Skills fund under fire for not spending

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cape Town - Law-makers have complained that the National Skills Fund (NSF) was rolling over billions of rands each year while many poor youth in the country remained without skills.

They said the entity should create the capacity to spend its budget accordingly and not spend it on inappropriate projects.

MPs said some community-based organisations were now dependent on other funding methods such as foreign donors.

Since coming into operation in 2010, the entity presented its first unqualified report to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training on Wednesday.

The report showed that NSF's expenditure was over R600 million and they had a net surplus of nearly R1.5 billion.

The organisation falls under the Department of Higher Education and Training.

In his presentation, NSF chief executive Mvuyisi Macikana indicated that they could not achieve a number of their targets during the 2010/11 period because the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS 3) had not been finalised.

NSDS 3 was launched by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande earlier in January.

Among its highlights, the organisation said that it supported nearly 7 000 undergraduate students through bursaries. This was primarily facilitated through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme of South Africa (NSFAS), Career Wise and partnerships with provincial governments.

Macikana said about 860 postgraduate bursaries were awarded in partnership with the National Research Foundation.

He said this programme, while it was being reviewed, had been scaled down with support focused mostly on Masters and Doctoral students to the exclusion of those doing Honours degrees.

Through the NSF's scarce skills programmes (learnership and internship), 4 400 people had benefited across the country.

The fund had planned to train 5 000 youths on life skills through Further Education and Training but this was postponed due to the delay in launching the NSDS 3.

Macikana said they had also failed to finalise the criteria and disbursement procedures by the end of March again due to the delay in launching NSDS 3.

Meanwhile, the National Skills Authority (NSA), which also briefed the education portfolio committee on Wednesday, told MPs that it needed more resources to strengthen its research function.

The advisory body, which is tasked with advising the Higher Education and Training Minister on issues of skills development, said it did not even have enough resources to investigate alleged mishandling of funds amounting to billions of rands by Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas).

NSA chief director Thabo Mashongoane and chairman Edward Majadibodu said Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande was keen to see the entity better capacitated.

The NSA has five key areas in which it planned to advise the minister on during the next five years. These include reviewing the skills development legislative framework in order to support the integration of education and training and government's national priorities.

It also sought to advise on research, development and "innovation to promote beneficiation and business enterprise development opportunities".