Beat the bursary blues
Beat the bursary blues. Somewhere over the funding rainbow…your dream of a degree or a diploma can come true. Bright but broke? Gifted but penniless? Don’t despair – there are funding angels out there to help those who want to study further after matric.
From bursaries and grants to student loans, would-be students can take advantage of a range of tertiary education funding options.
It used to be the case that only the moneyed elite could gain a quality education, but the playing fields are slowly being levelled.
Take for instance the story of Thashlin Govender, who says: “When I reflect on my matric year, there was so much concern and uncertainty as to how I would pay for my studies after school. Had it not been for my grandmother, who paid for my registration fees at the Durban University of Technology with her savings from her social grant, and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, I would not have been able to achieve any of my dreams.”
Thashlin went on to complete three Master’s degrees at three different universities, and now also has his PhD in epidemiology – all thanks to sheer grit, hard work and financial aid.
That’s a good news story, and there are many of them. The not-so-good news is how much university actually costs. At the University of the Witwatersrand, for example, first-year tuition fees in 2015 ranged from R32 000 for an LLB to R42 000 for a BCom to R57 000 for a BSc. And fees for a catering residence, with all meals and accommodation provided, were pegged at up to R66 000 a year.
That means you’re R100 000 out of pocket without even factoring in transport, toiletries, books and socialising! And private colleges can cost even more.
But the shadow that looms large over newly matriculated teens with big dreams and small bank balances needn’t be a permanent one.
Help is at hand – even if you don’t have the best matric results in the world. You just need to be persistent and apply for any and every form of financial aid you can lay your hands on. And you have to make sure you’re the early bird that catches the funding worm. The earlier you get your application in (often you can even submit your Grade 11 results), the better the chance you’ll have of snagging a grant.
Depending on the type of financial aid you receive, you may be required to repay it – either directly or by working for your benefactor for a certain period once you’ve finished your degree.
So you need to ask yourself upfront if you have the staying power to pursue a particular study path right to the end, because if you don’t, you’ll still be liable for those fees. There’s nothing worse than being saddled with tuition debt for abandoned studies!
Before you commit to a field of study, ask yourself whether your chosen path is ideally suited to your abilities and personality. Will you be able to find a job at the end of it? What are the scarce skills that are in demand in the marketplace?
Start googling to suss out companies, institutions and government departments that offer financial assistance to students. And don’t stress if you receive letters of rejection. Don’t give up – there is a bursary, loan or scholarship out there with your name on it!
In 2014, South Africa’s matric pass rate was 75.8%. A total of 28.3% qualified to study at university. However, many universities don’t think a matric certificate holds much value and you may be subject to an entrance test before being considered for some courses.
Remember: A matric pass with university exemption does NOT guarantee you a place at a university. Despite the recent addition of two new institutions of higher learning, South Africa still does not have enough places at its public universities to cater for the demand from matriculants eligible to study towards bachelor’s degrees. According to a recent TimesLive report, only one in eight matrics who apply to universities will be accepted – a scary statistic.
The national unemployment rate is about 24%, but that figure is almost double for young South Africans aged 30 and younger. On the flip side of the coin, economist Mike Schussler points out only 7% of degree graduates are unemployed. And if you are an artisan with a trade, there’s only a 12% chance that you won’t find work. You do the maths: it’s in your best interests to pursue higher education.
Bag that bursary
- A bursary is a study grant that you don’t need to repay – unless you fail in your studies, that is. But there may be conditions attached, such as doing volunteer work or maintaining a certain standard of academic performance.
- A bursary is based on financial need, while a scholarship is usually merit-based (artistic, academic or sporting ability). But you still need good marks to ensure you’re at the front of the funding queue.
- It’s important to take the correct subjects in Grade 10 that will help ease your way into your dream career. Don’t just take the easiest subjects that you’re most likely to pass – you may come to regret it!
Find out what the minimum admission requirements are for the degree, diploma or certificate course you want to follow. Make sure you don’t merely meet those minimum standards, but exceed them. Popular courses are usually oversubscribed and you could be denied a place, even if you qualify for it on paper.
- Find out what marks you need to qualify for a bursary. Again, don’t just meet those minimum standards – surpass them. The better you are academically, the better your chances of finding funding.
- Attend the open days of universities and colleges, and gather information on all the funding options.
- Apply early! The closing date for some bursary schemes can be as early as 12 months in advance of you starting your studies.
- Make sure your CV is a knockout! First impressions count. It must look professional
and neat, and be error-free. Motivate strongly why you should be considered for a bursary. Include any volunteer or holiday work you have done, especially if it pertains to your intended study direction.
- Have certified copies made of your results (Grade 11 and/or prelims) and your ID document. Certification can be done for free at your local police station.
- Invest in a copy of The Bursary Register (it costs about R120). This invaluable booklet will show you how to compile a CV, apply for bursaries, scholarships and loans, and advise how to conduct yourself at an interview. Find it at bookshops, libraries and tertiary institutions’ financial aid offices.
- Apply for a bursary at the university or college where you intend to study. Visit, email or phone their financial aid office well in advance to find out more.
- Many of these bursaries are only available to South African citizens.
- Once you are enrolled at university, you may also qualify for an academic merit award based on your results during your first year of study.
- Some universities also offer partial bursaries for art, cultural, sporting or leadership achievements at school.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)
- The Department of Higher Education’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) awards study loans and bursaries to financially needy and academically competent South African undergraduate students.
- Students at public universities and further education and training (FET) colleges can apply for loans ranging from R2 000 to R30 000 to cover tuition, accommodation, transport, food and textbook costs. But you can’t apply for a NSFAS loan if you intend to study at a private college.
- The scheme offers study loans at a low interest rate (currently 4.4%) without the need for surety, and you only have to begin your repayments once you are earning
R30 000 a year. You do, however, need to prove that your household income is less than R122 000 a year.
- If you pass all your courses, you could get 40% of your NSFAS loan converted into a bursary. But if you fail or drop out, you’ll have to repay every cent.
- NSFAS also administers bursary funds for aspiring teachers, social workers and those studying in scarce-skills disciplines, and FET college bursaries.
- Bear in mind that the demand for NSFAS loans far outstrips the supply, and there have been student protests and riots at various universities when funding has been delayed or denied.
- Contact NSFAS at 0860 NSFAS (067327) or 021 763 3232, SMS 32261 or write to Private Bag X1, Plumstead 7801, South Africa. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nsfas.org.za
- Approach your local municipality, or the provincial or national government department relevant to your studies – they often have a number of bursaries up for grabs. The Funza Lushaka bursary scheme, for example, is open to students studying for a teaching qualification.
The Private Sector
- Many companies – particularly those operating in the scarce and critical skills sectors, such as mining and engineering – award contract bursaries, usually with conditions such as:
o You have to pass your subjects – otherwise you must pay for the courses you fail;
o You will be contractually bounded to work at the company for a specified number of years after completing your studies; and
o You will be required to study in a field specified by the company (e.g. BCom Accounting, BSc Engineering).
- Companies that award bursaries include: Spoornet, Transnet, Sasol, Absa, Anglo American, Gold Fields, Anglo Platinum, Eskom, Sasol, Iscor, De Beers, Edgars, SA Breweries, Harmony, Mintek, AECI, Engen, Group 5, Murray & Roberts, PPC, the SA Institute of Race Relations, the SA Weather Service, Vodacom and Old Mutual.
- Eduloan is a private company that provides loans to students whose parents are permanently employed.
- The major banks all offer student loans, to be repaid with interest once you’ve completed your studies. You will need someone to sign surety for you.
- South African citizens and non-South Africans with valid study permits can apply for these study loans, which can be taken out for studies at a university, FET college or SA Qualifications Authority-accredited private college.
- Contact the big four banks:
Standard Bank: 0860 123 000, www.standardbank.co.za
First National Bank: 0860 100 762, www.fnb.co.za
ABSA: 0860 100 372, www.absa.co.za
Nedbank: 0860 555 111, www.nedbank.co.za
Study while you work
- If you’re already working, why not find out if your employer can pay for your studies? Larger companies have to pay a skills development levy, which goes to Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) and the Skills Development Fund. These funds are available to finance the training of a company’s own employees.
- Employers can claim a SARS refund if they train their workers. So, if you want to study through your company – as long as it is related to your job – you could get your tuition paid by your boss. Bonus!