Government deaf to the plight of 'missing middle' students

2020-02-04 14:52
Students from various universities and TVET colleges marched to the NSFAS offices in Cape Town in 2019. (Kamva Somdyala, News24, file)

Students from various universities and TVET colleges marched to the NSFAS offices in Cape Town in 2019. (Kamva Somdyala, News24, file)

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The government through the Department of Higher Education and Training appears to be deaf to the plight of "missing middle" students.

This constituency is made up of students who are unfunded by the National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) because they come from households with a combined annual income of between R350 000 to R600 000 which exceeds the NSFAS financial eligibility criteria, but are still unable to afford the high cost of tertiary education in South Africa.

It is alarming how the government seems short of ways to assist this group of students in a meaningful way.

The "DHET grant" which was introduced in 2017 to cover the fee increases for missing middle students is no longer available for new students.

However, the said grant could be labeled ineffective,because it fails to deal with the core issue: increases being subsidised doesn't resolve the fact that tertiary education is un-affordable for this group of students to begin with.

Daily, social media is flooded with requests for funding by non-NSFAS students on the brink of financial exclusion at tertiary institutions, because they're unable to raise the money needed to cover historical debt so that they can continue with their studies.

Considering that many parents of missing middle students are employed in the public service, maybe the government in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders should establish a model that will make it possible for public servants to make partial withdrawals from their pension savings (GEPF) for the purpose of funding the tertiary education of their children.

Compared to seeking study loans which lead to debt and indebtedness, this appears to be the better option.

Also, to some extent, implementing this (allowing pension savings to be partially withdrawn) would be effective at curbing the issue of public servants who resign, or retire prematurely because they seek financial relief.

Sivuyisiwe Hela

BA Honours, Political Studies

East London

Read more on:    nsfas  |  education  |  student loan  |  debt

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