A holistic bursary initiative is critical to turning around youth unemployment and promoting South African youth’s contribution to the economy.

Shamiso Chideme, Social Investment Specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments, unpacks how social investors can contribute to effective bursary management by identifying key focus areas in bursary initiatives.

The term ‘holistic’ when it comes to bursary initiatives is a double-edged sword: On one end, there’s ‘holistic’ in the financial sense – covering more than just tuition fees and incorporating all related costs; and on the other end, there’s ‘holistic’ in terms of broadening the spectrum of bursary initiatives by going beyond the formal university education by expanding into other essential avenues of education and opening pathways into TVET colleges and the arts. Both approaches are crucial to expanding on the pool of candidates, providing a lot more opportunity, and reducing the incidence of idle youth.

The holistic approach

Most cohorts who qualify for bursary initiatives come from very vulnerable backgrounds. Dropout rates are impacted by these students who often find it difficult to integrate into higher education institutions. This impacts on their ability to study and obviously impacts on their overall performance.

A holistic approach to bursaries is not just about tuition. It’s about tuition, accommodation, meals, utilities, transport, learning tools such as books and laptops, and critically – psychosocial support. These are the all-important elements that students from vulnerable backgrounds need in order to enhance their performance and social investors need to factor in comprehensive bursary management to bursary initiatives.

Two prime examples of successful bursary management systems which follow this holistic approach are: Netflix’s commitment to supporting black representation in the Film & TV industry in South Africa; and Anglo American Platinum’s drive to align bursary management with the Group’s Sustainable Mining Plan. Both examples take holistic to a new level by virtue of their offerings which opens avenues for youth who don’t necessarily qualify for the formal university setting.

Netflix initiative

The Netflix initiative offers a holistic service in terms of providing accommodation, tuition, and books. The initiative is looking at integrating the psychosocial support element because they’re realising that it is a value add because of the cohort of kind of students that have been identified, and that it’s about more than just the counselling – it’s about guidance and tracking academic performance – that human touch.

A major benefit of the Netflix initiative is that they have expanded on the age restriction in the application process to include 18 – 35-year-olds (usually 25 is the cut-off), thereby increasing opportunity for candidates and an added value-add is its category because in the context of South Africa this is a very under resourced sector, and Netflix prioritises the creative arts space, which is most often overlooked.

Anglo American Platinum

Anglo American Platinum (Anglo Plats) bursaries are targeted at 18 – 25-year-olds and are aligned with the Group’s Sustainable Mining Plan and provide cover for: tuition fees, textbook allowance, personal allowance, allowance for private accommodation or university accommodation and meals.

The stand-out offering here is that most bursaries want students that are performance-based. The Anglo Plats selection process fills a gap in that it focuses on those students who haven’t necessarily been top of their class but have worked hard and passed well enough to qualify to go to a higher education institution. This broadens the opportunity. All these students come from very vulnerable backgrounds – orphans and vulnerable children, unemployed households, child-headed households, and vulnerable youth. Mostly this group resides within Limpopo and parts of the Northwest areas. Anglo Plats has restructured the criteria of critical elements needed for these students in order to ensure that they’re able to integrate into higher education institutions.

Obviously, one of the big wins is that if they’re financially supported, then turnout is good and the dropout rates will be low, but psychosocial support is vital because these students need that one-on-one engagement. They need mentorship, support and for some they need that clinical psychologist support. There is regular engagement with students and people checking up on them and tracking their academic performance. Holistic support is a value add to students because they feel engaged, they feel like they are part of a broader community and that they’re not alone within the higher education institutions.

Why corporates should join bursary initiatives

Looking at the impact of Covid there are a lot of families that can’t afford to send their children into higher education institutions. In a South African context, we have a substantial number of our youth who are not doing anything – they qualify for entry into higher education institutions, but do not necessarily have the financial resources to do so. the people that are most in need of them are those who require financial assistance. Most of these are students are from rural backgrounds and what needs to be carefully considered is to look at how these students receive support for the kinds of foundations necessarily to be able to succeed in this next level of education. Psychosocial support is a vital element for students within this category – they require that constant engagement because it’s not just about giving them the bursary – you need to track the academic performance and provide that human touch for them to feel that you care. So psychosocial support brings that and enables them to be ready not only for higher education institutions, but also for work readiness, and once they get that qualification they need to be integrated into the economy.

For this reason, bursary initiatives are essential. And it’s not just about universities. Drawing on fact that our youth are Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET), our youth are at a loss and struggling to find any opportunities. Important to note is that it’s not about just funding critical skills, it’s about looking at the broad spectrum of TVETs as well as universities. There are excellent programmes that offer work readiness within the psychosocial support element, which are essential to get youth economically active. But if they don’t receive support, like financial systems to pursue their tertiary education, it leaves them idle. And then social investors lose out on that potential of them having the opportunity to contribute to the economy.

Link to youth unemployment

Paramount to bursary initiatives is how social investors are addressing youth unemployment. The NEET space could be one way for corporate social investors to tap into bursary management. Idle youth is a dangerous youth, and we owe it to our youth to provide these critical elements in order for them to integrate into the economy. It’s about looking beyond universities and considering the TVET space – these students also in need of financial assistance, to be able to study as a boilermaker, a welder, or as a plumber. There is a great need for these ‘trade’ skills and providing the opportunity to these learners reduces the possibility of them being idle unproductive in society. Corporate South Africa needs to take a step back and take a holistic view and pursue proper bursary management as one of the pathways into the economy for South Africa’s youth.