Call for heads to roll after R5bn paid to non-qualifying students students

Investigation into the financial management systems of NSFAS was at an early stage.

Investigation into the financial management systems of NSFAS was at an early stage.

Published Apr 20, 2023


Cape Town - A Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has found that R5.1 billion of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funds was incorrectly paid to thousands of non-qualifying students.

These 40 044 students who received NSFAS bursaries from 2018 to 2021 attended 76 higher education institutions across the country.

Gauteng province led with 17 788 non-qualifying students who were paid at 16 institutions; the Western Cape followed with 5 481 students from 10 institutions and KwaZulu-Natal with 4 409 students at 13 institutions.

According to SIU chief investigations officer Leonard Lekgoethe, who briefed the parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts, these were students whose household income was above R350 000 and therefore they would not qualify for NSFAS funding, based on the funding rules.

“The students did not submit their parents’ details upon application and therefore the means test was not properly conducted.

“We have interviewed several affected students and parents to obtain additional information. Some students admitted that they did not qualify to receive the funding.

“We are in the process of obtaining further data and calculating the amount received by these non-qualifying students,” said Lekgoethe.

He said they were also looking at the employment status of the students to determine when and how much they could pay back.

Lekgoethe said an investigation into the financial management systems of NSFAS was at an early stage.

“The SIU has facilitated a refund or managed to ring-fence approximately R38.3 million possibly due to NSFAS from three TVET colleges.

“The SIU is in the process of engaging other institutions to determine if they are holding any over payments that need to be ring-fenced, pending the finalisation of the investigation.”

Higher Education director-general (DG) Nkosinathi Sishi said these investigations were paramount as they assisted with clean governance and accountability.

NSFAS board chairperson Ernest Khosa said the SIU had been transparent with them on their scope and investigation.

“It is only natural that there will be a concern about the costs and it was stated that the figure could be less due to the investigation still ongoing.

“It’s encouraging that even though the investigation is at the early stages, the SIU has managed to identify some problems which are threatening the security of the sector as a whole.

“This doesn’t only lead to financial losses but security threats, including mafias in our student accommodation area.

“We saw (a) threatening SMS sent to our chief executive officer, Andile Nongogo, by people who are worried about our new accommodation policies which will affect the way they have been conducting business.

“So we are happy with the way the SIU is spot-on in these issues,” said Khosa.

South African Union of Students (SAUS) spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa said NSFAS and the State had been defrauded.

“To some extent, students intentionally and deliberately defrauded NSFAS knowing they did not fit in the required bracket, using the details of their grandparents.

“It is also not possible for the amount of lost funds to be looted out of the system without colleges and universities playing a critical role and colluding with some NSFAS officials and private service providers. There need to be consequences, including paying back the money.”

MPs suggested that those found guilty of wrongdoing be jailed as the chances of all funds being recovered were slim.

Cape Times