The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) provides NSFAS funding to students who come from poor or working-class backgrounds, and who would like to study further at a tertiary institution.
The bursary scheme goes beyond just paying for your fees. They’ll also pay for your registration, accommodation, transport and books through NSFAS allowances.
As a bursary scheme, naturally they have a qualifying criteria and the most important requirement is the income threshold which is R350 000 or less per annum. This means that everyone in the household of the applicant's combined salary should not exceed R350 000 in order to qualify for funding.
This however excludes a portion of the student population called the missing middle. The missing middle refers to those who are said to be too rich to qualify for NSFAS but too poor to be able to afford their own fees. Their income threshold would be between R350 000 and R600 000.
There have been many calls for NSFAS income threshold requirement to be increased to R350 000, instead of R600 000 as missing middle students often struggle to find ways to pay their fees.
NSFAS has however stated that there is no compromise on the household income threshold and that everyone who falls above the threshold will not be funded.
Should a student who falls under the missing middle apply for a NSFAS bursary, they would not qualify, even if they appeal to NSFAS saying that they need the bursary due to not being able to afford their fees.
When students submit NSFAS appeals, these appeals are handled by the Independent Tribunal. When speaking on such a case, the NSFAS Spokesperson, said that this case would not be considered as it exceeds the income threshold.
So what is NSFAS and the Department of Higher Education doing to help the missing middle?
The NSFAS spokesperson revealed in an interview that the department is working on a comprehensive student funding model which will focus on the students who fall under the missing middle bracket.
These students will receive support in the form of a loan funding option.
Speaking at a media briefing earlier in the year, Minister of the Department of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, said:
We have got a report now of the ministerial task team and we're just concluding consultations on that, with the aim of going back to cabinet to hopefully adopt a comprehensive student funding model on that by the end of the current financial year or not very late in the new financial year.
Nzimande stated that his department was working toward developing an alternative funding model for university and technical vocational education and training (TVET) college students.