USAf’s Partnership with the SETAs produced close to R800 million to support 22 104 students

Published On: 24 February 2022|

In 2020, Universities South Africa (USAf) pledged to raise R1 billion in 24 months to assist students in need of support; are enrolled in undergraduate study programmes are not  supported by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) or by any other funding source.

Typically, unfunded students have been found to bear the brunt of funding insecurity  at universities as they battle to pay their tuition fees. Over time, the accumulating debt affects their mental wellbeing, their academic performance and potentially blocks them from graduating.    Often referred to as “missing-middle students,” these are students from working class families whose annual family income is above the R350 000, which places them above the qualifying threshold of NSFAS –yet also precludes them from qualifying for study loans from commercial banks. Some of the funds raised by USAf are also targeted at postgraduate students in specific programmes who cannot access grants from the National Research Foundation due to general budget limitations.

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USAf’s fundraising project has, as of 20 February 2022, reached R795,710,719, including new pledges and commitments for up to 2023. From August 2020 to date, USAf’s fundraising has reached 22 104 students, thanks to generous contributions from both public and private sector entities. USAf’s main partners in this endeavour are six Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). The bulk of the SETA funds received provided much-needed student debt relief and bursaries.

Other  grants, primarily from partners such as ABSA and the Standard Bank Group, helped secure electronic learning devices to aid students from disadvantaged families who struggled when universities switched to remote teaching and learning in response to the global CoVID-19 pandemic. This intervention saw up to 1 677 students receiving new laptops.

In 2022, the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Presidential Youth Employment Stimulus fund has also come on board, helping place 3,000 university graduates in work placement opportunities across the 26 public universities in 2022.

Below is a summary of funds raised from 2020, starting with the 2022/23 allocations.

Funding pledged/secured for public universities in 2022/2023: (Jan-Feb 2022)

Source of Grant Allocation Type Grant Values Project Duration Students Supported
ETDP SETA Bursaries for B.Ed./ M.Sc students R 88 080 000 2022 – 2023 950
SERVICES SETA Student Debt Relief 2021 R 15 000 000 2022 350
DHET’s  Presidential Youth Employment Stimulus Placement of 3000 undergraduate students R 90 000 000 2022 3000
R 193 080 000 4 300

Funding secured for public universities in 2021/2022:

Source of Grant Allocation Type Grant Values Project Duration Students Supported
ETDP SETA Universities Leadership Development Programme 2020 – 2022 R 35 000 000 2021 – 2023 1000
ETDP SETA Student Debt Relief 2021 R 45 000 000 2021 1200
ETDP SETA Student Debt Relief R 58 100 000 2021 581
ETDP SETA Customer Services R 1 740 719 2021 n/a
FASSET SETA Student Debt Relief 2021 R 45 000 000 2021 – 2022 730
FOODBEV SETA Student Debt Relief 2021 R 31 500 000 2021 749
W&R SETA Student Debt Relief 2021 R 30 000 000 2021 410
SASSETA Student Debt Relief 2021 R 15 000 000 2021 – 2022 544
SASSETA Law Clinic Project R 8 400 000 2021 – 2023 50
SERVICES SETA Student Debt Relief 2021 R 31 500 000 2021 – 2022 645
R 301 240 719 5 909

Funding secured for public universities in 2020/2021

Source of Grant Allocation Type Grant Values Project Duration Student Supported
ETDP SETA Postgraduate Project 2020 / 2021 R 80 000 000 2020 – 2022 2751
ETDP SETA Undergraduate Project 2020 / 2021 R 200 000000 2020 – 2022 7287
SASSETA Student Bursaries 2020 R 5 390 000 2020 97
SASSETA Student Bursaries 2020 R 4 900 000 2020 83
SASSETA Security Offices Training R 1 600 000 2020 n/a
Absa Student Laptops R 6 000 000 2020 1021
Standard Bank Student Laptops R 3 500 000 2020 656
R 301 390 000 11 895

*Key to the acronyms

  • ETDP SETA – Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority
  • FASSET – Financial and Accounting Services Sector Education and Training Authority
  • FoodBev SETA– Food and Beverage Manufacturing Industry Sector Education and Training Authority
  • SASSETA – Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority
  • W&R SETA – Wholesale and Retail Skills Education and Training Authority.

According to Professor Ahmed Bawa, Chief Executive Officer at Universities SA, even though students’ debt owed to public universities (excluding NSFAS students) stands at R16,5 billion, every penny that USAf receives and channels to the universities, contributes to eroding this staggering amount. Recognising the role that education plays in graduates’ social mobility and transformation, Professor Bawa invites more entities to heed USAf’s call to step in to enable needy students to succeed and to aid the long-term sustainability of public universities.

“In our ailing economy, the national fiscus can only do so much. We now truly look to private sector institutions to do their bit in social responsibility. We must assure future generations that our universities can sustain the knowledge project way beyond our time. In a democracy such as ours, it is antithetical to the purpose of universities that students who qualify to take up higher education programmes are prevented from doing so because they cannot afford it.”

To that end, Dr Linda Meyer, Director: Operations and Sector Support, who is leading USAf’s fundraising drive, has reiterated USAf’s commitment to continuing to engage stakeholders to maintain this momentum.

“As mandated by our Board of Directors, USAf will continue to pursue funding opportunities to support undergraduate and postgraduate public university students from poor and missing households, in our effort to have a positive impact on thousands of students’ lives “

Nqobile Tembe is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.