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The sky is the limit for these Unisa stars

In his maiden mid-term budget statement, Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, painted a bleak picture of the country’s economy. But, he did announce a few positive aspects for higher education. One of them is increasing the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to R40 billion by 2020. While this is a huge boon for students, a stagnant economy means it may be difficult to find employment.

Bonginkosi Ndumo

However, there are ways for outstanding students and employees to find each other. The Top 100 Gradstar programme recognises the top 100 university students across South Africa and connects them to potential employees and business mentors.

'I found out about Gradstar through an email I received,’ says Bonginkosi Ndumo. ‘I decided to apply after reading about the programme on their website. There is a four-stage process in order to be selected as one of the Top 100 Gradstars.’ His Unisa and Gradstar journey started this year when he began pursuing as Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Accounting Sciences in order to fulfil his dream of becoming a chartered accountant. Ndumo and fellow student, Rethabile Lekabe, who is also pursuing a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Accounting Sciences, have the distinct honour of being named Unisa's first Gradstars, selected from more than 3 500 entrants from around the country.

Networking with like-minded individuals

To be able to stand out after such a rigorous interview process is an honour and a privilege,’ says Lekabe. ‘I was able to network with individuals from different companies and meet like-minded individuals. The calibre of the Gradstars is remarkable.

The Gradstar application process is rigorous. It is split into four stages. Stage one entails a Shadowmatch worksheet which identifies behavioural habits such as problem solving, discipline and self-motivation. Stage two and three involve questionnaires, and in stage four the top 500 candidates conduct a five-minute presentation to a panel of two or three people as a final assessment.

Rethabile Lekabe

For Lekabe, part of the motivation to apply to become a Gradstar comes from the concentration needed from a student of distance learning. ‘Being part of Unisa instilled a high sense of discipline and required a lot of focus,’ she says. ‘I joined Whatsapp and Facebook groups with students enrolled in the same course as me. Having fellow students you can converse with and engage further on with topics has been one of the biggest contributors to my academic year. The support staff at Unisa’s College of Accounting Sciences are always willing to help and respond to emails timeously.

Unisa students are special

Despite being a star in her own right, Lekabe feels Unisa students, in general, are special. ‘I really do believe graduates from Unisa should be applauded once you consider the amount of effort it requires to self-study, notwithstanding most who are also balancing a full time job,’ she says. ‘Unisa graduates are generally self-starters and are able to keep themselves motivated in their journey.

It seems for these Gradstars made the right choice when choosing Unisa as their academic home. ‘I needed flexibility in terms of balancing life and school and Unisa gives me that, says Ndumo with a smile. 'After discussions with others I knew for sure that Unisa would be my next academic home.'

* By Kirosha Naicker