Students at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges say theyâ€™re facing an uphill battle with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) over transport allowances.
For South Africaâ€™s poorest students, covering your fees is just the first hurdle. Day-to-day expenses, like paying for transport to and from campus could also make or break your prospects of graduating.
In January, students shut down 15 TVET colleges over unresolved issues including inadequate NSFAS funding and late payments for accommodation and transport. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has admitted to administrative problems at TVET colleges over the years; still the problem hasnâ€™t gone away. In May, Northlink College in the Western Cape shut its doors after students protested over unpaid transport allowances. Last year, students from Sedibeng College in Vanderbijlpark protested over the same issue.
*Fefekazi Mjanxa, a final year student in education and development at Buffalo City College in East London told The Daily Vox transport costs are a serious issue for many students on NSFAS.
â€œSome of us are struggling to go to school because we donâ€™t have money for transport. We miss practicals and tests because money for travelling becomes a problem and we get into trouble for something we cannot control,â€ she said.
Mjanxa said that there is lack of communication between NSFAS and the college. â€œYou go to the finance offices at school and they tell you that the reason you didnâ€™t receive your transport allowance is because you donâ€™t qualify, but when you call NSFAS, they tell you that your transport allowance has been sent to the school,â€ she said.
Buffalo City College did not respond to a request for comment.
Students at Port Elizabeth College (PE College) say theyâ€™ve experienced similar issues. PE College student *Jonathan Hlekani told the Daily Vox he was meant to receive R5 000 for transport this year, but had still not received anything.
â€œSome students only receive R100 for transport a month. You canâ€™t even use that to transport yourself for a week to school,â€ he said.
Hlekani said students had approached the college about the matter but have not received any feedback.
PE College spokesperson Thomas Rademeyer told The Daily Vox the college is not responsible for students not receiving their NSFAS transport allowance. â€œWe have a database application and we submit it on their behalf, or we assist them with the online application. Once they’ve registered with NSFAS, it then communicates directly with the students and not with us,â€ he said.
Rademeyer said travel allowances are distributed through sBux, the NSFAS payment system which pays student allowances in the form of vouchers sent to studentsâ€™ cellphones. â€œWe donâ€™t touch that money at all, it doesnâ€™t come to us in any way, it goes straight to the student,â€ he said.
NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo told The Daily Vox NSFAS have not received any complaints from students who did not receive transport allowance. He said R2.4 billion was allocated towards TVET colleges in 2017 and that R263.2 million of this went to the Eastern Cape.
According to the department of higher education and training, 205 000 university students and 200 000 TVET students were to receive NSFAS funding in 2017.
But many TVET still students feel their issues, including the question of transport allowances, havenâ€™t been addressed, either by government or by the #FeesMustFall movement.
BCC student *Sinoxolo Mfixi believes government should be prioritising college students, not university students, when it comes to NSFAS budget allocations.
â€œYou will think that, because we are students studying at cheaper colleges than universities, we are not affected by things like money and funding, but we are. Just because I pay R10 000 and a student from university pays R50 000 a year, doesnâ€™t mean I can afford it. That is too much for me and I think thatâ€™s what people fail to understand,â€ she said.
*Names have been changed
Featured image by Aaisha Dadi Patel