Academic book retailers have voiced their concern as textbook sales show a radical decline after the National Student Finance Aid Scheme (NSFAS) changed its allowance pay-outs to students to cash. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus
Cape Town - Academic book retailers have voiced their concern as textbook sales show a radical decline after the National Student Finance Aid Scheme (NSFAS) changed its allowance pay-outs to students to cash instead of ring-fencing the funding.

The South African Booksellers Association's (Saba) head of academic sector Mohamed Kharwa said their members, who between them supplied the majority of higher education textbooks in South Africa, had noted that the majority of students were not spending their funds on textbooks or study materials as intended.

He said in a number of cases the decline has led to the closure of bookstores, which cater specifically to higher education institutions, leaving some students struggling to gain access to the required resources. In the past, NSFAS had ring-fenced book allowances using various control systems and fund administrators, Kharwa said.

“The association has tried to engage NSFAS and other higher education bodies with proposed solutions, based on our extensive data, to address abuse and improve accountability. It must be highlighted, however, that the majority of funds were legitimately spent by students on beneficial educational material,” Kharwa said.

Van Schaik Bookstore supplies academic textbooks nationally through its 63 stores. The store had also noted a decline in textbook purchases since universities opened this year.

“Our sales are down due to the predominantly NSFAS-funded campuses that experienced a tragic drop in textbook purchases,” Van Schaik managing director Stephan Erasmus said.

Erasmus was concerned that students funded by NSFAS were not using their allowances for their intended purpose. He said students could find themselves unable to cover the cost of their books for the year. “It is anticipated that this could contribute to an even higher failure and drop-out rate at tertiary institutions,” Erasmus said.

NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo said the academic year had just started.

“It is premature to assume that the so-called decline in sales is due to NSFAS cash allowances,” Mamabolo said.

Mamabolo said more analytical research was needed to come to such a conclusion. “What is important to note is that an NSFAS bursary has terms and conditions which need to be adhered to, in order to ensure that a student does not forfeit their funding,” Mamabolo said.

South African Union of Students (Saus) spokesperson Thabo Shingange urged students to spend their allowances wisely.

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