President Jacob Zuma during the 2017 State of the Nation Address. Picture: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma during the 2017 State of the Nation Address. Picture: GCIS

Government is set to raise the NSFAS funding threshold, so that more students will qualify for the state funding scheme.

Noting in his state of the nation address on Thursday that students had expressed concern that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) threshold of R122,000 is too low, President Jacob Zuma said: "We will have to look into this matter with the view to raising the threshold on a phased basis in the period ahead."

Many students, the so-called missing middle, are deemed not poor enough to qualify for government funding, although they are also unable to afford university fees.

He said students had also pointed out that the full cost of study at some universities was higher than the subsidy NSFAS provides. As a result, NSFAS students who studied at some universities that charged higher fees ended up accumulating debt.

"Our government-initiated processes are already looking at this issue too," said Zuma.

Tension is expected to run high again this year at universities across the country as students continue with their campaign for no fee increases and free education.

The Cabinet has said that funding higher education remains a priority for the government.

Zuma said in his Sona that students and their parents should understand that the needs for services like water, sanitation, early childhood development and good public transport also had to be addressed, alongside access to quality higher education and training.

"But our commitment to finding sustainable solutions to the funding of the social wage in general, and education, in particular, is unwavering. As the processes that we have set in motion draw to a close, such as the Heher commission, the ministerial task team, broader engagements with students, university and TVETs [vocational college] leadership and civil society, we will find resources to give expression to our policies," the president said.

Late last year Zuma released a draft report on the feasibility of free higher education.

The report‚ by a commission of inquiry he established in June‚ suggests that students should pay back money if they receive assistance from the state.

"Because higher education and training produces substantial long-term benefits for both the state and a successful student‚ persons who enjoy fee-free higher education should be treated as loan recipients‚" the report said.

It also noted that a reasonable obligation to repay in full or in part would arise when a certain level of income was earned.

The final report is expected to be completed in June 2017.

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