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THE sacrifices made towards providing students with a tertiary education came under the spotlight this week as Absa announced a R17-million bursary investment for Nelson Mandela University students over three years.

The news has been widely welcomed against the backdrop of huge financial challenges within the Higher Education sector, but none more so than by the students who are benefitting from the unexpected windfall.

“My dad sold his car to pay for my fees this year,” an overjoyed Mervinia Ambraal shared after confirmation of the bursary unexpectedly dropped into her university email box last week.

“I could not believe what I was reading. I even wanted to cry when I saw it and immediately phoned my family. We were all jumping up and down,” the second-year Psychology student from Queenstown said of her good fortune.

Like Mervinia, all the students identified to benefit from the R5-million invested by the banking giant this year are academic achievers from the “missing middle”. Deemed too wealthy to qualify for NSFAS loan funding but too poor to finance their studies, the sons and daughters of teachers, nurses, policemen and other working class families have struggled to meet increasing tuition and accommodation fees in the midst of an ailing South African economy.

Mervinia is the eldest child of a retired nurse and social worker. She has a younger brother in Grade 10 whom she says she will support with his tertiary studies.

“I need to do well so that I can get a good job and support my family going forward.”

Her words were echoed by another elated student Thembisile Zixesha, who is in the final year of her Tourism qualification.

“I have to do well. My mother has done so much to get me this far. Now I need to work to support my younger brother,” said Thembisile, whose mother is a traffic officer in Kokstad. The second-year NDip: Tourism student is a House Committee member and tries to supplement her mother’s efforts with part-time work. She, too, will be supporting her younger brother to study further.

“Every year my mum has to approach family and friends for loans to at least gather enough money for my registration. I never get my results at the end of the year because I always owe money.”

The overall 83% she obtained for her June marks means that both her 2017 accommodation and tuition fees and 2016 debt have been paid, since Absa is also providing a further R2-million towards 2016 debt relief.

Mervinia and Thembisile are among 92 Nelson Mandela University students identified as beneficiaries of the Absa CEO Scholarship Fund. This bursary will cover fees of up to R73 000 depending on students’ qualification and needs for tuition and books.

A further 113 students, who owe an average of about R20 000 in tuition fees, are benefitting from the R2-million allocated to debt relief to further offset the financial challenges faced by a growing number of families, and thus enabling their academic success.

“I cannot tell you how much this means to me. It will change our lives,” Mervinia shared.

The student recipients were celebrated at a function where the partnership of Nelson Mandela University and Absa was also acknowledged with both parties committed to growing the country economically by investing in academically students towards this end.    

The R17-million windfall from the banking giant was welcomed by the University as being in line with its continued commitment to widening access to higher education, particularly for poor students from the country’s hinterland.

Nelson Mandela University Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Prof Denise Zinn, welcomed the partnership with Absa, saying it fit in with the institution’s vision and mission.

“It is such a joy to be here with you and share in this joyous moment,” she said. “Funding has been one of the greatest challenges, not just to higher education, but the country. Poverty and inequality are among the top challenges we face as country.

“Student fees have increased and, through #FeesMustFall, students have boldly – and rightfully so – spoken out against this. Funding challenges and rising unemployment remain a challenge.

“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your investment in children, education and students – which is very much in line with our vision.”

Absa Provincial Managing Executive, Tshiwela Mhlantla, said the Absa CEO Scholarship Fund forms part of the Education and Skills Development pillar of the financial services group’s Shared Growth strategy, through which it undertook to invest R1.4-billion in education and skills training between 2016 and 2018 across the African continent.

“The overall objective of the Absa Scholarship programme is to support social change and economic growth by contributing to the improvement of enterprise as well as financial and life skills of the next generation by awarding scholarships to disadvantaged deserving youth to help them realise their potential,” Ms Mhlantla said.

At the bursary hand over event at Nelson Mandela University’s Indoor Sports Centre Conference Centre, Mhlantla cited sobering statistics of the high rate of youth unemployment in South Africa and the rest of the African continent.

“We believe that some of the answers lie in our philosophy of Shared Growth, and a recognition that we must use our expertise and resources to find sustainable, commercially viable solutions to the challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment,” she said.

“Shared Growth initiatives focus on education, enterprise development and financial inclusion. We have chosen these three pillars because they are critical to human development.”

Nelson Mandela University Student Representative Council’s head of policy, Pedro Mzileni, said: “We welcome the money from Absa and urge beneficiaries of these funds to work hard on their studies. Take this opportunity and run with it towards a better future and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.”

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777