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Change the world

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University vice-chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz aims to hit the Inca Trail to raise funds for student bursaries. Picture: SUPPLIED

IN SEPTEMBER, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) vice-chancellor Prof Derrick Swartz and chancellor Santie Botha will be on the legendary Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, leading a group of volunteers and philanthropists to raise funds for the university.

"The goal of this initiative, which we have called #trailblazing — finishing the journey, is to raise R4m to assist 160 NMMU students who dropped out of university after completing 75% of their course requirements. The funds raised will provide them with up to R25 000 to complete their studies and graduate," says Swartz.

A report in May by the Council on Higher Education shows that 47.9% of university students never graduate. One of the several reasons cited is a lack of funding.

At all South African universities, enrolment growth has more than doubled — from 480,000 in 1995 to almost 1-million today — with more than 80% black students and 54% female students.

"If we can assist such students to successfully complete their studies, we would release significant talent and skill into the economy and enable many to seek or create gainful employment."

The campaign follows Swartz’s successful fund-raising ascent of Mount Fuji in 2015, when he raised more than R1.3m for NMMU honours students in financial need.

His treks are inspired by his belief that "no society, no civilisation has ever been successfully built without present generations investing in the education of future generations".

"SA has a long, but narrow and segregated history of philanthropy. With state funding under severe pressure, the importance of universities adopting new, more innovative models of augmenting traditional sources of bursary funding cannot be over-emphasised.

"We have to build better and more creative civic and private sector partnerships, which can yield renewable sources of funding in support of universities."

AT THE launch of the #trailblazing — finishing the journey campaign in June, Botha pledged R100 000 to get the ball rolling.

"I am a strong proponent of social entrepreneurship gaining momentum in SA, as is happening internationally," she says.

"Social entrepreneurship draws on innovation in the business and private sector to seek solutions to pressing social, cultural or environmental problems.

"Finding ways to help fund our students and universities is very much a part of this," Botha says.

"The underlying ethos is that whatever we do in life, in a small or big way, we are committed to making this planet of ours a better place for all. It is about thinking beyond yourself and developing a socially committed mind-set."

The #trailblazing initiative is part of a wider institutional campaign at NMMU to build a diversified network of bursary and scholarship funding to support future generations of students.

"It provides an opportunity for involving a broad coalition of individual, corporate, and other forms of giving, from modest amounts to larger contributions, towards a cause that they can see would make a material difference to the lives of many students," Swartz says.

"We are looking into several approaches including crowd-sourcing strategies, to increase the range of bursaries and scholarships, third-stream income, and other forms of support for student access and success at university."

NMMU is the largest university in one of SA’s poorest provinces, the Eastern Cape. In 2016, it enrolled 26,911 students, up from 26,300 students in 2015.

In 2016, the university received government funding of R780m for its operational costs of about R1.8bn.

Swartz says that in addition to finding money for student access and support, NMMU and all universities are compelled to undertake a much larger fundraising strategy within the context of the current fiscal and economic condition.

"Government subsidies, on which universities depend for a major part of our income, have not kept up with real costs, and if the current fiscal consolidation process continues in years to come, we are faced with major existential challenges in fulfilling our public mandates," he says.

"Fresh approaches and strategies are clearly required to ensure future sustainability."

  • Swartz is focusing on leading NMMU’s three strategic macro projects, which involves re-engineering and re-gearing its financial and business model, including core revenue streams and cost structures; building support for a medical school; and establishing a sustainable business model for a new Oceans Sciences campus