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Bursary scheme fails as students go homeless

2018-05-01 23:37

Luntu Fihlani* has been homeless on campus for the past three months because government has not paid his tuition and accommodation fees.

He’s been lucky – his friends have taken him in and they share a two-bedroom university flat.

However, he could soon find himself on the streets as the University of Fort Hare (UFH) has, over the past few weeks, been issuing eviction notices for “squatters” – students illegally occupying student residences – at the university’s residence in East London.

Fihlani sleeps on the floor because the Funza Lushaka bursary programme, funded by the department of basic education, has not made his tuition and residence funds available.

It has, however, paid for his studies for the past three years.

He is in the fourth year of his teaching degree.

“If I’m kicked out of this residence, I don’t know where else I will go. My home is in Cradock and I do not have parents to pay for my rent in East London,” Fihlani said.

His parents died in 2013 and he is looked after by his aunt Nosisa and her husband Xola, who have three children of their own. One of them is studying at a college and the others are in matric and Grade 11.

“I really appreciate what my friends are doing for me. I owe them big time,” Fihlani said.

Department of basic education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said a Funza Lushaka selection committee meeting was held at UFH on March 22 and 23, and considered applications from bursary holders.

“Subsequently, the department forwarded the list of approved Funza Lushaka bursary holders for UFH to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme [Nsfas] on April 5.”

Nsfas is the appointed financial administrator of the Funza Lushaka bursary programme. It pays the universities, which then disburse the bursary benefits to beneficiaries. Funza Lushaka’s bursary allocation for 2018/19 is R1.2 billion.

“The department transferred R109 million on January 29 to Nsfas to assist Funza Lushaka bursary holders during the January to March period at all universities,” Mhlanga said, adding that R58 million had been allocated for UFH students.

At least R55.6 million is for 600 returning students and only a small number of first-time bursary holders could be accommodated at UFH this year.

Nsfas spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo confirmed that a list of UFH students was received early this month and said this could have delayed the allocation of funds to students.

“We encourage all funders to complete the selection process as soon as possible to ensure that Nsfas is given adequate time to process payments to the deserving students. Without the approved list, Nsfas’ hands are tied and [we are] unable to do anything,” said Mamabolo.

*Not his real name

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November 18 2018