Acting public protector to visit universities as student protests continue

15 March 2021 - 17:01 By belinda pheto
Acting public protector Kholeka Gcaleka will visit tertiary institutions over the next few weeks to meet different stakeholders over issues of access to tertiary education. File photo.
Acting public protector Kholeka Gcaleka will visit tertiary institutions over the next few weeks to meet different stakeholders over issues of access to tertiary education. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / Sunday Times

Acting public protector advocate Kholeka Gcaleka is entering the fray regarding the financial challenges of tertiary students.

The office of the public protector said Gcaleka would visit six tertiary institutions in the next five weeks to meet managers, student representative councils (SRCs) and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) representatives, among other interested parties, on issues relating to access to tertiary education.

Gcaleka's first stop will be the University of Venda in Thohoyandou on Tuesday.

According to the office of the public protector, it received eight complaints concerning the NSFAS in 2020, relating to inadequate allowances for study material, non-payment of living allowances and failure to pay for tuition.

“There is an ongoing investigation stemming from allegations that the NSFAS incurred irregular expenditure amounting to R7bn; failed to help students in that it could not raise and recover loans, could not disburse correct amounts of money, and delayed disbursements to students; its senior managers lacked formal qualifications, engaged in unscrupulous procurement and lacked internal audit independence, among other things,” reads the statement from the public protector's office.

The office said it held several meetings with the NSFAS in 2020 to address challenges faced by students, including failure or undue delay in settling outstanding fees and paying the monthly allowances, living allowances and study material allowances. The office of the public protector said the challenges remain.

In the coming weeks, Gcaleka is set to visit:

  • the Tshwane University of Technology campus in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga;
  • the Orbit TVET College in Rustenburg, in the North West;
  • the University of the Free State in Mangaung;
  • King Sabata Dalindyebo TVET College in Mthatha, in the Eastern Cape; and
  • Unisa in Pretoria.

“The socio-economic backgrounds of many students has a direct bearing on their ability to access tertiary education. Two of the challenges as a country in this regard are the basic social justice issues of inequality and exclusion,” Gcaleka said in a statement.

“We are fully aware of the plight of poor students and the struggles they face at tertiary institutions across the country. In response, we intend to intervene to help alleviate the suffering of current and prospective students.”

Gcaleka said there was a need to engage meaningfully with key stakeholders to collectively address student challenges and emerge with lasting solutions. 

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