Context and History

One of the most damaging and entrenched legacies of the apartheid era is inequality of educational opportunities – both past and present. The Bantu education system was designed to discourage or even prevent non-white South Africans from advancing ‘beyond their station’. Accordingly, many of today’s black adults were educated in vastly under resourced schools and never had any realistic hope of accessing higher education – both because of financial and academic limitations. Whilst some have managed to advance economically, many are either unemployed or have very low incomes, which in turn limits the educational opportunities of their children.
One of the key measures post-apartheid to redress this inequality was enhanced access to higher education for the poor and working class – provided through corporate or philanthropic bursary schemes, or through NSFAS loans, and more recently, bursaries. Some corporate bursaries are funded from a HR budget with a view to internal graduate recruitment, whilst some others are funded from a CSI budget or as part of their B-BBEE initiatives. Some foundations and philanthropists with a focus on higher education also emerged (e.g. Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Moshal Scholarship Program, Allan Gray Orbis Foundation). Whilst some companies and foundations manage and administer their own bursary schemes (e.g. The Old Mutual Education Trust), others outsource that function to more specialist providers such as Career Wise or Study Trust.
What also became apparent over time was that whilst the efforts to increase access into higher education for the previously disadvantaged were bearing some fruit, the drop out rates, especially among non-white students were alarmingly high, for a range of very legitimate reasons. This meant that graduation rates were poor and the return on enhanced corporate and public investment into increased access was low.
Accordingly in recent years there has been increased emphasis on enhancing student success, which is negatively affected by a number of issues including:-
poor quality preparation at school;
biased selection criteria;
a lack of career guidance;
poor language skills;
the type of financial support model provided;
outdated curriculum design;
inappropriate pedagogies;
a lack of IT access and expertise;
non-welcoming environments on campus;
a lack of/poor accommodation;
instability and disruptions to the academic programme;
general psychosocial issues.
As a result, organisations working with bursary students began to offer more holistic support with a view to trying to address some of these issues, working in collaboration with institutional services as well as funders, be they private or NSFAS.
With a view to supporting and learning from each other, leaders of some of these organisations have in recent times begun to meet on a regular and structured basis. This has gathered momentum and a strong and collegial community of practice has emerged. In 2019 the group organised its first national conference which attracted around 140 delegates and was acclaimed as highly practical and beneficial to all. What has been a relatively informal network is maturing and now wishes to formalise, with a view to more clearly defining objectives, membership criteria and a way of working.