2 July 2009

Namibia: NSFAF Under Fire From Students

THE Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) has come down hard on the Namibian Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF), stating that it has no confidence in the institution, and calling for the immediate resignation of its management.

In a hard-hitting statement to the press yesterday, Nanso accused the fund that was created to assist students from disadvantaged backgrounds to pay for their tertiary education fees, of "failing the students and the nation at large" by "failing to do their work".

Deputy Secretary General of Nanso, Nicky Mutenda, lashed out at the Fund, saying "the rank and file of Nanso, the students of Namibia, have absolutely no confidence in the NSFAF management and we call upon them to resign from their positions."

He said that Nanso was calling upon the Minister of Education, Nangolo Mbumba, to "remove and replace the entire Management and deploy the entire Management of the Fund to a department where they might be useful somewhere else in the Ministry, but not in the Fund. We want them out soonest - even tomorrow."

Mutenda also accused the NSFAF of failing to meet the directive of President Pohamba as stated in his State of the Nation Address, in which he had said that: "We believe that education is the answer to addressing poverty and to promoting a healthy nation. It is for this reason that we regard education as a priority above priorities."

Nanso Secretary for Tertiary Education, Medusalem Shilongo, said that the organisation had engaged the Fund's Directors, as well as the Ministry of Education's Permanent Secretary, Deputy Minister and Minister on their concerns, but to no avail.

"Nanso has observed that some civil servants in specific departments and offices in the Ministry of Education do not adhere to the call of the Government by taking education as the highest priority," Mutenda stated. He questioned: "Is education still a priority when students proof of registration go missing in the offices of the NSFAF? Is education really still a priority?"

Providing the organisation's reason for this sentiment, he said that "year after year, students are caught up in the money struggle between the Ministry of Education and their institutions"; adding that simultaneously, the Ministry had returned millions to the treasury, while the NSFAF "have challenges to adequately fund the needy students".

Mutenda also communicated Nanso's frustration at not being included in the process of fund allocation for students.

"Despite the NSFAF policy being clear about Nanso being part of the process of allocation, Nanso was not invited when the selection took place and only when they were (already) done. This is unacceptable and it must be clear that students will not tolerate this."

Other issues of contention included the lack of a 'proper' database to assist in the operations of the fund, particularly with regards to collections. The NSFAF has previously noted difficulty with the pace of loan recovery, and while blasting the Fund, Nanso also made a call on past beneficiaries of the Fund who now have employment to start repaying their loans.

Attempts to gain comment from the NSFAF proved futile, as officials were reluctant to comment until they were fully 'acquainted' with Nanso's statement, while the Permanent Secretary and Deputy Minister were out of the country. Assurance of a response from the Ministry's Public Relations department by today was, however, provided.

According to the website of the Ministry of Education, the NSFAF receives more than 17 000 applications each year, but can only assist less than 4 000 students each year, and only covers tuition fees and not accommodation, "because it wants to assist as many students as possible."

The NSFAF has also come under fire from other quarters in the past week.

At a consultative session of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources and Community Development to ascertain the reasons for what the government views are exorbitant higher education fees, Namibia's tertiary education institutions, including Polytechnic and Unam, also lashed out at the NSFAF.

According to a report by a local daily, educational institutions said that if anyone is to be blamed for issues around the payment of tuition fees, "the NSFAF should be blamed as funding provided to students from the NSFAF is rarely able to cater for the per head total cost of study at the educational centres."

The institutions said that often times, funding by the NSFAF only covers half the tuition cost, forcing the educational institutions to prevent students from writing their examinations and thereby complete their schooling, due to incomplete payment.

Asked what their next action would be if their calls were not heeded by the relevant authorities, Mutenda said that "we will mobilise our students!" He added, however, that: "we are confident in Government, and we are confident that the Minister will ensure that the students' cry is heard. There is no need for the havoc that the media would like to see."

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