NSFAS to lodge complaint over student housing price fixing

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) on Friday told Sunday World that it is preparing to lodge a complaint with the Competition Commission on the possible collusion of private student accommodation providers.

The rising costs of student accommodation following the scheme’s announcement of a R45 000 annual cap have raised concerns over price fixing and gouging by accredited private companies that provide off-campus student accommodation in the country.

The scheme has been directed by parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation  to engage the commission to investigate possible private collusion and gouging by private student accommodation providers after the scheme announced a cap of R45 000 for university student accommodation.

Students from Wits University, University of Pretoria, University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University have complained against the cap, which is much lower than the rates charged by on-campus, university-owned and most off-campus residences.

NSFAS spokesperson Slumezi Skosana said the scheme had prepared its submission to the Competition Commission with the guidance of chairperson Ernest Khosa.

He said NSFAS had sent a letter on February 27 requesting a meeting with the scheme’s commissioner Dr Doris Tshepe.

“We are awaiting our slot to present our submission to Dr Tshepe,” said Skosana.

Last week, the Competition Commission confirmed to Sunday World that it had received a complaint of alleged excessive pricing against a Braamfontein-based student accommodation provider.

The commission’s spokesperson, Siyabulela Makunga, said  the complaint was being screened accordingly, and based on the evidence presented, the commission would make a determination whether or not to refer the matter to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution.

“If found guilty by the Tribunal, the respondent may be liable to pay an administrative penalty of up to 10% of its total revenue, for the period of the contravention of the Competition Act,” he said.

Makunga confirmed this week that no further complaints had so far been lodged relating to student accommodation providers.

Asked whether the Competition Act No 89 of 1998 did not provide for a proactive approach on the part of the commission to initiate own processes given the contentiousness of the issue of R45 000 accommodation caps, Makunga said it did.

“The Competition Act provides for that only if we have  tangible evidence to do so. The commission is currently processing one complaint it received on this matter and we hope to diligently and expeditiously investigate the matter before deciding whether or not to refer it to the competition tribunal for prosecution,” he said.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Dr Blade Nzimande met with universities’ leadership through Universities South Africa (USAf) last week. The agreement was reached that a committee would be established comprising   the department, USAf and vice-chancellors from affected institutions, which include Wits, University of Pretoria, University of Johannesburg and University of Stellenbosch to find solutions for all those students affected by the R45 000 cap.

On Thursday NSFAS announced after a meeting with the South African Union of Students that it had agreed that it would identify alternative accommodation to be provided within the stipulated cap of R45 000.

Skosana said in a statement that priority would be given to institutions affected by the cap, which include Wits University, University of Pretoria, Stellenbosch University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Rhodes University and Sol Plaatje University.

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