Student protests shine light on the ‘missing middle’

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Nationwide protests to end the financial exclusion of some students at South African tertiary institutions have shone a light on those considered the ‘missing middle’ in the country’s government-funded educational system.

The missing middle are students who are considered too poor to afford university, but are also not poor enough to qualify for government funding.

In recent years, South Africa has had student protests with hashtags such as #Asinamali #FeesMustFall which challenged the government to provide free higher education to all.

In 2017,  former president Jacob Zuma announced free education for South Africa’s 26 public universities, which have around one million students and 50 TVET colleges. The colleges have about 700 000 students.

EXPLAINER: Who are the ‘missing middle’?

The policy changes came after long-drawn protests by students under the banner #FeeMustFall and were aimed at offering free higher education for students from poor and working class homes.

In a statement, the Presidency said the changes would affect 90% of South African households.

According to the statement, the government would introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South African undergraduate students, starting in 2018 with students in their first year of study at public universities.

The policy change would be facilitated by an increase in subsidies to universities from just 0.68% to 1% of GDP as recommended by the Heher Commission into Higher Education, added the statement.

More on the policy changes in the statement below: