Government gap-funding grant for the missing middle explained

Despite the #FeesMustFall protests that took place at the end of 2016, in which students from universities around the country took to the streets demanding free, decolonised education, most universities have opted to increase their university fees up to 8%. This is in line with the cap recommended by Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande.

However, government – working through the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) – has committed to a gap funding grant on behalf of the “missing middle” for 2017. This grant aims to subsidise the fee adjustment. The Daily Vox team unpacks what exactly this grant is all about.

First of all, what is the “missing middle”?
This refers to students who do not qualify for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and whose household income is less than R600, 000 per year.

The applicant and their direct family must have a combined gross family income of no more than R600,000. The government has made a commitment to pay only the fee increase for those students who make up the the missing middle, as well as NSFAS students.

What exactly does the grant entail?
The gap funding grant is non-repayable funding from government, which will subsidise this year’s fee increases. In an email to staff, students and alumni the University of Cape Town promised to, additionally, subsidise the further 2% increase on accommodation fees, bringing the total accommodation grant to 10%.

The grant will cover the difference between the 2016 and 2017 fee. For instance, if a student’s 2016 tuition and residence fees were R40, 000, an 8% increase would bring their 2017 fees to R43, 200. The grant would pay the additional R3, 200 as a result of the increase, and not the full fee amount. Essentially, this negates the 8% fee increase for these students.

This does not mean eligible students will be exempt from the required down payments, nor does it mean they aren’t liable to settle debts from 2016 before registering in 2017. That all still depends on the policies of each university.

Will the funding be available to everyone?
No, the funding will only be granted to South African citizens, and permanent residents who are studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in 2017. And, of course, they must meet the department’s financial requirements.

What about students already receiving funding from NSFAS?
Students who receive NSFAS funding are automatically eligible for the funding. In addition, those who attended Quintile 1, 2, and 3 schools (generally, no-fee schools) do not have to submit an application form for gap funding, upon verification of Higher Education Management Information System data. They will be automatically considered for the gap funding. According to the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) policy, recipients of university merit bursaries are also eligible to apply for the funding.

Who does not qualify for the funding?
– Those students who receive full bursaries that cover tuition and accommodation fees do not qualify.
– All international students – including those from Southern African Development Community countries – will have to pay full 2017 fees, including the increase.
– Students who come from households with an income in excess of R600, 000 a year are not eligible.

When can we apply?
Students can apply from 11 January 2017. Applications close in February. Wits University’s website has a specimen application form, but generally each university should have application forms available on their respective websites.

How do we apply?
Students who are applying need to provide proof of household income in the form of payslips, which will enable verification of total family income. Copies of identity documents of all income providers need to be submitted with the application, as well as a consent form signed by parents, legal guardians, or spouses, so as to enable the university to conduct credit checks.

Who makes the final decision on who will receive the grant?
The DHET will make the final determination on who will receive the funding. The grant will be paid directly to the university on behalf of the student.

If you are eligible for the grant, check your university’s website for more information and application forms.

Featured image by Thomas Kolathu

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