By: Taryn Willows

Bookstores stand empty as many NSFAS students use their funding elsewhere

STUDENTS might well be using their R5 000 National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) book allowance to buy other things, but NSFAS says this is not its responsibility.

The South African Book Sellers’ Association (Saba) claims that since NSFAS started putting funds directly into students’ accounts, many have stopped using the money to buy textbooks. The claim was made in an article published by Times Live on Thursday, March 7.

NSFAS national spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo responded by tweeting on Monday: “@myNSFAS isn’t not [sic] responsible for the sustainability [of] bookstores. It is responsible for implementation of government student funding policy and ensuring easy access.

“[The] private sector also provides bursaries and give cash allowance [sic], why should it be different with #nsfas students?”

A staff member from Van Schaik bookstore in Braamfontein, who declined to be named, claimed that it is not as easy to control how students use their NSFAS funding money with the new system, that “it was easier to control when vouchers were used.”

Another Van Schaik staff member, who also declined to be named, said that he was concerned that this new system will have an impact on whether students pass or fail, saying that students would rather use their money to buy clothes, new hairstyles and alcohol than for textbooks. He said students would previously sell book and food vouchers, and now can more easily use the lump sum for what they want as NSFAS is not able to regulate how students use the money.

The NSFAS 2019 pocket guide says students receiving support for the first time will be given R5 000 for books, R13 500 for meals and R9 300 for transport. Returning students will get the same allowances as in 2018, with a funding cap of R83 600. Students had previously received the book allowance in voucher form, but for 2019 it has been paid as a lump sum directly into students’ accounts. Mamabolo said the change had been made because NSFAS “wants students to grow to be responsible citizens and take charge of their economic needs”.

Third-year Wits student Beatrice Thando Masani, who is funded by NSFAS, said she purchased books with her money from other students or over the Internet, for the cheapest deals. She said, however, that if her lecturer was “kind enough to provide electronic copies” she would rather use those.

Mamabolo tweeted that “research indicates that [out of the] approximately R33bn spent by SA (not NSFAS) students, only 15% is spent on textbooks”.

He continued to tweet that “the #NSFAS allowance funding is to assist eligible students with funding for costs related to their studies, such as books, accommodation, food and travel where applicable.”

Masani told Wits Vuvuzela, however, that she knew “a few people” who did not use the funding to buy textbooks. “[They] use the money to buy clothing, stationery and groceries for themselves and for home,” she said.

This was because “most students are disadvantaged and therefore see a greater need for the money, and they source textbooks from online libraries”.

FEATURED IMAGE: A bookstore in Johannesburg sells many of the textbooks used by Wits university students.

Photo: Taryn Willows

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