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What is the 'missing middle'?


In all the news surrounding tertiary education and university fees, a term that comes up often is the 'missing middle'. But what is the missing middle? Who are these people and what does it mean to be part of the missing middle?

Simply put, the missing middle are those too poor to avoid university themselves but also not poor enough to qualify for government funding. In order to qualify for NSFAS, your household income needs to be below R120 000 per year and, while this is great for the disadvantaged, the middle class is underserved by this system.

Those whose households earn less than R600 000 annually are often unable to afford the fees, accommodation and living expenses that go along with tertiary studies. Hence the term 'missing middle': unable to qualify for financial aid but also unable to pay for university themselves.

Caught in the middle

So now that you know what the missing middle is, what’s next? Fortunately, many universities are beginning to offer support directly to the students who fall into this category. The University of Johannesburg, for example, ran a Missing Middle Campaign throughout 2016, raising over R60 million to help finance those students who don’t qualify for financial aid.

Change is coming

The government is introducing a mixed funding system for the missing middle, protecting them from university fee increases this year while also supplying some assistance in the form of grants and loans, and NSFAS seems set to finally make some changes of their own. Rather than judging applications solely on household income, some changes will be made to the funding system to accommodate the missing middle based on disposable income and relative means.

This new system, the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme, is being piloted at 6 universities around the country:

  • Orbit TVET College in Rustenburg
  • University of Cape Town
  • University of Pretoria
  • University of the Witwatersrand
  • University of Venda
  • Walter Sisulu University
  • Tshwane University of Technology

The focus will initially be on essential and scarce skills, such as medicine, engineering, actuarial studies, pharmacology and artisan courses. With ISFAP raising money from both the government and private sector, they hope to make a substantial difference to the lives of the missing middle and change the lives and futures of thousands of South Africans.


Latest Bursaries

The Portuguese National Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) is offering a scholarship for PhD graduates. This scholarship will be awarded in collaboration with the Atlantic International Research Centre (AIR Centre).

Through this scholarship programme, ten PhD grants will be offered to candidates studying in the following fields:

You have the chance to study in Ireland! The Kader Asmal Fellowship Programme is aimed at offering fully-funded scholarship opportunities to South African students. Selected students will be chosen to study at Master’s level in Ireland’s Higher Education Institutions.

Students from Historically Disadvantaged Institutions are encouraged to apply.

Matric learners are invitied to take part in the The University of Free State star of stars competition. 

Learners who are top academic achievers and residing in the Free State province will be considered. Applicants must have applied to study at the UFS before the closing date in order to enter the Star of Stars competition.

SATI is awarding bursaries for Undergraduate and Postgraduate studies.

Bursaries will be awarded in the following fields of study:

Are you in high school and in need of funding for your studies?  The South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) wants to help you study further.

Learners from grades 8 to 12 are invited to apply for funding. You can get funding regardless of your subject choices!

Closing date: 30 September 2021.