The long queues experienced over the years by needy students applying for financial assistance from the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) will be a thing of the past, as students will as of December be able to apply online.
NSFAF changed its traditional manual application process that normally runs from August to December each year.
NSFAF chief information officer, Thomas Mueller, who is helping the institution with its turnaround strategy, revealed that they have developed a seamlessly integrated Loan and Grant Management Information System (LGAMIS) that allows for online applications.
Mueller said the LGAMIS allows NSFAF to import Grade 12 results immediately upon release and match individual results to its eligibility criteria.
He added that the process further allows potential applicants to launch an online application only if they qualify for funding.
For the 2017 academic year the application process for local undergraduates will commence on January 12 and end on March 31, while for undergraduates and postgraduates for SADC and other countries it will start on December and also end on March 31.
“When I came this year, I saw that the system as it was specified does not reflect what we need. The old system has a lot of manual interventions, which may cause errors and delays. We therefore streamlined and can do application and awarding within 48 hours,” Mueller noted.
For the first time, he says, NSFAF has now a loan book and proper debtor’s management because every payment made through Nam-Mic Payment Solutions gets a transaction number that goes back to the fund’s system.
He said the fund was able to pay about N$70 million to 4 000 local students through Nam-Mic by August alone.
This year, NSFAF implemented a student payment card in partnership with Nam-Mic Payment Solutions. This means that NSFAF changed its old practice whereby funds meant to cover tuition fees are disbursed directly to the institution of higher learning and non-tuition fees directly to students.
“So each student has a debtor’s account with all data, which we were never able to do before. We can reconcile every single payment transaction. Nothing will get lost anymore for the new students,” he explained, adding that it’s difficult to trace all the old student debt inherited from the Ministry of Education since 1997.
About 80 000 former students still owe the fund millions of dollars, he said, and some files have been captured but it remains a challenge to trace them as some information in the files is incomplete.
“They were sitting with about 23 000 applications which they could not process from student intakes of 2015 and 2016. They were stuck with these applications for about three months and no one seemed able to fix the problem.”
“Because of my 35 years of experience in IT in eight countries around the world I was able to fix the problem within seven days,” Mueller maintained.
After seven days, he said, all student applications were processed and they received their award letters within a week.
Asked how much it cost, he said “the entire process has been in existence, hence there was no additional cost”.
“We optimised and streamlined how it worked and now use it more efficiently than it was being done before.”