NSFAS’ cash-for-textbooks allowance risks job losses & students’ academic performance

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The academic book industry is flailing after the introduction of a new policy that gives students cash, not vouchers.
Image: 123RF/Christos Georghiou

The cash-for-textbooks allowance introduced by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in January has cost the book industry more than half a billion rand, putting hundreds of jobs at risk.

This is according to data collated by the Alliance for Academic Success, which represents the academic book supply industry, including the SA Booksellers Association and the Publishers Association of SA.

“Since NSFAS moved from a voucher to a cash system in January, sales at academic booksellers have dropped by R540m, compared with the previous year, the group said.

Previously, the R5,000 book allowance was ring-fenced and could only be spent on learning materials.

Now, the allowances are being paid directly to students’ bank accounts as cash, “which many students are not spending on academic materials as intended”.

As a result, sales have dropped by 40% across the academic bookselling industry and by nearly 91% at some stores, said the alliance.

It estimates that between 40 and 70 stores are at risk of closure, with hundreds of jobs on the line.

“This simply cannot be allowed to happen.

“It is especially small- to medium-sized entrepreneurs that are feeling the brunt of the NSFAS shift to cash. Not only has revenue been affected, but we have no clarity on the official policy for next year. This means that we cannot order the correct quantities of books, despite last-order deadlines looming.”

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