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NSFAS Student Laptops: Proper steps were taken says minister

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While there has been a delay in the procurement of laptops for students, the Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande says proper administrative processes have been followed.

“Although the provision of devices is extremely urgent as part of the government’s response to COVID-19, a formal, transparent, competitive tender process was followed,” Nzimande said on Wednesday.

The Minister said this while responding to complaints regarding the delays in the procurement of laptops for NSFAS students.

Nzimande had been tasked the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) with the task of sourcing the digital learning devices for NSFAS-funded students who are currently registered at universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

He said that the department chose this route instead of an emergency tender process to avoid any deviation from the normal competitive procurement process.

“The reason for this was our serious concern that the process must be beyond reproach given recent experiences of reported corrupt practices experienced around COVID-19 procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs).

“The Administrator of NSFAS informed me on Tuesday that none of the bids competing for the supply of learning devices as specified in the bid process had achieved the mandatory requirements as required in the bid document. For this reason, no tender was awarded,” Nzimande explained.

While admitting that this is unfortunate, in the sense that the procurement of learning devices will not take place right now, Nzimande insists that “the rules of good governance and due process must be followed to ensure a judicious outcome in the public interest.”

“Government policy is clear that our procurement process must promote an inclusive economy with diverse players, with specific priority given to credible broad-based black economic enterprises to ensure we that broaden the base of our economy,” Nzimande said.

While briefing the media on his department's response to SA’s move to lockdown alert level 2, Nzimande said he has instructed that all institutions that fall under his two departments publish a full list of companies that have benefited from procurement of the devices which was introduced in response to COVID-19.

“Once a service provider has been appointed, the learning devices will be delivered directly to the student as per address provided on the acknowledgement of debt or request for digital learning device form,” Nzimande said.

NSFAS has since issued a set of guidelines to outline the process to be followed to enable students to receive these laptops.

NSFAS  received more than 89 000 applications

Meanwhile, NSFAS has received over 89 547 applications for 2021 academic year. The application cycle opened on the 3rd of August 2020 and will close on 30 November 2020.

“Given current extreme circumstance as a direct result of COVID-19, we are anticipating an influx of applications by the closing date of applications, with predictions of a higher number of applications compared to the previous years,” Nzimande said.

Legal action against fraudulent NSFAS students

Nzimande warned that legal action will be taken against students who attempted to defraud NSFAS by misrepresenting their financial status.

This comes after 5 000 students were removed from NSFAS’ list after providing incorrect information for the 2020 academic year, and being incorrectly funded as a result; this despite giving accurate information in the original applications,

Nzimande said that NSFAS has issued a press release to affected students to notify them of termination of their funding status as well as the process they must follow should they dispute the findings.

“The affected students will have 14 days from the date they received the SMS communication to petition this decision by submitting proof of family income or change of income to NSFAS for review. These documents need to be submitted to NSFAS via email at [email protected],” Nzimande said.

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