r200m for aid lies idle

WITH calls to review the funding of universities gaining momentum, it has emerged that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme has not spent R200million meant for bursaries.

WITH calls to review the funding of universities gaining momentum, it has emerged that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme has not spent R200million meant for bursaries.

The vice-chancellors of the country's universities last week called for more funding for higher education. They also provided motivation for the funding policy of the NSFAS to be decentralised.

With the government's subsidy grants and NSFAS funds only arriving at the start of a financial year in April,students drop out because of the huge amounts they owe to universities before they can complete their degrees.

Parliament yesterday adopted a report that indicates universities and colleges have failed to spend about R200million earmarked for loans to poor students in the last two years.

The report says that in 2007 R89,3million in the NSFAS went unspent and that in 2008 R95,5million was not used despite the fact that demands on the scheme exceeds resources.

The NSFAS attributes its under-spending to factors that include universities only reporting back on the use of funds late in the academic year, making it impossible to redistribute what is left. It was also difficult to spend all the money set aside for scarce skills loans and bursaries, for example for teacher training, because of a lack of suitable candidates.

Magasela Mzobe, general secretary of the SA Students Congress, said: "The problem is not with the scheme, it is with the people who administer it at universities. It is amazing that they are underspending because there are thousands of students who apply and are turned away each year."

Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande last month told academics it was unacceptable to have coffers bulging with rollover funds "but at the same time complain that not enough students can access and succeed in higher education".

Nzimande said there was R21billion in unspent funds in NSFAS, the National Skills Fund and various Sector Education and Training Authorities.

Chairperson of Higher Education SA Theuns Eloff last week agreed with Nzimande and both complained that while loans might cover fees and books, they did not always give students subsistence money.

This led to many drop-outs. The report confirms there is a high drop-out rate because students struggle to cope with so-called partial loans.

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