Will the Missing Middle Ever Get the Support They Need?

Student debt is only one of the issues we need fixing in the higher education system. The Department of Higher Education is said to be working on it, will we ever see any solutions being presented?


Funding for missing middle students is a major issue in the country when it comes to higher education. The Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, is now urging University Chancellors to help find a solution.

Missing middle students refers to those students who are "too rich" to qualify for NSFAS but can also not afford to pay their fees. Their household incomes are usually between R350 000 and R600 000 per year.

During the launch of the Chancellors’ Forum of all South African Public Universities, Nzimande said:

Although the debt profile of students is something that needs to be better understood, it is presumed that much of the debt is carried by missing middle students, both current and past students

Those who bear the title "chancellor" have power attached to it and represent Universities. Based on this, the Minister therefore wants them to use their title to spread the message of the need for missing middle students.

In 2016, 20% of undergraduate students fell under the missing middle category and this number would definitely have increased over the years. In a country with student debt issues and yearly protests for free education, this is therefore a national crisis.

Greater in-depth analysis and data collection is necessary to understand better the issues facing students who fall outside NSFAS eligibility and are self-paying. It is also difficult to know how many students are not accessing public higher education at all, because of financial difficulty.

The Minister outlined the following initiatives put in place by government to support this category of students:

  • In 2016, there was a 0% increase on university tuition fees. The funding to cover this came primarily from the State
  • In 2017 and 2018, tuition fees increased by a maximum of 8% across the system, in accordance with an agreed compact across the system
  • In 2019-2021, tuition and accommodation fees were agreed to in terms of a CPI-linked compact
  • The department is working on a fee regulation policy framework, to be introduced for the period 2022-2024 which works to make fees be affordable
  • In 2019, Nzimande approved funding for transfer to NSFAS to address the historic debt of NSFAS qualifying students registered in 2018, following a due diligence process announced at the time of the announcement of the new bursary scheme. This process is being managed by NSFAS with the support of universities

The department is now looking into student funding in the country with Nzimande submitting a document with possible solutions to not only missing middle funding but postgrad funding as well.

The Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme is one of the few bursaries available to missing middle students. Applications for the ISFAP bursary will soon open in July.

RELATED: ISFAP Bursary Applications Will Open in July

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