mean that those charging below the cap must now increase their rental charge. Mr Letsie referenced slide 7 of the presentation, where it was explained that, on average, student accommodation costs about R33 000. The CEO went on further to say that student accommodation ranges between about R28 000 and R90 000. Slide 7 indicates how NSFAS arrived at the R45 000 figure using available market data and the generic student housing model to arrive at the cap. We are asking NSFAS to provide this research in full. However, Members should not create the impression that NSFAS has not indicated that research was conducted to arrive at the cap figure.
We cannot continue to get presentations in the morning of the meeting because it hampers the ability to prepare properly for the meeting. Members do not only consult the presentation when preparing for the meetings, but they also consult previous documentation and interactions about the specific subject matter.
He reiterated that the Committee supports the cap because education is a social good. A social good must pay a social fee. Charging R90 000 for student accommodation is not sustainable. We have a high number of students who fall into the “missing middle” and many of them are expected to pay R90 000 for accommodation – this is not right. We cannot afford a situation where students are excluded because they cannot stay in university residence. When he met with USAf, he told them he had the privilege to stay on-campus and off-campus as a student. His results were considerably lower when he stayed off-campus because of the travelling time involved in using public transport. This point was raised with USAf in the previous engagement that students should preferably stay on-campus to eliminate all other issues that could lead to their poor performance. When Members make these points is because they have lived these experiences.
Members also support NSFAS in approaching the Competition Commission to report these institutions and service providers because Members believe there is collusion in the sector. For Braamfontein, for Wits University students, data must be provided in spreadsheet format on the different accommodation spaces for students and how much is charged per square metre, differentiating between different accommodation types. This data will show any discrepancies in the amount charged for student accommodation.
As things stand, USAf has not quantified why the R45 000 cap is insufficient for the 11 universities negatively impacted by the cap. It seems they want Members to take their word for it. Those with data that justifies why the R45k cap is insufficient must share that data with the Committee. NSFAS should increase its visibility and communicate these issues to the public even when these universities try to misinform the public. Thus far, NSFAS has not done well in communicating these issues to the public. Last year alone, NSFAS paid R17 billion towards student accommodation. Yet when Members visit these premises, they are of bad quality. NSFAS cannot fund the lavish lifestyles of these service providers or owners.
Members have asked for information about student accommodation owned and leased and quantifying why NSFAS must pay the amounts charged. The CEO of USAf said that USAf would not do that. If Members want that information, they must ask the Department. As public representatives, Members voted for these funds and over R40 billion was transferred to universities. R17 billion went to student accommodation. What the CEO of USAf did was totally unacceptable.
NSFAS should have a programme or a campaign on the cap issue.
Last year, Members told NSFAS that they were receiving complaints and that Members were pleased that NSFAS will now play an active role in accrediting service providers for student accommodation. Some service providers told Members that they were forced to pay bribes to university officials to be accredited. NSFAS must fix its ICT system because stakeholders have complained several times that they were not able to attend the workshops because they had applied on the system, and the system was failing. NSFAS must fix its house and ensure accredited service providers are assisted timeously.
He was pleased that NSFAS had responded to the allegations that Hon. Holomisa made. However, when an allegation is made, NSFAS keeps quiet for two weeks and in the meantime, this false information is spread across the country on social media. He asked NSFAS to respond to allegations quickly to avoid damaging its brand and reputation. NSFAS cannot fail because of fake news which many people believe.
Mr B Yabo (ANC) said the issue of student accommodation needs to be thoroughly assessed as most student accommodation provided by universities was not the same as that provided by service providers. The rooms are very small compared to university provisions and were not worth the money charged for rental. A proper comparative valuation of the costs of these properties must be done so that Members could see why certain service providers charge differently. USAf cannot be the structure that undertakes this exercise because it is conflicted. The number of letters from universities appealing the cap warrants an independent assessment of the situation.
It is indeed a sad day to see how the provision of a social good is being turned into a profit-making endeavour by those who provide accommodation for students. Many students come from poor backgrounds and have no money for student accommodation. This has become a cash cow – people feel they must milk this cash cow which is NSFAS. This speaks to the rudeness of capitalism. Many of these students occupy only 6 square meters, yet these service providers want to charge exorbitant fees and many of the students do not even study in their rooms, they study in the library. To charge such exorbitant amounts is not fair.
NSFAS is not wrong for imposing the cap because the intention is to spread the Rand as much as possible and assist as many students as possible.
Ms K Khakhau (DA) reminded Members that in previous conversations with NSFAS, she had made a submission around the student accommodation crisis which centred on working with established entities like DigsConnect to assist in pricing student accommodation across the country.
The Chairperson said these were not new conversations and the biggest issue was that Members needed to be briefed on the nature of resistance to the cap. This resistance is political and economic for many stakeholders, who were more focused on “securing the bag” than ensuring that young people have a conducive environment for teaching and learning. NSFAS should also focus on the service providers that have shown willingness to work with the NSFAS. Members support the cap and regulation of pricing for student accommodation. We need the information supporting this cap, which has now been sent to Members by NSFAS. Members will continue to request USAf to substantiate its argument for why the cap should be scrapped. If we reach a stalemate on this matter, the Committee will consider utilising an independent body to investigate and provide the outcome of the research.
Members have raised their concerns that NSFAS should communicate timeously on allegations that surface.
The presentation received last night by Members and the one received today were not the same. Today’s meeting was initially scheduled to meet with the Minister and because the Minister could not make it, the agenda was changed to receive the brief from NSFAS.
Mr Khosa agreed that some of the matters discussed were serious and affected the poorest of the poor. Stakeholders should take each other seriously because when a major funder like NSFAS calls for a conference on accommodation, USAf should take that seriously. When guidelines were discussed for an accommodation cap, stakeholders should engage seriously. When NSFAS requests universities to submit exemptions on the cap issue, this should be done in a manner that reflects that we take one another seriously.
Regarding institutional culture, the board observed the need for a radical change in the institutional culture of NSFAS. To this end, the board was busy discussing a transformation strategy to deal with institutional culture and a new way of doing things. These processes are not easy and make people uncomfortable but the board will ensure that it enhances NSFAS’ institutional culture.
The 10% increase is for student allowances and the accommodation cap remains at R4 500 per month.
NSFAS has a new communication strategy that will be applied as soon as possible to respond to all these issues. Regarding the allegations referred to by Mr Letsie, NSFAS has already indicated that it followed all prescripts. The matter of the new building and the fact that it was raised as being irregular by Hon. Holomisa took NSFAS by surprise because this is a matter that the AGSA has looked at. This is a matter that was also taken to the SIU.
Mr Nongogo said he was covered by the chairperson of the board and requested to respond to questions in writing.
The Chairperson said it was important to touch on a few issues concerning the immediate response to the cap and the interventions in place. Given that this has been of great concern to the sector, and there has been a pushback on the cap, an immediate response and the challenges around the system glitches would be appreciated.
Mr Nongogo responded by saying that the accreditors were service providers who specialise in accreditations and the 38 referred to in the presentation are spread out across the nine provinces of the country. Having independent accreditors ensures that the process is independent. Providers are scheduled by the system and no one knows what is pre-set so as to avoid any collusion. NSFAS also does a review once the accreditor has done its work. NSFAS will enhance its process by having desktop reviews performed by other providers that would not necessarily go on site to perform accreditation.
The system glitches were payment gateways for Gauteng that were not running. The payment gateway is important because for service providers to be accredited, they need to pay a set fee. This fee enables NSFAS to get the work done by independent consultants. NSFAS evaluated the sufficiency of these fees based on the number of applications. The presentation also indicated that there are currently 3027 beds that have been released. As further demand for beds arises, NSFAS will assess whether or not the accreditors are able to keep pace. The assessment at this stage is that NSFAS does not need more accreditors. Many of them cover more than one area or province.
Seven staff members in the working centre are attending to students. The frequency of visitors in the call centre is cyclical. It is busy when applications are opened but quietens when term starts. There are also ten self-help working stations available for students. When more applicants come to the NSFAS facility, provision is made for them.
Everyone is back at the office and NSFAS has come up with a plan for how it will fill its vacancies in the current year.
NSFAS is continuously and progressively improving its communication lines. The Chairperson said that when matters are not clarified timeously, perceptions are created and it takes time to undo these perceptions. The quicker Members understand these issues, the better. The role of Parliament is to take these services to the people on the ground and bring issues to NSFAS’ attention as it may not be aware of the citizen’s issues.
Dr Sishi said that his prayer as the DG is that all available resources are utilised appropriately. Based on the inputs from Members, it is clear where we need to improve. All these lessons will be taken back to the office.
It is urgent that the committees set up by the Minister to deal with outstanding matters do so. He urged institutional management to prioritise engaging students to deal with problems early and not be reactive. We should not only respond after protests. The Department was happy that the Chairperson explained the role of the Committee in ensuring that all of this is done. The Minister has an important role in ensuring that not only were policies developed but were implemented in institutions. It remains clear what needs to be done to ensure that we improve the lived experiences of students.
The Department will continue to report on progress in dealing with outstanding issues that come up during engagements with the Committee.
The Chairperson thanked the Department and NSFAS for their presence. She looked forward to interacting with the research on the cap. Members were also briefed on the accrediting of service providers that want to adhere to the cap. She said we should accredit more, timeously and the best because we do not want our students living in spaces that are not conducive.
As stakeholders, we need to take one another seriously and appreciate the differentiated roles in the sector. Since the beginning of the year, it has been clear that there is no appreciation for cooperative governance in the university programme or the connection between cooperative governance and institutional autonomy. When institutional autonomy is questioned, moments like this make us frustrated and question that autonomy. We should not have a challenge from universities in putting the cap in place. Government should be able to expand the little resources it has to fund more students but this cannot be achieved when people find an opportunity to exploit this government. All questions raised are important and something has to give. It would be unfortunate if, as a sector, we would fail to find common ground and someone independent must come in and intervene. She struggled to understand that in a sector dominated by Africans, in an African country, where she believes that one of the best traits of Africans is to sit and resolve issues amicably, this is not achieved.
Most of the data in the presentation spoke to UP, UJ and Wits but there are concerns at UCT, UWC, CPUT and Stellenbosch and this information is expected in written form.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mkhatshwa, Ms NT
Dlamini, Mr SM
Khakhau, Ms KL
King, Ms C
Letsie, Mr WT
Manamela, Mr KB
Mananiso, Ms JS
Sibiya, Ms DP
Tarabella - Marchesi, Ms NI
Yabo, Mr BS
Zondo, Mr S S
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