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R28m earmarked to lessen fees gap

As with 2016, 2017 will be another testing year for higher education, including Unisa, particularly with increasing demands for academic inclusion and financial support. The persistent demand for free education saw fee increases being capped at 8% for the year 2017, which is a figure that continues to promote uncertainty and sow a wide financial gap for many other tertiary institutions in South Africa.

In an effort to curb the gripping effects of #FeesMustFall on the university’s fiscus, the Unisa Foundation Board of Trustees at its meeting of 16 March 2017 resolved to transfer an amount of 28 million rand from the Unisa Foundation Development Fund towards student bursaries.

The Chairperson of the Unisa Foundation Board, Dr Jackie Mphafudi, said that the transfer was part of the obligation by the board to distribute at least 75% of unrestricted funds raised each year. “Given the pressing demands of the missing middle, the board felt that it was important to transfer these funds to financially needy and academically deserving students to further access and succeed in their studies.”

Mphafudi said that the board is continually garnering the support of the public and private sectors as it views student access as a strategic project of the university. The board, he said, “is also involved in other fundraising initiatives in order to lessen the fees gap created over the past two years.”

Parallel to these initiatives are the board’s fundraising missions in the USA and the UK. The Unisa Fund Inc. was established as a fundraising vehicle for alumni, donors, and citizens based in the US, which ensures that donations comply with the laws governing fundraising by not-for-profit organisations in the USA.

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice Chancellor of Unisa, said that the generous contribution was received with excitement by student formations at Unisa. “They know that students are going to benefit immensely from the contribution as the board supports their well-being.”

He said that funds were earmarked for distribution during this academic year (2017) and would be disbursed using tried and tested methods. “We will use the criteria used by NSFAS, where the money will go to financially needy students but who have the potential. The approach is also to allocate funds for the first semester but also ensure that students qualifying for the second semester are taken care of.”

The Vice Chancellor, however, stated that the requests from students for financial support surpass the resources available, which “clearly states that there is still a shortfall of funds and the university needs the support of its alumni, who are key in university’s fundraising efforts”.

“This signifies that the demand for free education is not something that universities can resolve on their own but that the strong alumni base we have at Unisa can make significant financial contributions to alleviate the shortfall in student bursaries,” he added.

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*By Busisiwe Mahlangu