/ 19 November 2008

The pricey problem of varsity

In a few weeks thousands of matriculants will know their fate. But for the fortunate minority whose passes are good enough to get them admitted to tertiary study, their problems might only be starting.

Tertiary education is expensive and many who aspire to be students are forced to apply for study loans, such as those offered by banks. Generally, these are repayable with interest after completion of one’s study programme.

But too many matriculants do not know enough about other financing options, says Riva Levin, compiler of The Bursary Register. This is an annual publication that provides lists of bursary and scholarship schemes, contact details of awarding institutions and helpful advice about applying for assistance.

Levin cautions that before applying for bursaries and scholarships students need to understand the differences between the two.

Scholarships are usually awarded by foundations and large corporations on the basis of outstanding academic achievement — normally, a minimum of five or six A symbols in matric. Importantly, scholarships do not require students to repay the funds and have no employment conditions attached.

Bursaries on the other hand almost always require that the recipient bursary holder work for the company offering the bursary. The awards differ in the amounts of money they provide and the periods for which the student is assisted. Bursaries are generally awarded according to varying criteria set by donors. These could include academic merit or financial need, or both.

Khazamola Manganyi (30) got his diploma in human resources through a bursary from his church. The bursary, he says, covered only tuition fees — the rest “I had to do myself. The biggest challenge when studying through a bursary is that you cannot risk failing,” he says. “If you fail you have to pay back the money in full.”

He says: “But I am grateful that I studied through a bursary because it pushed me to study hard so I would not to lose the bursary or disappoint my parents.”

David Maimela received the Mandela Rhodes Foundation scholarship in 2006 to pursue studies in politics, based on his academic and leadership credentials in student politics. Maimela, who found out about the scholarships from his university library, says the biggest challenge of getting a scholarship is the stringent qualifying requirements. These requirements differ from foundation to foundation.

The Rhodes scholarship “did not look only at academic potential”, Maimela says. “Students who excelled in sport, leadership and social activism could apply for the scholarship.”

Maimela says the benefits for him included studying for free and experiencing the plentiful opportunities presented to a student, such as attending important academic conferences and taking short courses in leadership and entrepreneurship.