President Jacob Zuma appeals to private sector to fund poor students

President Jacob Zuma has appealed to the private sector to lend a hand and assist his administration open access to higher education for poor youth.

“It is a commitment of government, through the department of higher education [and training], that no poor and academically deserving young person should ever miss out on a study opportunity in higher institutions because of their financial background,” he said.

“Government is … indeed doing more to assist [students] already. I’m specifically referring to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the Funza Lushaka student support scheme, the bursaries supporting social workers, medical doctors and other professionals where billions of rands are providing the means to needy students to further their studies at university and [further education and training] colleges.

“But this is still not enough. That is why we ask the private sector to also assist by funding education and providing bursaries, learnerships and other support to the youth.”

Zuma was speaking at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) last night at the launch of Thusanani Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation that – among other things – provides career guidance to rural and township school learners, university access information and facilitates bursaries.

The organisation is the brainchild of Mukovhe Morris Masutha, an ANC member and former president of the Wits Student Representative Council.

Milestone for youth development
Started in 2011, Thusanani’s advisory board now includes heavyweights such as Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, vice-principal of research and innovation at the University of South Africa.

Phakeng said at the launch: “Today marks a milestone of real significance for youth development in South Africa, in particular the youth who don’t have access to higher education. They don’t know about opportunities to get into education – and some of them get into higher education [but] don’t have enough support to succeed. Thusanani Foundation, a youth-led organisation, is here for all those young people.”

Zuma said organisations such as Thusanani “remind us that no academically deserving learner must ever be excluded from the higher education system simply on basis of his or her parents’ socio-economic status”.

He revealed that “when the plight of students was first discovered” at the beginning of the year, his own Jacob Zuma Foundation “granted registration fees” to 40 students at Wits, 51 at the University of Johannesburg, 16 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and four at the University of Pretoria.

This “plight” Zuma is referring to saw thousands of poor and academically deserving students miss out on university this year. Owing to a deep funding shortfall, NSFAS funded just about half the student population that qualified for funding this year.

Funding deficit
The government was yet to address the funding deficit. NSFAS’s allocation for university loans and college bursaries has increased slightly from R8.2-billion currently to R8.9-billion next year.

University loans and bursaries make up only R3.9-billion of the R8.850-billion allocation, while R2.1-billion is for further education and training college bursaries. NSFAS will also be responsible for R2.4-billion set aside for scarce skills bursaries, including the teachers’ scheme Funza Lushaka.

But Zuma told the Thusanani launch “our government continues to set education as an apex priority. We do this because of our conviction that education remains a pillar of development to our society and thus dependent.

“The initiative we’re launching today is important because it speaks to an important collaboration between government, the community sector and academia in promoting youth education and empowerment.”

The Department of Higher Education and Training announced two university scholarships, named after late ANC stalwarts Pixley ka Seme and Johnny Mfanafuthi Makhathini, to be rolled out in partnership with Thusanani.

Masutha said the organisation is steeped in breaking the cycle of poverty and help reverse socio-economic inequalities. Together with volunteers, Masutha spoke about crisscrossing the country to motivate pupils in remote rural areas that they could also make it to university.

Zuma urged the country’s students to enroll for scarce skills professions such as science and technology. “These are skills we need.”

And to resounding laughter, the president joked about theology studies. “I was a chancellor one time in one university I’m not going to mention, and I was feeling very upset that the majority of students at times were those that had studied biblical studies.

“The sad part [is] we need few pastors. We need to study science so that we can change the world. Biblical studies change the hearts only.”