State fund’s CEO is all for ed­u­ca­tion

CityPress - - News -

While he was grow­ing up in the town­ship of Jou­ber­ton in Klerks­dorp, North West, Ler­ato Nage stared poverty in the face and sur­vived. To­day, in his post as act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer (CEO) of the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme (Ns­fas), he shoul­ders the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ad­dress­ing the plight of needy stu­dents.

Nage is un­de­terred, say­ing he is not about to fail. “I have al­ways felt that ed­u­ca­tion is the only lever that can bring pride to any in­di­vid­ual and that can level the play­ing field.

“You can come from a very rich or very poor back­ground, but if all of us are ed­u­cated, it is a lev­eller. This has al­ways been my be­lief.”

Nage has risen through the ranks of Ns­fas, hav­ing joined the en­tity in 2013.

He has been at its helm since Fe­bru­ary, fol­low­ing the res­ig­na­tion of his pre­de­ces­sor, Msulwa Daca.

Nage is head­ing a state en­tity famed for its love­hate re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try’s poor and vul­ner­a­ble.

Some stu­dents have praised Ns­fas for ex­tend­ing them a life­line by help­ing them to sol­dier on with their ter­tiary stud­ies and ob­tain at least an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree.

Oth­ers hate it, ac­cus­ing Ns­fas of aban­don­ing them when they have hit a brick wall for var­i­ous rea­sons, in­clud­ing mak­ing a late ap­pli­ca­tion for univer­sity ad­mis­sion, miss­ing out on fund­ing al­lo­ca­tion de­spite be­ing el­i­gi­ble or los­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port af­ter fail­ing sub­jects.

Speak­ing to City Press at a media launch – held in Ratanda town­ship in Hei­del­berg, south of Jo­han­nes­burg, on Tues­day – to mark the official open­ing of ap­pli­ca­tions for Ns­fas fund­ing for the 2018 aca­demic year, Nage says he is pas­sion­ate about hu­man de­vel­op­ment and en­joys work­ing in the pub­lic ser­vice.

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the launch an­nounce­ment was the open­ing of a lo­cal youth of­fice in Ratanda. This es­tab­lish­ment was set up by Ns­fas, in part­ner­ship with the Na­tional Youth De­vel­op­ment Agency (NYDA) and the Lesedi Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

Speak­ing on the side­lines of Tues­day’s event, the un­flap­pable Nage dis­tin­guishes be­tween feel­ing the pres­sure of man­ag­ing the en­tity and be­ing driven.

“Am I stressed? No. I am en­joy­ing what I’m do­ing ... I am ac­tu­ally quite priv­i­leged. But mine is a pres­surised job,” says the fa­ther of one.

The NYDA has es­tab­lished

Ler­ato Nage

by Msin­disi Fengu sim­i­lar youth of­fices in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the coun­try. They serve as walk-in cen­tres, en­abling prospec­tive stu­dents to hand in their Ns­fas ap­pli­ca­tion forms and re­ceive help with on­line sub­mis­sions.

Ns­fas used this week to cam­paign and in­vite ap­pli­ca­tions for fi­nan­cial aid. Sub­mis­sions close on Novem­ber 30.

Nage has an ac­count­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and a mas­ter’s de­gree in fi­nance and in­vest­ment. He stud­ied at the North-West Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand.

Al­though Nage’s par­ents worked in the pub­lic ser­vice and he ma­tric­u­lated from Vaal Reefs Tech­ni­cal High School, he says grow­ing up in a town­ship ex­posed him to the hard­ships of life.

He was not ac­tive in stu­dent pol­i­tics at univer­sity, but he main­tains that he has al­ways shared the val­ues es­poused by late ANC vet­er­ans Oliver Tambo and Wal­ter Sisulu re­gard­ing ed­u­ca­tion.

“These men have guarded me along this jour­ney,” he says.

What he val­ues even more is the op­por­tu­nity to work with renowned Ns­fas board chair and for­mer FirstRand chief ex­ec­u­tive Sizwe Nx­as­ana, whom he refers to as a “breath of fresh air”.

Asked why he de­scribes work­ing for Ns­fas as a priv­i­lege, he says the or­gan­i­sa­tion plays a cen­tral role in fur­ther­ing hu­man de­vel­op­ment. To this end, he has urged his team to “try to treat stu­dents with the sen­si­tiv­ity and re­spect they de­serve. That is my be­lief and my ethos.”

Ex­plain­ing the part­ner­ship be­tween Ns­fas and the NYDA, Nage says their com­mon pur­pose is to bring the fund­ing en­tity closer to needy stu­dents and make it eas­ier for them to ac­cess Ns­fas.

Nage points out how in­stru­men­tal Ns­fas can be in help­ing young­sters achieve a qual­i­fi­ca­tion and progress in life.

“These young peo­ple are grate­ful to have an op­por­tu­nity like this. They don’t see it as some­thing that is far away in the big city.

“We never had these chances when we were grow­ing up be­cause there were no in­sti­tu­tions like NYDA and Ns­fas back then. There was the Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Fund of SA, but it was not as broad or wide-reach­ing as Ns­fas is to­day.

“We are say­ing to the youth: ‘If you do well at school, you have an op­por­tu­nity to take your life a lit­tle fur­ther.’”

Re­gard­ing the pro­posal that next year’s Ns­fas ben­e­fi­cia­ries have their funds con­verted from loans to grants, Nage says this would re­quire additional re­sources. How­ever, he adds that Ns­fas is ready to abide by any de­ci­sion made by Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande.

A to­tal of 150 000 de­serv­ing stu­dents have been tar­geted to ben­e­fit from a bud­get of just more than R15 bil­lion across 26 uni­ver­si­ties and 50 tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing col­leges next year.

PHOTO: MSIN­DISI FENGU

DE­TER­MINED Ler­ato Nage, the act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme

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