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15 August 2019
Building Dreams: FASSET Funds Financial Futures For Missing Middle

(Published - 15 August 2019)

Courtney Michaels isn’t totally sure why she chose to do business studies - a combination of having a way with numbers and an interest in learning how to work with money, most likely. But when she enrolled for a BCom degree at the University of the Western Cape, she soon found out that it takes money to learn to make money.

Born in Heideveld, and raised in a rented flat by a single parent who worked hard to provide for her (“she's my rock”), Courtney was part of the "missing middle” income bracket, so NSFAS would not accept her for funding.

“In my first year they only covered half of tuition, with no traveling or book allowance, and my mom ended up covering the rest,” she recalls. “So in second year, I applied for a bursary - which also only covered half. That made for a bit of a financially stressful situation.”

Last year she applied for and received funding from the Finance and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority (FASSET) - funding specifically available for deserving students who meet the FASSET Missing Middle Programme specifications. This programme and its structure is available to registered students, for the following courses: B.Com Finance, B.Com Accounting, B.Com Financial Accounting, and B.Com (General).

“I was extremely grateful because the rest of my fees were covered - textbooks, too - and at least that stress was off my mom's shoulders,” she says. “I could concentrate on my studies and complete my degree and graduate well.”

The intended outcome of the FASSET programme is to support students financially, and in a manner that will provide improved academic performance for all students through academic workshops and the monitoring and support for key Accounting, Financial Accounting and Economic courses offered by UWC.

“Funding, as students know all too well, is a constant struggle,” notes Ronald Arendse, accounting lecturer at UWC. “We have students with a great deal of potential, and who can go on to have a positive impact in their communities - and we want to give them the chance to do that.”

FASSET’s Academic Support Programme also provides academic workshops, facilitated by academics from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, to provide additional work-readiness skills, from effective communication and exam techniques to financial planning skills.

Courtney had so much fun learning about how the stock market operates, how it can be manipulated to make money, and so on, that she went on to enroll for her BCom Honours Degree in Finance at UWC. She’s currently completing that - with more help from FASSET.

“With my basic education needs being covered I don’t have to work to pay my fees - literal work for money, I mean; I naturally have to pass and excel, but that's expected,” she laughs. “So now I am able to give back to the community, which is why I volunteer at a creche and also at an animal shelter - both incredibly rewarding experiences.”

“A year ago I was suffering from depression and I thought I wouldn't make it through, but a year later I am content and prospering, grateful to have an education and still be able to pursue further studies.”

Meet The Missing Middle: Funding Dreams, Building The Future

Courtney is just one of many UWC students who have benefited from FASSET’s endeavours.

Take, for example, fellow Finance Honours student, Keagan Barnes, who’s numbered among UWC’s top academic achievers. Keagan chairs the University’s Young Investor Programme, and is working as a tutor and mentor. All of that was made possible by hard work - and that was made possible by financial security.

“For my first few years at UWC, I would apply for bursaries, get turned down because I was part of the ‘missing middle’, and struggle on. The FASSET funding really takes some of the weight off my shoulders, and gives me room to breathe and think. And the academic support is really vital - we get focused mentoring, additional tutorials, group chats and discussions, and that really helps. And as a postgrad, this year we have a lot more industry access, and get to meet up with industry mentors based on a regular schedule - it’s like meeting the future you.”

It’s not just post-grads, either.

Third-year BCom Financial Accounting student Avuya Koeberg enjoyed Accounting in high school back in Beaufort West, and one day hopes to travel the world as a qualified chartered accountant. But as the eldest of four children in a single-parent family, the financial challenges of university study threatened to stand in her way.

“FASSET funding has not only helped me financially, but also academically. In my first year of study I didn’t have funding, and that affected my studies and my well-being. But in second-year, FASSET’s academic support helped me to pass modules I thought I wouldn’t pass - and now I’m well on my way to achieving my dream.”

Achieving dreams is what UWC is all about - and the University is delighted with the partnership.

“Working in education is a privilege, as we are afforded the opportunity of making a tangible difference in various sectors of society in general, and more particularly in the lives of our students,” says Prof Michelle Esau, Dean of Economic and Management Sciences at UWC.

“As a faculty that hosts a number of in-demand or scarce skills qualifications - accounting; industrial psychology, finance, economics, and more - we are preparing students, many of them first-generation graduates, for the rapidly-evolving world of work. And with FASSET’S help, we can help them overcome the financial and other challenges that stand in their way, and enable them to become the leaders of tomorrow.”