by Riaan Rudman

Throwing money at students not enough

Key issues that contribute to a successful bursary or support programme

Use your bursary to its full potential
Bursary programmes

South Africa is plagued by problems such as crime, poverty, lack of transformation and a perceived degradation of educational standards, to name but a few. Education can create significant inroads in addressing many of these problems. 

Many organisations attempt to address these challenges by means of bursary programmes. With the current educational situation in South Africa, it is no longer enough to 'throw moneyat the problem or at students by simply supplying a bursary. 

Students should be assisted to gain the skills required by employers, and they should be supported to improve their chances at success. Much of the support is available to students at most universities, but is underutilised by students and firms alike.

There are four key issues that contribute to a successful bursary or support programme: the student, academia, workplace readiness and giving back. 


The most important component is the student, who must take responsibility for his or her own studies and embrace the opportunities available. 

A student should not only be required to take responsibility for him/herself – opportunities should be created where bursary students can interact with each other, thereby helping to develop a support base. Social interaction will also help them develop a network of contacts into the future. 


Academia, the second most important component, has three aspects to it. 

Firstly, universities frequently offer voluntary additional academic support as part of their courses. However, many students are poor at using this opportunity, often due to either complacency or lack of awareness. Students should be encouraged by donors to take part in academic support from early on during their studies, irrespective of their academic performance. They should be encouraged to pose questions to both tutors and lecturers. If students are encouraged from early on in their studies to ask questions, they will learn to ask the 'right' questions later on in their studies.

Secondly, lifeskills support should be provided in the form of a mentorship programme. Senior bursary students can act as mentors to junior students and provide a guiding hand with adjusting to university. Where possible, senior students can also act as academic tutors. If employees of the donor act as mentors to students, it can help facilitate their later entry into the organisation.

Thirdly, academic support programmes and life-skills support are resource and time intensive. Therefore, students’ usage of this support and their academic performance should actively be monitored and non-compliance should have consequences. At-risk students should be counselled more strictly.

Workplace readiness

The third key issue that contributes to a successful bursary or support programme is that students should take part in lifeskills and workplace-readiness workshops and programmes, offered either by the university for free or by the bursary provider. Workshops must be supplemented by actual work experience. As part of the bursary conditions, students should be required to take part in vacation work during at least one of the university holidays each year of study. This work can range from being a till packer or shop assistant, to being a junior employee at the bursary provider’s organisation. 

Giving back

Last but not least, bursary students receive opportunities of immense value, yet many do not fully realise this, and should consequently be encouraged to give back to their communities. Universities offer a varied range of activities through which students can become involved in community interaction initiatives. Making this a bursary requirement is vital.

Acting on these points should not be difficult. Companies and organisations should liaise with universities to discuss support to students. Bursary holders should be informed of these options. Participation in these programmes and initiatives should be made a bursary condition. And student progress should be actively monitored.


The needs of business and students have changed significantly over the past 10 years, resulting in financial support alone no longer being sufficient. Companies wanting well-rounded, multiskilled employees must start looking at further initiatives to support the students in whom they invest. If they do not address all the student’s needs, organisations may find that they do not receive the return on investment on bursary students that they expect. 

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Issue 58