When Paige Schimper's student debt threatened to derail not only her academic career but also her career prospects, she would not have thought that a little-known Stellenbosch University (SU) bursary fund would present her with the clean slate she was praying for.
But that is exactly what happened when the Matie alumna became the first recipient of the EU/UK Bursary Fund in March 2023.
Established in 2019, the EU/UK Bursary Fund gives academically gifted but financially disadvantaged students the opportunity to pursue success at SU and reach their full potential. An amount of 8 000€ will provide at least one student, for one year, with a full bursary that covers tuition, housing, food and textbooks.
Schimper, who graduated with a BCom in Information Systems and Logistics and Supply Chain Management in 2021, takes up the story.
“When I started my first year in 2018, I was granted a NSFAS bursary that would fully fund me while I studied. However, in my final year, for the entire 2021, I had no money from NSFAS paid into my account. I was left with an unexpected amount of debt and no explanation. I was also not able to receive my degree or academic records because of my outstanding student account. From 2021 until March 2023, there were no payments forthcoming and I suffered tremendously under the emotional toll of the situation. Debt collectors were on my case and I struggled to find a job as most companies want to see your academic transcripts which I didn't have."
She says thankfully Karen Bruns, Senior Director of Development and Alumni Relations at SU, heard about her predicament and put her name forward to the directors of the EU/UK Bursary Fund.
“I was unaware of the bursary until Karen had told me about it. However, there are not enough words to describe the amount of gratitude I felt when I heard the news that I had received the bursary and that my debt would be settled. The weight of this burden disappeared into thin air and I was brought to tears, tears of relief, joy and appreciation. I could not believe that people can be so giving. I am extremely grateful and humbled by the generosity of all who contributed to making this all possible."
Schimper encourages her fellow alumni to consider contributing to the bursary fund.
“By giving to this bursary, you transform someone's future, allowing them to pursue their dreams that otherwise might seem unreachable. Your contribution goes beyond financial assistance, it serves as a beacon of hope, motivation, and belief in the abilities of aspiring individuals. Your generosity can make a lasting difference and serve as a catalyst for someone's success."
The Durban native, who recently started her first full time position as a junior information systems administrator, will herself start making a contribution to the fund this year.
“I would like to be part of the difference this could make to someone else's life like it did to mine," she says.
Prominent SU affiliates who contributed to the EU/UK Bursary Fund include SU's Vice-Chancellor and Rector Prof Wim de Villiers, who two years ago cycled the London to Brighton Cycle Ride with five Maties and friends to raise just over 8 000 pounds for the fund.