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Student funding programme could change SA’s future

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The student protests that rocked the country last year had at their heart the lack of government funding for tertiary education. Economists, sociologists, politicians, and almost every other person in the country had – and voiced – an opinion, while the students repeatedly bemoaned the lack of dialogue offered by the powers that be.

Student funding programmesTensions have calmed somewhat this year, and a proposed funding scheme has been announced. The Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme devised by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s funding task team is the government’s answer to subsidised tertiary education.

After much deliberation, the team proposed a model where the programme will raise money from a number of sources, including government‚ the private sector‚ non-profit organisations‚ the skills levy‚ financial institutions‚ donors‚ retirement funds and social impact bonds. It will be used to fund students from households with annual income between R122 000 and R600 000 — the so-called “missing middle”.

Missing-middle students are those that do not qualify for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) assistance but also cannot afford to pay their full University fees. By identifying this demographic, the programme ensures that youth from both the lower and lower-middle income groups have an opportunity to gain a degree.

The programme will be piloted among six universities, allowing for 2000 students to be subsidised. Tshwane University of Technology, Orbit TVET College in Rustenburg, the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria, Wits University, the University of Venda, and Walter Sisulu University will be the testing grounds, with the aim of the Ikusasa programme taking over from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

The funding has been surprisingly well thought out. There is no blanket coverage, but rather looks at areas of study as well as the income and needs of students. The study areas‚ identified as critical to the country’s future by the Human Resources Development Council‚ are actuarial science, professional artisan studies, chartered accountancy, engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals, prosthetics, and scarce humanities degrees.

Described as “a hybrid funding model structured in the form of a grant/loan/family contribution”, the programme will offer fully subsidised funding for students who come from very poor backgrounds. Students from middle-income families will receive funding that is split between grant‚ loan and family contribution based on Ikusasa’s financial means test results‚ with a greater portion of their studies falling in the grant section during their first and second year of study.

The “full” portion of the fully subsidised funding includes money for accommodation‚ meals‚ books‚ equipment and a stipend‚ as well as academic‚ social and psychological support.

“It takes more than the provision of financial support to make financially disadvantaged students successful in their studies. There is a need to provide individual and family security as well as both professional and social skills if students are to truly thrive,” Ikusasa said in a statement.

The first 2000 students going through the programme will provide a good sample to establish whether its structures will meet the needs of students. If successful, South Africa has opened a new door to thousands of people who will be able to leave poverty behind and positively impact on the country’s economy. If the government could fix the poor quality of primary and high school education so that this programme could be offered to more students, South Africa’s future would look a lot brighter.

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Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

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