In the face of mounting student debt at universities across the country, in August 2020, Universities South Africa (USAf) pledged to raise R1 billion in 24 months to help pay off students’ historical debts; and assist those still studying with fees and learning devices. Since then, USAf knocked on various doors, and several organisations saw the vision resulting in donor funds reaching the excess of R1,152,002,876, thus helping over 27 000 students.
These are students from working-class families whose annual family income between R350 001,00 and R600,000.00, which places them above the qualifying threshold of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), yet also precludes them from qualifying for study loans from commercial banks. They are often referred to as the “missing middle.” Some of the funds raised by USAf were also targeted at postgraduate students in specific programmes who could not access grants from the National Research Foundation due to general budget limitations.
Entities that made this goal possible were the Absa Group; Standard Bank Group, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET); the Industrial Development Corporation of SA; and various Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) such as Education Training and Development Practice SETA; Wholesale and Retail SETA; Safety and Security SETA; Bank SETA; Services SETA; Food and Beverages Manufacturing SETA; and the Finance and Accounting Services SETA.
Dr Linda Meyer (left), Director: Operations and Sector Support at USAf, said the journey was not easy and thanked the donors for standing with USAf through the difficult times in trying to raise these funds.
She went on to say that it gives her great delight that the promise she and Professor Ahmed Bawa, USAf’s former CEO, made to the Board in 2020 not only came true but exceeded the set target. She also expressed her gratitude to all USAf and university staff for their efforts in implementing donor-funded projects across the Academy.
“We still have 120 000 students that are unable to graduate because of debt owed to universities. We may have solved a small margin of the problem, but it has made a difference to the lives of 27 574 students and their families.”
Seeing the impact this pledge has made in the lives of students that benefitted — restoring hope and changing their future trajectories positively, USAf will continue its fundraising efforts as mandated by the Board. The organisation is currently in talks with existing and prospective funding partners to further make more difference to the students in need.
“Our focus is on securing multi-year agreements to support poor and missing middle-income students (undergraduate and postgraduate) that do not qualify for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) or National Research Foundation (NRF) financial support,” concluded Dr Meyer.
Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.