While the loan scheme being introduced this year by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme for missing middle students was a step in the right direction, there were thousands of students that needed help.
This was the message from CEO of Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP), Morné du Toit, during a webinar on Wednesday on the topic.
Du Toit said: “We have to commend the initial steps that the government has taken in the form of availing R3.8 billion to be accessed by missing middle students in the form of loans.
However, there is much more to be done as this accounts for roughly half of all missing middle students, with the remainder of them still in need.”
Students who do not qualify for NSFAS funding as they have an household income of between R350 000 – R600 000 have been dubbed the missing middle as they are unable to self-fund university studies but also do not qualify for government assistance.
This year, NSFAS has introduced the loan scheme for such students.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has said the first phase of the funding model will be implemented in 2024 with a budget of R3.8bn, while the second phase is expected to be implemented in 2025 with an estimated budget of R4.2bn.
“The second phase will be available for undergraduate and postgraduate students at public universities and colleges across South Africa.”
Dr Phethiwe Matutu, CEO for Universities South Africa (USAf) said that there was a large number of “missing middle” students with outstanding debt.
“Student debt in this group amounted to almost R20bn this financial year.”
Matutu added that USAF were assisting as best they can.
“We have assisted in paying almost R600 million towards student debt for the missing middle students. We have seen at least 13 000 students being able to graduate (as a result).”
Vincent Motholo, UCT chief financial officer, said that they had also put in measures to assist the missing middle students.
“To help students we introduced gap funding in 2023 where we allocated almost R100 million to help students with outstanding debt. We also engage (with) financial institutions to negotiate student loans, we do understand that student loans are expensive so we do our best to negotiate favourable terms.”
Motholo added that through their partnership with the private sector they have been able to clear almost R5m in student debt.
“We try our best to assist students with clearing debt and we must remember, it’s not just tuition fees that we are assisting to pay, we are also assisting with paying for accommodation.”
Ncedisa Mpande, acting CEO of merSETA, said when the Seta had surplus funds, they were able to assist with R140m to clear student debt.
Du Toit, said ISFAP offers students “wrap-around support” so they receive not only financial support, but also psycho-social support.
“These include interventions like mental health support, tutoring, life skills, and mentorship.”