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UNISA and NSFAS: Two setbacks for higher education in one day

It may be a coincidence that the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced that he wants to put the University of South Africa (UNISA) under administration on the exact same day as OUTA’s announcement that it filed a criminal complaint against the chief executive officer of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Still, it is a bad omen for everyone who wants to improve their position with post-school education.

The announcement by Nzimande follows the work of a ministerial task team led by Dr Vincent Maphai, which had made damning findings regarding mismanagement at UNISA in 2021 already.

As a result, an independent assessor was appointed to investigate UNISA – a step which is legally required before the Minister can place a university under administration.

The report by the assessor, Prof. Themba Mosia, was published in the Government Gazette on 26 May 2023. It highlighted the decline of systems, the appointment of personnel not suited to their positions, and that confusion arose between the functions of the University’s board and management.

For many people, UNISA is the best way to improve their qualification level while working. With more than four hundred thousand students, the role fulfilled by this distance-university is crucial.

Over the last few years, though, information technology has also enabled other universities to render the same service. So, UNISA’s place in the market is not as prominent as it used to be.

NSFAS makes it possible for poor people and those from the working class to receive post-school training. After two years under administration, people had hoped that this bursary scheme, with its budget of approximately R60 billion, would have better prospects.

OUTA’s complaint against the chief executive officer of NSFAS, Mr Andile Nongogo, stems from the time when he was heading the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SSETA).

He had signed off on tenders whereby SSETA paid exorbitant amounts for marketing goods.

In its response, NSFAS gave the assurance that the allegations had nothing to do with his work at the bursary scheme. It may be true, but it offers little consolation if one takes into consideration that NSFAS is much bigger than SSETA, which means there is much more leeway for exorbitant tenders.

The ANC government likes to draw attention to its social expenditure. But it does not help if the money meant to provide opportunities for the less fortunate end up in the wrong hands.

Students deserve better. It is time to elect a new government in 2024, one that will use the money meant for post-school education and training for nothing but that.

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