Miss­ing mid­dle will get aid

CityPress - - Voices -

In the ar­ti­cle last week – Miss­ing mid­dle stu­dents thrown to the wolves – City Press claimed that gov­ern­ment was “do­ing an abrupt about-turn on af­ford­able tu­ition”.

Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.

We are work­ing to­wards af­ford­able fees and sus­tain­able in­sti­tu­tions.

Although it is cor­rect that the “gap grant” is be­ing phased out, in­sti­tu­tions are re­ceiv­ing ad­di­tional fund­ing to en­sure fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity and ed­u­ca­tional qual­ity.

This year gov­ern­ment im­ple­mented an ex­panded fi­nan­cial aid scheme for stu­dents from fam­i­lies with a gross an­nual in­come of less than R350 000.

This is be­ing phased in for first-time en­try stu­dents into uni­ver­si­ties over a five-year pe­riod. This is a sig­nif­i­cant gov­ern­ment com­mit­ment, mak­ing ed­u­ca­tion ac­ces­si­ble for stu­dents who qual­ify but are un­able to af­ford to go to uni­ver­sity.

When the for­mer pres­i­dent an­nounced the im­ple­men­ta­tion of “fully sub­sidised free higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing for stu­dents from poor and work­ing class fam­i­lies” last De­cem­ber, he an­nounced that a sub­stan­tial ad­di­tional in­vest­ment would be made to in­crease the gov­ern­ment sub­sidy from 0.68% of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP) last year to 1% of GDP within five years.

The rea­son for in­creas­ing these sub­si­dies is to en­sure that in­sti­tu­tions are ef­fec­tively funded and able to set af­ford­able fees in higher ed­u­ca­tion. In 2018/19 the block grant to uni­ver­si­ties in­creased by 14.6% com­pared with the 2017/18 block grant. It will in­crease again in 2019/20 by on av­er­age 19.5% on the 2018/19 al­lo­ca­tions.

Uni­ver­sity vice-chan­cel­lors and coun­cil chair­per­sons un­der­stand that it is nec­es­sary to en­sure af­ford­able uni­ver­sity fees for all and, at the same time, work to­wards sus­tain­able uni­ver­si­ties for the fu­ture.

A so­cial com­pact be­tween gov­ern­ment and uni­ver­si­ties is re­quired to en­sure this out­come.

The days of in­di­vid­ual in­sti­tu­tions de­cid­ing on fee in­creases out­side a col­lec­tive na­tional com­pact are over.

The #FeesMustFall protests of 2015 were driven in part by fee in­fla­tion over a num­ber of years and were sparked by the an­nounce­ment that one uni­ver­sity would be in­creas­ing its fees by 11% in 2016.

The higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing depart­ment has worked with in­sti­tu­tions to ar­rive at an agreed in­crease for next year’s tu­ition fee.

This year and last year the gap grant cov­ered the fee in­crease for stu­dents from fam­i­lies with an in­come of less than R600 000 a year. It was R2.5 bil­lion last year and R2.6 bil­lion this year. In­di­vid­ual stu­dents ap­plied for the grant which, if they qual­i­fied, was paid into their fee ac­counts by the gov­ern­ment.

Next year’s gap grant will be in­cor­po­rated into the over­all block grant fund­ing to uni­ver­si­ties. This will al­low uni­ver­si­ties to con­tinue to sup­port these stu­dents un­til they grad­u­ate.

First-time fee-pay­ing stu­dents will pay the ac­tual tu­ition fee charged for next year. The Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme (Ns­fas) will also pay the ac­tual tu­ition fee for stu­dents who qual­ify. In­di­vid­ual uni­ver­si­ties have plans in place to man­age any chal­lenges that arise and to ad­vise first-time en­try stu­dents who do not qual­ify for Ns­fas fund­ing on pos­si­ble op­tions for fi­nan­cial sup­port if re­quired.

The depart­ment is in dis­cus­sion with uni­ver­si­ties and fun­ders in the pri­vate sec­tor to iden­tify other forms of sup­port for stu­dents in the so called “miss­ing mid­dle”, from fam­i­lies earn­ing within the R350 000 to R600 000 gross in­come bracket.

In­di­vid­ual uni­ver­si­ties, us­ing the ad­di­tional funds they have at their dis­posal from hav­ing the gap grant in­cor­po­rated into their block grants, are also free to of­fer dis­counts to stu­dents within these in­come brack­ets.

Grow­ing in­vest­ment recog­nises the strate­gic im­por­tance of higher ed­u­ca­tion to the de­vel­op­ment of South Africa. It will en­able stu­dents to ac­cess and suc­ceed in higher ed­u­ca­tion, to en­sure the sus­tain­abil­ity and suc­cess of the uni­ver­sity sys­tem, as well as to de­velop the mid- to high-level hu­man skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties needed to drive eco­nomic growth.

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