Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande File picture: Thobile Mathonsi/ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, has condemned the incorrect payment of R14.1 million into the account of a Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student whose studies were being financed by government.

"This debacle is wholly unacceptable and serious action should be taken against all those responsible as soon as all the facts of the matter are established. In this light, I have instructed NSFAS, supported by officials from the Department to urgently get to the bottom of the matter, with a view of ensuring that wherever the problems may lie, this will never be repeated again," the minister said in a statement.

The payment was allegedly made in June into the student's account by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. The student alleges that she reported the transaction and was not assisted. It has been reported that she then used around R800,000 of the funds before it was noticed earlier this month.

The department of Higher Education and Training said that the error, allegedly by a service provider at the university, occurred during a payment run to 3,500 students at the institution who are supported by the NSFAS.

The "slip-up" was allegedly noticed after a receipt of a high figure was posted by the friend of the student.

Nzimande said that such debacles not only prejudiced students who were deserving of grant support, they also posed a grave danger to the credibility of the country’s education system, as well as government's commitment to fund poor and middle class students.

"We simply cannot afford these kinds of blunders involving taxpayers’ money, whether they occur wittingly or unwittingly. This is why I am calling for a thorough investigation to establish the facts so that there is consequence management for those found responsible.

"Government is doing its best – within limited resources - to source funding to support children of all poor, working and middle class families in their quest to better their lives through skills acquisition.”

The department said that the Chief Executive of IntelliMali, Michael Ansell, the service provider who managed the allocation of funds at WSU, had confirmed that they were taking legal action against the student. 

"But this is not enough, the company must also deal with responsible employees," the department said.

In a statement on Wednesday, NSFAS said it had paid WSU its total budget for the university to disburse allowances to its NSFAS funded students.

"The university does this using its own processes, systems and service providers without the involvement of NSFAS," NSFAS said. 

NSFAS added that it had since requested WSU to furnish it with a report on the payment debacle.