Watchdog still awaiting NSFAS complaint on ‘price gouging’

The Competition Commission has still not received a complaint from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) on possible collusion and price gouging by private student accommodation providers.

NSFAS has been directed by parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation to lodge a complaint with the commission to investigate possible collusion by private student accommodation providers in the higher education sector.

NSFAS has for this year announced a cap of R45 000 on accommodation allowance, which affected thousands of students who could not find suitable and safe accommodation within the price cap.

Slumezi Skosana, spokesperson for NSFAS, told Sunday World a month ago that 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.

The commission’s spokesperson, Siyabulela Makunga, confirmed to Sunday World on Tuesday that the commission has not received a complaint from NSFAS on price collusion and gouging by accommodation providers in the higher education sector.

Skosana has not responded to questions from Sunday World on its planned submission.

Student accommodation costs were at the centre of protests in various universities at the start of the academic year in February.

Wits University, University of Pretoria, University of Cape Town, and Stellenbosch University are some of the institutions which had complained against the cap which they argued is lower than the rates charged by on-campus, university owned and most off-campus residences.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande has since established a committee comprising his department’s representatives, Universities South Africa and vice-chancellors from all affected institutions to look into solutions to help students affected by the R45 000 NSFAS cap.

Subsequent to Nzimande establishing the committee, NSFAS announced in March after a meeting with the South African Union of Students that it has agreed that it will identify alternative accommodation to be provided within the stipulated cap of R45 000.

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

So far, Makunga said, the commission has only received a complaint of alleged excessive pricing against a Braamfontein-based student accommodation provider lodged early in March.

Makunga added that the complaint was being screened accordingly and based on the evidence presented, the commission will make a determination whether or not to refer the matter to the Competition Tribunal for prosecution.

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

“The Competition Act provides for that only if we have a 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.

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