The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is exploring possible ways to support students who fall outside of the eligibility criteria for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). These plans could have a major impact on the future of the country’s workforce.
NSFAS provides comprehensive bursaries to students to allow them to gain an undergraduate qualification. To be eligible for the NSFAS bursary, students must come from a household income of less than R350,000 per annum.
Many students come from households where their combined income exceeded the threshold set by NSFAS and don’t qualify for government-funded support. However, some of these students come from homes that cannot afford to absorb the costs of tertiary education.
These students are known as the missing middle.
DHET Minister Blade Nzimande said a special task team is currently developing a Comprehensive Student Financial Aid Model to assist students who fall outside the coverage of NSFAS.
Nzimande said a comprehensive financial aid model should incorporate loan funding options for students in the missing middle.
One organisation assisting missing middle students welcomed the announcements made by Minister Nzimande regarding the missing middle.
The Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP) provides comprehensive funding for missing middle students at participating universities enrolled in scarce skills programmes.
Careers Portal spoke to ISFAP Regional Programme Manager Sifanele Biyela to get a sense of the importance of funding missing middle students.
Biyela says they welcome any platform that aims to assist missing middle students. ISFAP was established to address the challenges facing the missing middle.
In 2017 when the task team came together and said "We have an issue, missing middle students feel left out, there's a gap there, we need as much support in there". That's how ISFAP was born, so if an opportunity arises for that objective to then be more widespread, it's okay.
They add that there is a need for support so that students who don't qualify for full bursaries have the option to take out the loan.
It's addressing a need and a gap that is there, like I said, there's still a lot more that is needed in terms of support than there is available. It's definitely a step in the right direction, whether government funding comes on board and plans to assist or just by allowing students to take out loans, you know.
ISFAP applications are open for the 2024 academic year. Students who meet the eligibility criteria are encouraged to apply for funding.
Students who are approved for ISFAP funding receive comprehensive bursaries that cover all tuition costs as well as accommodation costs, and travel costs. Students will also receive a stipend and money for books and meals.