DA wants UFH forensic report tabled before Parliament

SEPTEMBER 1, 2015

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is expected on Tuesday to request that the forensic report conducted into affairs at the University of Fort Hare be tabled before the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education "so that it can be fully scrutinised and debated".

"This report has revealed that the institution – which is now financially bankrupt - has illegally been using funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to pay staff salaries.

"Higher education provides our young people with opportunities for future employment and therefore a better life. The funding provided by NSFAS is meant for students from poor backgrounds and must be allocated to their education, not to pay staff salaries," DA MP, Yusuf Cassim, said in a statement.

He said that the challenges at this University are significant:

• The University has illegally used NSFAS money to pay staff salaries;
• The University is technically bankrupt and has a deficit of over R100 million;
• A forensic report by private company FastTrac, found that the current financial situation is now so serious that the University could run out of money by next month;
• The Council itself has failed in its governance responsibility to identify and act to reverse the dire financial situation, which would have been apparent in the 2013 financial statements;
• The Council approved tuition fee increases of 10% and 15% last year, which has decreased the amount available for allowances for food and textbooks; and
• The University is using money from fee waivers meant for academically performing students to cover their NSFAS deficit on meals.

"In another example of mismanagement, the University has recently had a R400 million contract for student accommodation set aside by the High Court as a result of an irregular tender process. One of the central issues being that the project was meant to be financed by the bidder.

"The successful bidder, whose appointment has now been set aside, secured agreement from the University to finance the project. This allowed the bidder to undercut the other bidders and would have placed the University under further financial strain, had the project gone ahead. Clearly the University management is making no effort to remedy the dire financial situation," Cassim said.

"The DA has raised these issues with the University management before and in April, handed over a memorandum to the University on behalf of NSFAS students who are without meal allowances."

He said that the DASO-led Student Representative Council (SRC) allocated R500 000 of its budget to help feed those students, who lacked the funding to do so.

"However, the University has still not allocated the SRC a budget and the South African Students Congress and the Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania members on the SRC have been blocking it, leaving students hungry.

"The DA wrote to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, in April on the many issues at the University. Despite the dire situation the Minister has not yet bothered to respond. There seems to be very little will, from anyone beside the DA, to remedy the problems at the University," Cassim said.

"Dr Tom’s admission that the student funds were redirected means that NSFAS students at the University have been suffering throughout the year - receiving a measly R500 a month meal allowance which is not nearly enough to feed themselves. Furthermore, students have not had access to sufficient textbook allowances which severely impacts their ability to prepare for and pass their exams. Students are also being overcharged for residences which have become increasingly squalid and neglected.

"The seriousness of the continued negative financial situation at the University and the inability of the University management and Council to act effectively to reverse the situation necessitates that urgent action is taken in the coming weeks.

"Ultimately it is the students who will suffer from this lack of prudent financial management. With exam season round the corner, the Portfolio Committee should treat this forensic report with the seriousness it deserves."