Without their allowances, many students on tertiary campuses across the country are left destitute and hungry, Parliament‘s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training heard on Wednesday.
Student organisations, the South African Further Education and Training Student Association (Safetsa) and the South African Union of Students (SAUS), told the committee of a range of logistical problems which hampered students who were dependent on NSFAS to fulfil their academic potential, with the failure to pay out allowances being a major concern.
This was fueling a lot of frustration on campuses, which sometimes resulted in the burning or destruction of property, Safetsa president Yonke Twani said.
“You‘re not justifying the destruction of property?” asked Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor.
“Because this is no justification.”
She said destroying property did not bring allowances or facilities.
Twani agreed and said they always told their members not to destroy property.
NSFAS chairperson Sizwe Nxasana admitted there were still problems.
‘We understand universities and colleges are not banks‘
Referring to former president Jacob Zuma‘s decision on December 16 last year to expand free higher education to students from poor and working class families, Nxasana said the financial aid scheme “literally had a few weeks to put systems in place” to distribute the funds.
“We are doing everything from our side.
“Yes, we had very limited time, from when the announcement was made, until the implementation,” he said.
For the 2018 academic year, NSFAS has received more than 417 000 applications. Thus far, they have made funding decisions for about 358 000 of those.
Nxasana said the biggest problem was integrating NSFAS‘ system with the different systems of the universities and colleges.
He said many institutions did not have the systems to administer allowances.
“Yes, we understand universities and colleges are not banks,” he added.
Thus far this year, NSFAS had paid out close to R6.5bn to institutions. All institutions had received what was due to them, Nxasana said.
Addressing the problem was like “fixing a plane while it is flying”, he added.
Universities South Africa‘s CEO Ahmed Bawa said it was not in the interests of universities to keep the money. He said universities were subject to the same financial regulations as other state entities. He agreed that a “breakdown in systems” seemed to be the problem.
“The last thing universities want is demonstrations – it is the worst thing for universities,” Bawa said.
‘Hasty, crowd-pleasing promises made to the poor‘
After the meeting, committee chairperson Connie September, in a statement, called on NSFAS to kick-start the process of redesigning the student-centred funding model, so that all other stakeholders could make an input.
“The system is designed to benefit students, and we expect no less. The delays in payments being made to institutions should be dealt with expeditiously, we cannot have students waiting for meal and book allowances for longer than five months,” she said.
“These challenges are not insurmountable, they just need a collective effort. The committee welcomes the willingness of the stakeholders to collectively support a process to ensure that students are not disadvantaged in furthering the much-needed education.”
DA MP Belinda Bozzoli said, during the committee meeting, that “ex-president Zuma and the party that supported him brought NSFAS to its knees”.
After the meeting, she said in a statement that the DA was calling for an “emergency fund to be set up to assist students in dire need and for extraordinary efforts to be made to bring this crisis to an end”.
“Once again the hasty, crowd-pleasing promises made to the poor by the ANC-led government and the actual reality of what is delivered at the grassroots are poles apart. This is shameful, the result of a mismatch between the populist instincts of the ANC and its capacity to deliver,” said Bozzoli.