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Project Zero bursary 'best birthday present ever'
Author: Pia Nänny
Published: 17/05/2017

The Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) welcomed its second cohort of Project Zero bursary recipients in 2017.

One of them – William April – received "the best birthday present ever" on 27 June 2016 – his 17th birthday – when he was informed that a bursary had been awarded to him.

It was shortly after the start of the winter school holiday and this former learner from New Orleans Secondary School in Paarl was attending the HOPE@Maties winter school in Genadendal when he received the news. HOPE@Maties is a university preparation programme offered by SUNCEP, the Centre for Pedagogy at Stellenbosch University.

"I was beside myself with joy and gratitude. I want to complete my Accounting degree and postgraduate studies successfully to ensure that my dream of becoming a chartered accounting becomes a reality.

"This bursary removed a financial burden from my, and my parents', shoulders. I can now focus all my attention on my studies."

The Project Zero initiative is aimed at reducing the cost of studying at SU to zero for talented students. Project Zero bursaries, along with the University's recruitment and merit bursaries, cover the student's full university account. Based on academic merit, the bursary is offered to black, coloured and Indian (BCI) students, half of whom come from communities with the lowest socio-economic status.

What makes the initiative sustainable is that the Faculty's exposure per student is limited to that portion of the account not yet covered by other bursaries, whether it's R10 000 or R40 000, as well as the judicious awarding of bursaries. Only top academic performers qualify. The faculty collaborates closely with projects such as Rachel's Angels, a mentorship programme in 25 partner schools, in order to identify potential recipients.

Prof Stan du Plessis, former dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, explained in an interview last year: "The Project Zero bursary shifts the financial risk from the student to the Faculty and provides peace of mind so that the student can focus on his or her studies and graduate successfully.

"This initiative forms part of the faculty's vision for social impact. It is a powerful intervention because it offers a unique opportunity, which students from resource-poor backgrounds wouldn't have been able to unlock in any other way."

The first cohort of Project Zero bursary students embarked on their undergraduate journey at SU in January 2016. Most of the students who accepted the bursary registered for a degree in actuarial science or accounting. 16 of the 18 students who form part of the 2016 cohort passed all of their modules last year and four are maintaining an average of 75% and higher.

The 2017 cohort consists of 20 students – 10 enrolled for an accounting degree and eight for a degree in actuarial science.

"The interest is the bursary thus far is encouraging," says Prof Du Plessis. "Donors seem to identify with the vision of the bursary, which is to give promising students who wouldn't have had the opportunity otherwise access to higher education. Such access doesn't only change the student's life in a dramatic and positive manner, but in most cases also affects the prospects of his or her family."

Earlier this year, the fund benefitted from a financial injection of R2.3 million from the Banking Sector Education and Training Authority (BANKSETA).

No contribution is too small and funds can be earmarked for the Project Zero initiative. Contact the faculty manager, MJ Brooks, on +27 (0)21 808 2078 or mjbrooks@sun.ac.za if you wish to contribute.