By Chantelle Oosthuizen, Executive Director, Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust

Many students are supported in their tertiary studies through bursaries provided by private companies. However, university retention and pass rates in South Africa are low. A recent Top Empowerment Masterclass noted that 33% of students enrolled in a four-year degree will drop out. Less than a third of students manage to complete their tertiary education in the minimum allocated time. It is clear that a bursary for tuition, books and accommodation alone isn’t enough.

The Return on Investment (ROI) for bursary support must address the high drop-out rate of first years through offerings of holistic student support, including career guidance, mentorship, soft skills development and psychosocial support. “When a student’s well-being is taken care of, so will the results,” a Topco report of the masterclass said. “In this way graduates walk into the workforce better prepared, on a holistic level.”

The Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET) addresses the unique challenges facing students and goes beyond the bursary to create holistic programmes that care for the overall well-being of students. CRET’s offerings include career guidance and psychometric testing, psycho-social support, soft skills training and ongoing mentorship. To support the employment prospects of graduates, students are supported in acquiring a driver’s licence and work-seeking and work-readiness workshops, internships, and job shadowing and holiday work opportunities are also facilitated.

This holistic approach answers a need voiced by students and helps ensure real throughput success.

The bursary landscape in South Africa has its risks, opportunities as well as rising trends, and the funding ecosystem needs reinforcement. For education providers and bursary funders, a real change is occurring in terms of defining student success, beyond CSI imperatives to being integral development partners.

This success of students is a social justice imperative and incorporates greater access to tertiary education for young people, support that creates a positive learning experience and ensures well-rounded and successful graduates with the skills and resources to be employable and to contribute to the economy and society at large.