Johannesburg – At least R650 million in student aid has been wasted, according to the DA.
This was the money left unused by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) at the end of the financial year this month, said DA MP Professor Belinda Bozzoli.
The lack of funds for students who can’t afford varsity fees caused the Fees Must Fall protests last year, which spilt over into the current disruptions in tertiary institutions.
The information emerged in a reply to a DA question in Parliament by Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande.
The minister indicated that R650m had not been spent for 2015/16; R742m was unspent in 2014/15, and R641m, R179m and R477m in each of the preceding financial years. Nzimande said the money left over was rolled over each year and used to fund late and resubmitted claims.
“The continued inefficiency that has come to characterise the National Student Financial Aid Scheme can no longer be tolerated. It has become clear that neither NSFAS nor the minister of higher education grasp the seriousness of issues currently facing us or simply do not care for the needs of our students,” said Bozzoli.
“It is unfathomable that while 8.2 million South Africans are without work, young people are being denied opportunities to study because the department cannot get the available funding to those who need it.”
Bozzoli called it a slap in the face for poor students who desperately needed the money to pay for their studies.
And it’s not the first time, she said Bozzoli. “In the last financial year, almost R750m was unutilised.”
NSFAS allocates funds to universities, which Nzimande said could be part of the problem. “This could result in a situation where some universities have not spent their allocation and only notify NSFAS of this late in the financial year, at which stage it may not be possible to fund other students, as the academic year has ended,” the minister said.
He said the appropriateness of this formula and model was one of the factors that had resulted in the new student-centred model, where the money follows the student rather than the institution.
Bozzoli said recent replies to parliamentary questions showed Nzimande did not know how many students were in NSFAS’s “missing middle” bracket, how much it would cost to fund them, and how much library resources or outsourcing would cost this year.
“The minister is not in a position to provide the leadership the sector requires in this time of crisis, if he does not even know how much key cost-drivers will cost,” she said.