ANC MP Tebogo Letsie painted an alarming picture of rampant corruption in the higher education sector, accusing universities of being major role players in committing crime.
Letsie – a member of the national assembly’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation – said this when he chaired the committee’s meeting this week to discuss the state of readiness of the sector for the 2024 academic year.
He said the rot in the sector runs deep and wide, from price collusion in student accommodation to ghost students registered by institutions so that they can claim money from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
He called on the department of higher education, science and innovation to consider an investigation at universities to determine the extent of the rot.
The meeting was attended by Universities South Africa (USAf), which represents all 26 public universities; the South African Public Colleges Organisation, representing technical and vocational education and training colleges; the NSFAS; and the department. Students were represented by the South African Union of Students dealing with university students and the South African TVET Students Association.
Letsie said some universities were claiming funding for students who were not enrolled at their institutions.
He said those who fell prey to such corruption were students who applied for enrolment at the universities and then decide not to further their studies.
“Like many universities have done before … siphoning millions from NSFAS,” he said.
He said if the CEO of USAf Dr Phethiwe Matutu was to randomly choose five universities and request its vice-chancellors and registrars to produce the data they submitted to NSFAS for registration, and then asked NSFAS to produce the payments it made to universities, she would be shocked.
“I said to the department [of higher education, science and innovation] as early as last year that it must consider appointing a company that deals with such investigations because with our soft-glove hands we will not get to the bottom of what is happening,” he said.
He said all stakeholders in the higher education sector had a responsibility to make sure that NSFAS did not collapse.
“If NSFAS collapses, universities will collapse. It is only criminal networks who operate inside universities that have made billions stealing from student accommodation that will survive,” he said.
Letsie said when the Competition Commission is done with its investigation on price collusion in student accommodation, those implicated must face criminal charges.
“Some people must go to jail,” he said.
He said USAf, whose board comprises all public university vice-chancellors, had an opportunity to be part of solution in dealing with the high cost of student accommodation by doing an exercise to explain how they came to the amounts they charge for it.
“Last year we said, USAf, don’t throw your toys around like a spoilt child.
“Go and quantify … so that we can see that the amount you are claiming, you actually deserve it,” he said.
“You guys said you are not going to do it; NSFAS must do it.
“You (USAf) not agreeing to participate … we might as well suspect that you are in collusion with these universities,” he said.