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‘Students struggling to make ends meet’

Dr Stephen Devereux, from the Centre of Excellence in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape, says more than 30% of students are food insecure compared with 26% of the population.

FILE: Prospective students at Wits University on 9 January 2018. Picture: EWN

CAPE TOWN - South Africa's hidden student food hunger crisis needs urgent attention.

That's according to Dr Stephen Devereux, from the Centre of Excellence in Food Security at the University of the Western Cape.

Devereux who conducted a study on the issue of found hunger levels among students are higher than in the general population.

He says that more than 30% of students are food insecure compared with 26% of the population.

“It’s a myth that students represent the elite and therefore cannot possibly be getting hungry. Students are not earning, they’re at home in a sense. They have borrowed vast amounts of money from banks or NSFAS [for fees] and are struggling to make ends meet.”

The problem is prevalent among black and coloured students.

Devereux believes the food hunger crisis at universities is being fuelled by delays in the distribution of funds by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

NSFAS PROBLEMS

Last week, Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor announced the appointment of Dr Randall Carolissen as the administrator for the embattled NSFAS.

He's been appointed to NSFAS for a period of one year to take over the governance, management and administration of the entity.

The scheme is facing several problems as it struggles to pay students on time.

A higher education and training portfolio committee’s analysis of upfront payment to universities and vocational colleges shows how delays in funding are still occurring.

Last week's meeting of Members of Parliament, NSFAS and tertiary education officials follows the recent resignation of the scheme’s chairperson Sizwe Nxasana who was appointed to help turn around the organisation three years ago.

Committee chairperson Connie September said funding challenges were making life difficult, particularly for students living with disabilities.

The main challenges raised by the committee are also related to the scheme’s IT system.

“Funding for students living with disabilities has to be fast-tracked who are most of the time - and our oversight does echo this - being forgotten. And that these students are not able to study without assistive devices and cannot be denied the right to fair chances of success.”

NSFAS said the appointment of its administrator would place it in a better position going into the 2019 academic year.

Carolissen is currently the group executive of revenue planning, analysis and reporting at the South African Revenue Service.

He is also the chair of the council of Wits University.

Additional reporting by Babalo Ndenze.

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)

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