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Durban - Student financial aid in KwaZulu-Natal has become a free-for-all, with ineligible students fraudulently applying for funding at the cost of others.
The situation is so bad that in some cases pensioners have lied and made false affidavits claiming their grandchildren are orphans so they can get grants.
The rampaging for aid led to the closure of the Durban University of Technology this week and has strained administrations at other institutions.
Msulwa Daca, executive officer of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, said slack vetting and people finding ways to bypass the means test were placing a strain on the R10 billion-a-year fund.
The means test is used to check family income and whether a student qualifies for aid, but Daca said a new system was due to be introduced.
Fraud occurred at all public universities and further education and training colleges in the province, he said.
In one morning on Durban campuses, The Mercury found three students who admitted to having hoodwinked the system.
One, from the Mangosuthu University of Technology in uMlazi, said, although his parents were retired teachers, he had cheated by getting family members to lie in affidavits.
“I took my grandmother with me and we said we didn’t know where my mother was,” he said.
Another, who recently completed his office management diploma at the Durban University of Technology (DUT), said his mother was a school principal earning a good salary, but he had managed to get a loan from the fund.
“My mother took me to a police station and we wrote a statement about how she is a single parent and how she has a small salary,” he said.
The financial aid scheme paid for 60 percent of his fees and he received R1 000 as a “book allowance” for the year.
Another DUT student, who studied journalism, said, despite her grandmother’s owning a property that she let and two of her brothers earning good salaries, she had applied because “it was what everyone else was doing”.
“Both my parents are dead, so I applied as an orphan,” she said.
Daca said that with the introduction of a new system, the scheme would be able to ensure funds went to deserving students.
Asked how it would work, he said: “We have links with other government databases to check the information provided in applications.”
The Department of Home Affairs would check identity documents and verify family details, while the taxman would verify employment.
The consequences of those who were ineligible crooking the system meant others were paying a high price.
Professor Labby Ramrathan, from the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said it was common for students to squander funds on luxuries.
“I’ve seen them buy TVs and radios. There is this self-entitlement. People should know that nothing is for free.”
The South African Students Congress
did not condone corruption, its provincial secretary, Koloba Ntshangase, said.
“The problem is we come from a society that perpetuates individual interests over the interests of others,” he said.
Higher Education South Africa chief executive Jeffrey Mabelebele and Department of Higher Education and Training spokeswoman Kefilwe Makhanya agreed that the reasons for the strikes were varied and complex.
Makhanya said it would be misleading to attribute the strikes to corruption in the disbursement of student aid.
* The scheme collects more than R500 million from indebted students a year. In 2011, more than R542m was collected, while R539m was collected in 2012 and R539.5m last year.