Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 01/02/2024 

The right to further education:

The Constitution enshrines the right to not just a basic education, but also a further education in section 29(1)(b). The State is obligated to make this right progressively available and accessible to everyone through reasonable measures.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is one of the vehicles (the reasonable measures) that the State has chosen to do this through. It is a national public entity that provides financial aid to students. Up until now, it did so for students from poor and working-class families, allowing them to finance their studies at tertiary institutions. However, Minister Nzimande has announced this will be expanded by the Comprehensive Student Funding Model, an R3.8 billion fund within NSFAS, that will go to support students in the “missing middle”.

In numbers:

South Africa has a shrinking tax base and a desperate shortage of skilled workers in almost all sectors. 

On the bright side, we also have a large youth population (classified as 18- to 34-year-olds), who make up approximately a third of the country’s entire population. This means that we have a large future generation who are ready to enter the workforce as taxpayers (for a long time) and that they are in their prime life phase for being upskilled, in exactly the areas we need them skilled in!

Despite the large size of the youth population, approximately 63,9% of 15- to 24-year-olds are unemployed. This is higher than the national unemployment rate. 

Furthermore, of the youth population, only approximately 13% are graduates.

What this tells us is that South Africa, to its own detriment, is failing to make the right to further education a reality.

Corruption allegations:

To further complicate things, Blade Nzimande has made news headlines recently for alleged corruption as the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation. Allegedly, he and the Chairman of NSFAS, Ernest Khoza, along with the South African Communist Party (SACP), received payment for offering tenders and protection for service providers (in 2022 service providers were appointed to take over making direct payments to students, resulting in numerous problems). The Democratic Alliance and ActionSA have filed criminal charges against Minister Nzimande. The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), responsible for the allegations based on leaked voice recordings, also plans to share its findings with various authorities, including the Public Protector. The State has not yet taken any action against Minister Nzimande.

NSFAS required to adhere to public administration principles:

Apart from entrenching the right to further education as a justiciable right, section 195 of the Constitution requires that all public administration (in every sphere of government, organs of state and public enterprises) must be governed by the democratic values and principles enshrined in the Constitution. This includes NSFAS as it is a public entity and is governed by the NSFAS Act, 1999 and the Public Finance Management Act, 1999. It is also subject to oversight from the Treasury. Detailed provisions within the Public Finance Management Act and the Treasury Regulations outline essential roles for accounting authorities in public entities. These encompass directives related to budgets, annual reports, internal controls, strategic planning, cash management, investment policy, and the establishment of audit committees.

Two of the expressly mentioned constitutional principles that must govern public administration are the “efficient, economic and effective use of resources must be promoted”; and that the “public administration must be accountable”. The Public Finance Management Act requires that NSFAS’ accounting authorities “prevent irregular expenditure, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, losses resulting from criminal conduct”.

This means that if there are service providers who are not an “efficient, economic and effective use of resources”, or “wasteful expenditure”, those contracts need to be terminated. In addition, students who have secured funding through NSFAS should receive that money in a timely and efficient manner without unnecessary costs. 

This also means that the entire NSFAS (and its accounting authorities) must be accountable to the public on how they spend our taxpayer money to the benefit of this country’s future (our youth) and what steps they have taken to prevent losses from “criminal conduct”. If the corruption allegations prove true, then the State should be the first to uphold the Constitution and take action. 

We cannot see more futures dashed by corruption.