Picture: Wokandapix/Pixabay

Johannesburg - Student trading book vouchers for cash and scams on campuses were some of the reasons that led to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) scrapping the book vouchers scheme at tertiary institutions.

This was revealed by Higher Education and Science Minister Blade Nzimande in a written response to a parliamentary question from DA MP Belinda Bozzoli.

Nzimande said the book vouchers were also scrapped because there were many commercial interests involved, with merchants providing services to students using vouchers for a fee.

“Students were trading the book vouchers for cash outside many shops. The voucher system was limited to selected merchants that monopolised the student market,” he said.

“There was no space for students to choose where to purchase books, including from second-hand retailers, and the book allowance was changed to a learning materials allowance so that students could also decide to purchase other learning support materials, including laptops and tablets.”

Nzimande added the call to change book vouchers to cash was one of many demands by the student leadership, as part of their input to the policy governing student funding.

The minister also pointed out that R5000 was the monetary value of the learning materials allowance received by each full-time NSFAS student on the new Department of Higher Education and Training bursary scheme for the 2019 academic year.

“The learning materials allowance is set by the department in the annual guidelines, and is based on an affordable and fair standardised amount.”

Nzimande said NSFAS had no mechanism to monitor the spending of cash allowances by students.

“NSFAS believes that students should be treated as adults, and have the financial freedom to withdraw the cash voucher and make an informed decision on how best to utilise the funds. The ultimate responsibility is in the hands of the students,” he said.

“In the process, NSFAS expects students to grow to be responsible citizens and take charge of their economic freedom,” he said.

The minister agreed that there was a concern that book sales had declined with the change in the policy.

“NSFAS and the department believe that it is necessary to conduct proper research to explore the patterns of textbook usage and buying among students, and will engage with the university sector on this matter.”

Asked about the position of NSFAS on the possibility that students were purchasing pirated or illegally photocopied books instead of legally published books, Nzimande maintained that research was necessary to determine whether this was indeed happening, and what the patterns of student behaviour were in this area.

“NSFAS funding is provided to support student success and NSFAS students have to meet academic criteria set by institutions,” he said.

Political Bureau