Wednesday, 26 August 2015

How NSFAS Can Help ‘Missing Middle’ Students In South Africa

The value of higher education cannot be underplayed as it is essential not only for personal development, but also for overall economic growth in countries worldwide. Hence, every government make sure that it takes all the necessary steps to improve the state of higher education and make it accessible for everyone, whether rich or underprivileged.

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Perhaps, it is for this reason the Higher Education Department in South Africa is currently searching for helpful ways that will enable it to offer funding to learners who are from families with too much family income to become eligible for the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), but not adequate enough to financially support tertiary education. 

Funding ‘missing middle’ students

Dr. Blade Nzimande, Minister for Higher Education and Training in South Africa, recently spoke about the issue while speaking at a media meeting in Parliament to announce the appointment of Sizwe Nxasana, outgoing FirstRand CE, as the chairman of the scheme. He said that the problem could result in unwanted and corrupt practices at the financing sphere. The Higher Education Minister claimed that many students who are unable to meet the funding criteria of the scheme often look for fraudulent means to access it due to their desperation. 
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The high demand for education is currently overtaking the allocated cash meant for the education funding scheme, even though the government is providing more finance to it in the last 5 years. The scheme receives an adequate portion of the entire budget of the department, which is at around R39 billion for 2014-2015. From this amount, the state funding vehicle received about R9.5 billion and it is predicted that the amount will increase to R46.3 billion in 2017-2018. But the department is currently guessing that this evident funding gap in higher education, especially at university level, through the 2016 medium-term expenditure framework may be around R35 billion. 

Coping with challenges

However, the distribution of loans for the scheme’s has become the central reason for aggressive student protests in various college campuses across the nation in the past few years as a result of the lack of funding. According to Dr. Nzimande, the students who are considered the so-called “missing middle” are children whose family income is more than the benchmark of the scheme, presently set at R122,000 per year. These students realised they were trapped in a rather desperate situation. 

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He said “I have asked (the scheme) to look into this issue. I am told the report was submitted on Monday. It’s ... your ordinary civil servant. Your teacher, your nurse, your police (officer) who are earning slightly more than (R122,000).” More details about the report regarding how the “missing middle” students may receive funding will become available once further discussions are conducted with different government stakeholders.

Need for identifying corruption

The South African Higher Education Minister recently said that the department was unable to identify how widely corruption had spread across the scheme, “but we have a lot of anecdotal evidence.”
Dr. Nzimande added “We need to tap into that.... We hope that Mr Nxasana’s background is even more of an advantage, particularly to reach out to business to make additional contributions.”
What do you think? Add to the discussion by commenting here. We would love to hear from you. 

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