UJ raised R147m for student fees. Should other universities follow suit?

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) has raised R147 million for missing middle students but just how long can the university keep it up for? The Daily Vox takes a look at the issues with fundraising for higher education.

The missing middle refers to students who do not qualify for funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) but who are not wealthy enough to afford fees. The money raised will help fund almost 4 000 students, according to the university. But academics working to find ways to fund free education in the country are sceptical of the model. 

Leigh Ann Naidoo, activist and Wits University academic said fundraising from the private sector is not sustainable. “Even as one has to say, ‘Wow that’s great,’ this is a stopgap to make things a little better and should not be encouraged as the main or only way to resolve the issue,” she said.

Instead, what is needed are structural changes to the way education is funded and paid for. “It’s the same thing that happens when government puts a whole lot of money into developing entrepreneurs but they don’t take bold and serious steps to change the structure of the economy,” she said. 

“We really need to change the structure instead of making one or two moves in the interim.”

Student activist Brian Kamanzi, another free education advocate, agreed that raising funds this way is not a long-term solution. Kamanzi said the “missing middle” crisis is a government invention that intentionally misrepresents the issues raised by the Fees Must Fall protests, which called for free education.

Campaigns like the one at UJ would “weaken the mass base of the student movement by attempting to reduce the number of people directly affected by increasingly unaffordable fees,” he said.

Kamanzi said wealthy individual private donors and companies should not be solicited for once-off in-kind donations, but instead university vice-chancellors should be pushed to join the call for universal coverage by increasing taxes on these parties “so that students are not held ransom by the whims of the powerful”.

UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said that when it was launched in February 2016, the Missing Middle campaign was the biggest fundraiser ever undertaken by a South African institution of higher learning. That year, management, Council, the Convocation and the Student Representative Council worked together to raise R101 million, which paid the fees of 3 858 missing middle students that year.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons