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Putting The Fun Into Funding

Your dream degree or diploma beckons, but money’s too tight to mention. Don’t despair – if you’re on the ball, it’s easy to score financial aid.

Editor | July 2014

Putting The Fun Into Funding

The late Nelson Mandela was bang on the money when he said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The reality is that in today’s competitive job market, simply having a matric pass will not open many doors for you. That’s why studying further is strongly recommended – and the good news is that tertiary education need not be just for the moneyed elite.

After the initial jubilation of obtaining a matric certificate – and, even better, university exemption – wears off, would-be students need to come back down to earth and start thinking seriously about their future. In fact, they should have started mulling over their career options and where they’d like to study at least a year before sitting down to write those dreaded matric final exams.

But one shadow often looms large over newly matriculated teens with big dreams and small bank balances: how to fund their studies.

The bad news is that each year of undergraduate study at a subsidised public university can set students (and parents) back around R30 000, and even more if you’re swotting at a private college or want to go into a field such as medicine or engineering. And that’s before you even think about forking out for accommodation, transport, textbooks and socialising!

The good news is that financial help is available from a variety of sources. But there’s a catch: you have to be smart, sussed and on the ball to be the early bird that catches the funding worm.

So, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, thinking that empty pockets will put the brakes on your brilliant career, get out there and start applying for any and every bursary, scholarship and loan you can sniff out! The earlier you get your application in (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 whether you have the staying power to pursue a particular study path right through to the end, because if you don’t, you’ll still be liable for those fees. And lets face it, there’s really nothing worse than being saddled with tuition debt for abandoned studies!

Vocational guidance counsellors may tell you one thing, but before you plunge right in, ask yourself whether your chosen path is ideally suited to your abilities and personality. In reality, 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?

These days the internet is awash with institutions, government departments and companies that offer financial assistance to worthy students. So start enquiring as soon as possible, and be sure to follow up on all your applications.

Above all, don’t get despondent if you receive letters of rejection. Repeat this mantra: try, try and try again. Your persistence and optimism will inevitably pay off!



In 2013, South Africa’s matric pass rate was 78.2%. A total of 30.6% qualified to study at university. However, there has been much debate about the value and quality of a matric pass, and many tertiary institutions now require candidates to write an admission test before they’ll even consider you.

Remember: A matric pass with university exemption does NOT guarantee you a place at a university. Even though two new universities, in Nelspruit and Kimberley, opened their doors in 2014, 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. We have seen deadly stampedes in the past, with students desperate to register for any available course.

The National Treasury estimates that a mind-boggling 42% of economically active South Africans under the age of 30 are unemployed. That’s almost half the country’s youth population. On the flip side of the coin, economist Mike Schussler points out only 7% of degree graduates are unemployed. And – here’s an interesting fact that could influence your study path if you aren’t academically inclined – 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.


  • A bursary is a study grant that you don’t need to repay – unless you fail, that is. Bear in mind there may be a number of conditions attached, such as volunteer work or maintaining a certain standard of academic performance.
  • A bursary is based more on financial need, while a scholarship is usually merit-based (artistic, academic or sporting ability). But that doesn’t mean you can get away with low marks when applying for bursaries – strive for excellence to propel yourself to 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!
  • Ascertain 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 are required to qualify for a bursary. Again, strive to surpass those minimum standards. The better you fare 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.
  • Have certified copies made of your results (Grade 11 and/or prelims) and your ID document. This 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 on how to conduct yourself at an interview. Find it at academic bookshops, libraries and tertiary institutions’ financial aid offices.



What are the options?

Tertiary Institutions

  • 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.
  •  Remember that 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 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:
    – You have to pass your subjects – otherwise you must pay for the courses you fail;
    – You will be contractually bound to work at the company for a specified number of years after completing your studies; and
    – 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.
  • Fundi is a private company that provides loans to students whose parents are permanently employed.
    Government Institutions
  • 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 National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)

  • If you’re considering taking out a loan, the Department of Higher Education’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is a good place to start. NSFAS is a statutory body that awards study loans and bursaries to financially needy and academically competent South African undergraduate students.
  • In 2014, NSFAS budgeted over R9 billion for more than 430 000 students at public universities and FET colleges. Loans range from R2 000 to R30 000 and cover tuition, accommodation, transport, food and textbook costs.
  • The scheme offers study loans at a low interest rate 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.
  • Loans are awarded for studies at public universities or further education and training (FET) colleges, but not private colleges.
  • 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.
  • 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 info@nsfas.org.za or visit www.nsfas.org.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 made 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. Wouldn’t that be cool?


Bank Loans

  • 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
    First National Bank: 0860 100 762
    ABSA: 0860 100 372,
    Nedbank: 0860 555 111,