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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Universities South Africa fundraising for the higher education sector surpasses half of the R1 billion target

Universities South Africa (USAf) raised R 571 080 719 in 24 months in an attempt to contribute towards remedying the perennial financial challenges faced by South Africa’s university students and the higher education sector.

According to USAf communications consultant Nqobile Tembe the organisation undertook to raise R1 billion.

USAf CEO Professor Ahmed Bawa said that attempts to galvanise additional resources began in 2016.

Bawa said the fund raising was prompted by several factors, including the sudden shift to emergency remote teaching, students’ struggle to pay their tuition fees, and concerns over the rising student debt to universities, which now standing at more than R14 billion.

“We sought partnerships with a number of statutory and private sector institutions to address the challenges.

“The actions taken by the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETAs), especially the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP-SETA), and the banks, demonstrate much commitment to our most talented young people and to higher education more generally,” said Bawa.

Adding that the development of these partnerships auger very well for the future of our nation.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the financial challenges faced by students and their families. The pandemic also placed universities at significant financial risk. In light of this, Bawa said USAf decided to accelerate the fundraising drive by seeking and streamlining new lines of investment in higher education.

Research shows that universities have been experiencing declines in government subsidies on a per capita basis over the last few years. This, together with government’s proposal for the regulation of tuition fee increases, the cuts in funding for research and innovation and the challenges related to student funding conspire to drive growing concerns over the sustainability of the institutions and the sector. It is also worth noting that student historic debt to universities has escalated to approximately R14 billion.

It is against this backdrop that USAf undertook the raising of funds.

“The various grants have been or will be channelled to universities for undergraduate and postgraduate student bursaries for 2020 and 2021, purchasing laptops for needy students in 2020, training insourced security personnel at various institutions and sponsoring technological capacity development at universities,” said Bawa.

Bawa said sourcing of funds was intensified with the arrival of Dr Linda Meyer, director for operations and sector support at USAf.

“Like in so many other areas, the pandemic opened the way for much energy and lateral thinking in the way that higher education addressed its challenges,” said Bawa.

Meyer said even though the targeted amount seems minuscule when viewed in the context of the current student debt owed to universities, the lifeline testimonies from student beneficiaries, and universities, makes USAf’s efforts worthwhile.

She said she will renew her commitment to realising the R1 billion target by 2022.

“The need in the sector remains mammoth. For this reason, we will keep knocking on new doors and engaging with prospective partners,” said Meyer.

She added that she applauds the USAf Office for its commitment and support in achieving and exceeding USAf’s contractual obligations to the donors and SETAs.

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