r1bn funds 'wasted'

MORE than 35percent of all poor tertiary students funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme drop out before completing their studies - and nobody knows why or what happens to them afterwards.

The result is that almost R1billion in government funds has gone to waste, Parliament's education portfolio committee chairperson Marius Fransman told Sowetanyesterday.

Fransman was speaking after a committee meeting when he slammed acting chief executive officer of the NSFAS Ahmed Essop after he could not say what had happened to all the dropouts.

"Do you know where the dropouts of the last couple of years are? I am looking for a yes or no answer," Fransman said.

"If we have a 35percent dropout rate, how much money are we throwing away?" he asked.

The committee questioned why the NSFAS had underspent funds in its budget when so many students could not start their tertiary education because they had no money. Essop said some tertiary institutions were to blame because they failed to tell the NSFAS how much of their funds remained unspent - even late in the academic year.

Theuns Eloff, the chairperson of Higher Education South Africa (Hesa) and rector of the University of North West, told Parliament that one of the reasons that the NSFAS students dropped out was because they did not have money for food andtransport.

"A student who cannot eat cannot study," Eloff said.

He said the NSFAS could not continue to subsidise only those students whose families earned R120000 a year or less, saying there was no way a family in that position could afford to spend R30000 to keep a child at university.

Eloff said 2,8million potential students, aged 18 to 24 years, are neither studying, nor employed.

Fransman said he was disturbed that the NSFAS and Hesa did not seem to communicate properly, and vowed to lobby Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande about the problem.

Nzimande said earlier this year that he would make sure the NSFAS was overhauled, with the aim of giving more subsidies to poor students.