_: The overarching role of public accountability resides with the Portfolio Committee even though there are other role players, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Advocate Ismael Malale, told the Board Chairperson of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the Department of Education and Training’s Director-General yesterday.
He said people sometimes question Parliament’s role in NSFAS. “All those who use public money become accountable here at Parliament and that includes universities. Professors that lead South African universities account for public money used at universities before this Committee,” said Advocate Malale.
“This Committee does not become intimidated and fail to do its work because of the heavy academic concepts professors sometimes use when accounting before it,” emphasised Advocate Malale.
NSFAS’s Board Chairperson Mr Zamayedwa Sogayise and the Department of Education and Training’s Director-General, Mr Gwenkundla Qonde, appeared before the Committee to brief the Committee about the implementation of NSFAS’ proposed Central Application System.
He emphasised that the transformed programme (student-centred model) due for implementation, unlike the current one which excludes the student, puts the student at the centre. “Students are disconnected from NSFAS, there is no direct relationship,” said Mr Sogayise. He also said the current loan management system is outdated and inadequate.
Also present in the meeting were representatives from other national student organisations, including the South African Union of Students.
Advocate Malale told the NSFAS’s board Chairperson and the Department of Higher Education and Training, Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, that the Committee realised the contradictions that sometimes lead to student protests at certain FET colleges and universities arise from a lack of understanding of NSFAS policies. This is why the Committee invited representatives of student organisations to the meeting. “We should be on the same page,” he said.
Members of the Committee appealed to the NSFAS’s Board Chairperson and the Department of Education’s Director General to have strong and effective debt recovery strategies in place as NSFAS’s sustainability also depends largely on debt recovery. “NSFAS and students themselves must closely work together, especially for the purposes of loan repayment,” they said. Members of the Committee also told student representatives to ensure that students use NSFAS bursary money productively.
“Tell your constituencies to use the bursary wisely as you use bursaries from the private sector. Students with bursaries from the private sector use them wisely as these bursaries are withdrawn once a student fails,” emphasised members of the Committee.
Student representatives appealed to NSFAS and the Department of Education and Training’s Director-General to ensure that the family income threshold of R220 000 per annum, which determines assistance to needy students, is increased to R300 000. According to NSFAS policy, students who come from homes earning R220 000 and more do not qualify for NSFAS assistance.