City Press 21 January 2020
As the start of the new academic year for universities and other institutions of higher learning approaches, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) is still sorting out thousands of funding applications.
For some students such as Nomusa Langa* it’s a frustrating process because despite submitting her application in September last year, she has been asked to resubmit “missing documents”.
She is not alone. According to sources, it is not the students’ fault but a glitch in the system, which sources claim is not suitable for Nsfas.
Langa was asked to resubmit a form twice, but the second time a “system error” would not allow her to do so.
Now she’s not sure if she will get funding.
On January 6, Nsfas insiders told City Press that the scheme had allegedly lost supporting documents of more that 100 000 students.
Nsfas denied this, saying 69 357 applications were incomplete or had outstanding or incorrect supporting documents.
At a media briefing last week, Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande said only 31 160 applications were incomplete and so far 428 377 had been approved for Nsfas funding.
He said the National Youth Development Agency had offered to help Nsfas by accepting applicants online and in person.
City Press understands that the “system errors” are being experienced in the Phoenix system, which was commissioned from the US and built by Deloitte at a cost of R98 million following a tender advertised in 2012.
Phoenix is a banking system installed at Nsfas offices to manage student loans and bursaries.
It was integrated into another system – known as Cordys – which is responsible for dealing with applications until the funds are disbursed.
The two systems are central in helping Nsfas fulfil its mandate.
But City Press understands that there were serious flaws in systems’ procurement.
These problems were reported to the then higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor last April.
These problems include that:
. The tender specifications from Nsfas that led to Deloitte commissioning and building the two systems were flawed. Not enough time was given to potential service providers to respond to the tender, which, as a result, negatively affected Nsfas’ performance;
. There were no skills in South Africa to support the Phoenix and Cordys systems; and
. The Phoenix system was not suitable for Nsfas.
City Press understands that the department was told that there should be a redesign of the Nsfas information, communications and technology system, but this would probably take up to three years.
Nsfas administrator Randall Carolissen on Friday would not say which systems were responsible for applications.
“Nsfas considers this matter as closed and will not respond further. Our responses are not reflected in your newspaper reports,” Carolissen said.
Asked to confirm if a progress report had been submitted to the ministry in April last year about the Phoenix and Cordys systems, Nsfas spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said: “On behalf of the Nsfas administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, please note that correspondence or reports from the administrator to the minister are strictly confidential. Nsfas is not in any position to divulge or confirm any information contained in these reports.”
Last week, when asked about the “system errors” students encountered, Mamabolo said: “… since November last year, we have experienced large volumes [of applications]. That’s why we asked students to upload [their documents] again. By and large, all uploads have been successful and this allowed us to make funding decisions.
“We are very pleased with system performance given the large volumes processed,” he said.
Asked about the Phoenix systems’ glitches and processes followed in their procurement, Mamabolo said: “All systems are currently under review.”
Nzimande told City Press on Thursday that he was aware that there had been problems with students’ documents in the past.
“We did have that problem before. But as far as I’m concerned the administrator has been able to pick up everything and normally what are called lost documents are documents either incorrectly filled or incomplete,” he said.
“I would not say that those problems are entirely gone, but we’ve gone a long way towards actually eliminating a lot of those problems in Nsfas.”
Nzimande accused City Press of using information stolen from Nsfas to discredit Carolissen.
“I want you to quote me. Those are thieves and thugs that we have caught stealing from Nsfas. Your sources are the thieves and thugs who have been stealing [information] from Nsfas. They are now trying to discredit the administrator and to discredit government. Now you won’t tell me who they are. Alright. Go and prove through your City Press that your sources are genuine.”
Nzimande said he didn’t have details about the procurement of the Phoenix system.
“I’m not saying you are wrong, you are maybe right. I’m not saying you are right, you are maybe wrong. I don’t run Nsfas. Alright.”
A Deloitte official who asked not to be named, said Nsfas was to blame for the mess.
“It is the responsibility of the client to set out the specifications for the service required based on its own needs. Deloitte responded to an open tender process in line with the specification provided by Nsfas and in compliance with the Nsfas procurement standards. We delivered. This was confirmed by an independent report commissioned by Nsfas [in 2015] which found that ‘Deloitte has substantially delivered against the project statement of work’. The findings were accepted by the Nsfas management.”
*Not her real name