Probe of problems in awarding students loans and bursaries

Problems in awarding students loans and bursaries

FINANCIAL support for tertiary students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) would continue to fall short of demand, and the fund was set to undergo a forensic audit to establish “deficiencies” in disbursements, the Department of Higher Education and Training said on Monday.

The government scheme would provide loans and bursaries worth R9.5bn this year, including R526.9m to develop scarce skills. There would be 425,095 spaces available for further study across the tertiary education spectrum this year, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said.

Both demand for financial aid and for places at a university will continue to outstrip demand.

Department of Higher Education and Training directorgeneral Gwebinkundla Qonde said this year would see the “rolling out of a comprehensive forensic investigation” as the department believed that “the money that is readily available — if properly and legitimately used — can cover quite a lot”.

“There are a number (of problems), such as students that are not supposed to be legitimate beneficiaries getting into the scheme.” The problems included students providing false information and “colluding officials”, Mr Qonde said.

Higher Education SA CEO Jeffrey Mabelebele said on Monday the body, which represents the vice-chancellors of SA’s public universities, supported the forensic audit, which was “long overdue”. Universities had also agreed to improve their own forensic capabilities, he said.

The issue of financial aid sparked a number of incidents of campus violence last year, when half the applicants to the scheme were turned down. Most students will hear this month if their applications have been successful.

Last year, NSFAS received R8.3bn — excluding R1bn to address shortfalls reported by tertiary institutions for that year and 2013. The estimated need for NSFAS funding was R51bn over the next three years, the scheme’s CEO, Msulwa Daca, said on Monday.

This year, NSFAS would be funding 205,000 first-time and continuing eligible students at universities and 200,000 students at technical and vocational education and training colleges, Mr Nzimande said. Most would be from poor backgrounds.

Many universities have reported that applications have exceeded spaces for some programmes by 10:1.