SAGEA Releases Bursary & Scholarships Insights 2021

Wednesday, 8 December 2021 – SAGEA’s Bursary & Scholarships Insights 2021 was released to SAGEA members during a virtual networking event this week. The definitive study of organisations and their bursary activities, it provides information about bursary recruitment in South Africa, insights into the latest market conditions and the quality and quantity of students on bursary programmes. It also explores the challenges that organisations and bursary students are facing.

A total of 40 organisations participated in this year’s survey. The vast majority confirmed that one of the main reasons for providing bursaries was to build a future talent pipeline, while two-thirds wanted to build an equity pipeline. “It has been encouraging to see a steady increase in employers offering bursaries to first year students, as this has historically been seen as risky,” says Cathy Sims, Executive Director at SAGEA. “Of the 92% of participants who offer opportunities to undergraduates, the majority provided them from the first or second year of study.”

“Also encouraging is that some 73% offered bursaries to postgraduate students,” she adds. “It can be difficult for students to continue on to postgraduate studies without this kind of support, and we are pleased to see employers recognising the value of further study and putting funding behind it.” Accounting firms, banks, law firms and philanthropic or not-for-profit organisations are the most likely to offer bursaries for postgraduate studies.

Not unexpectedly, most bursaries are offered to students from the commerce, computer science or engineering faculties, and one third is offered in law. However, at least a quarter of participants had bursars in environmental science or the natural sciences and there are some bursaries on offer for students studying courses in creative arts or society and culture.

Employers in this year’s survey provided more than 7,000 bursaries or scholarships in 2021. Over a third of these places were given to students studying at the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria, or the University of Witwatersrand.

Student Support During COVID and Beyond

It is not uncommon for bursars to struggle once they reach university. More than two-thirds of organisations felt one of the main reasons was the adjustment needed going from a school to a university environment. As such, most employers offer varying types of support to their bursary students over-and-above funding.

Regular contact with bursars via telephone, email and other digital communication channels are commonly used to check in with students. Even with the ongoing pandemic, employers conducted campus visits, social events or training sessions, in line with Health & Safety protocols.

The pandemic certainly added additional challenges for bursary students to cope with. Three-fifths of our survey participants suggested that the home environment was not conducive to study, while similar numbers were concerned with the well-being of their bursars.

“We know, at least anecdotally, that many students found themselves struggling with connectivity,” Sims says. “Others did not have dedicated space available in their family homes in which to study or attend virtual lectures, and still others had to participate in family life which would have detracted from their available study time.”

To provide support to bursary students, as many as 70% of organisations have a dedicated bursary liaison person in their team. Two-fifths also provided a mentor for each bursar, while 28% have a buddy system. Nearly half have professional counselling available for their bursars and around a quarter had study skills support or extra tutoring.

“The biggest difference in support facilities offered in 2021, compared to our last survey in 2018, is the amount of effort employers have put into providing psychosocial support. This has been done to help their bursars make the shift to virtual learning and manage the challenges of studying from home instead of having access to libraries, study halls and residences in which it is easier to focus,” Sims says.

Skills and Allowances

At least half of our respondents felt that collaboration and critical thinking skills – two of the 4C’s of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – were lacking in their bursary students. Nearly half felt their candidates would need to focus on developing their leadership skills, while similar numbers mentioned ICT literacy and cultural and civic literacy as development areas. Two-fifths of employers would like to see their bursars’ display more initiative.

On the positive side, more than three-quarters of employers were pleased with their bursars’ numeracy and literacy skills, while similar numbers admired the levels of persistence and grit displayed by their bursars and scholars. Nearly two-thirds felt that curiosity was consistently displayed, while similar numbers were impressed with their scientific literacy.

While 80% of employers offered full funding of tuition fees, fewer organisations offered the same level of funding for accommodation – either in on-campus residences or near-campus rental accommodation. Of participants, 69% fund accommodation in full and a further 10% fund it partially. A fifth vary their policy on accommodation funding depending on where each bursary student was studying. “It is positive to see employers recognising the importance of paid-for accommodation in contributing to student success, and we hope to see this percentage increase in future surveys,” Sims says.

There was a wide variety of different allowances provided by each of this year’s survey participants. Most organisations provided an allowance for textbooks, while two-thirds did the same for a meal allowance. Here, it should be noted that many bursars also had meals paid for in residence. Two-thirds of participants gave a laptop allowance and most provided pocket money. Very few organisations had an allowance for excursions, medical aid or the cost of travel home for the holidays.

“As employers continue to look more closely at their students’ well-being and psychosocial needs, it’s worth remembering that a safe roof over one’s head, a full stomach and being able to travel home and receive the support and love of one’s family are important to a student’s success on campus,” Sims points out.

Finally, while almost two thirds of participants report that students have struggled to adapt to online learning, and 40% are seeing more students having to repeat courses, 23% say the overall pass rate has increased amongst their bursary students. “We’ve seen the same trend in the matric pass rates, and particularly in maths results,” Sims says, “so it’s worth considering why this might be the case and perhaps retaining some of the changes that had to be made during the pandemic to support these improvements.”

SAGEA members can access the insights here.