We still need your support. This was Prof Wim de Villiers’s message to donors at two business breakfast events held earlier this year in Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively, where he urged the private sector to continue its partnership with Stellenbosch University (SU).
“The primary thrust of the events was to clarify the University’s position in relation to the Presidential announcement of 16 December 2017 around fee-free higher education and the very real impact this has had and continues to have on students and institutions as a whole,” said Sarah Archer, Director of Fundraising in SU’s Development and Alumni Relations Division.
Prof de Villiers told both audiences that student funding remains crucial and that donor support was still needed for a substantial group of students. “Recent developments around the issue of free higher education have raised some questions regarding continued investment from our partners. This follows the announcement by former President Jacob Zuma that fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South Africans would be phased in from 2018,” he said.
According to Prof de Villiers, there are three reasons why this does not mean the private sector now no longer need to support higher education, particularly through bursaries.
“Firstly, questions remain about the ability of the state to fund this intervention sustainably in the long run, as pointed out by the Heher Commission, whose report was disregarded. Coupled with this, there are concerns about the practical rollout of the system, in light of ongoing problems with the administration of state funding, both to institutions and to students directly. Secondly, not all students in need of financial support manage to secure state funding, for a variety of reasons. And thirdly, those students who do receive state support still experience a shortfall. The perception is that the government support is full cost – but there are caps on each component of university cost, resulting in gaps that students are unable to cover themselves.”
According to De Villiers, the gaps in funding means there are still too many students graduating with crippling debt, which severely hampers their transition into the working world. “The government’s contribution basically only covers the tuition fees of students, but students need to live somewhere, or travel to class, they need to eat, buy books and data to access information. These costs are often overlooked, but no student can survive without that,” he added.
Prof de Villiers subsequently thanked donors who have played a significant role in helping SU and its students succeed. “Donors have been the lifeblood of our institution and we thank everyone who has helped to shape Stellenbosch University and cement its reputation as a world-class academic institution.”