Making your tertiary funding count

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As tertiary students count down to completing their final exams, the most stressful part of the year is yet to come for many: settling their outstanding fees. While universities and other tertiary institutions often choose to withhold results or qualifications as their only means of collecting the final debts owed, there are options available for students – and now could be the ideal time to explore these.

While access to funding is just one of the critical factors linked to tertiary student success, it is arguably the most important – as it acts as the foundation point for students to start their studying. “Our continued engagement with students around funding shows that securing money for and then setting university or institution fees remain the biggest pressure points,” explains Mala Suriah, Acting CEO of Fundi. “Even though these might be covered by a bursary or NSFAS, because many students haven’t been exposed to these vast amounts of money before – or the responsibility that comes with this – there is a lot of anxiety involved in understanding what is and what isn’t covered by ‘sponsored’ funding, and what happens if they don’t achieve the required marks.”

She adds that there is also a lot of concern about “hidden” costs that they discover at the last minute: “A great example of these is registration fees – typically required to be settled upfront before sponsored funding becomes available. This makes it critical for sector players to work together effectively to not only communicate with students about how funding works, but also educate them about the basics of financial management: things like budgeting; how to research bank accounts; saving and investing and more.”

Suriah notes that funding-related surveys and research conducted by Fundi over the course of the year has highlighted how insecurity around funding; changes in ecosystems, systems and processes, as well as a lack of understanding about how funding works and where to find information can impact students negatively – affecting studying outcomes. “Our FundiConnect research revealed extremely positive data in terms of how many students were working to educate and empower themselves in terms of managing their money and financial management, but similarly revealed the big ‘ask” and need for help in this space. Students were open about their lack of relevant exposure to money and finance, and how they didn’t necessarily have people within their ‘circle of influence’ they could comfortably ask. As such, education around funding – and how to make the most of your tertiary funding – remains one of the gaps we as collective players in the space need to solve.”

While “irresponsible spending behaviour” is often a “go to” response when tertiary drop-put rates related to funding are analysed (with South Africa having a worrying 50 – 60% first year drop-out rate), it is important to recognise how upward adjustments and increases in basic living costs affect the day-to-day choices of many students, especially those trying to support family members at home. “Most households in our country are under incredible pressure, given things like rising transport, electricity and water costs. Imagine then what these realities look like if you’re a student – and you don’t know how your financial decisions today could impact your education outcomes tomorrow.”

With the end of the year now in clear sight, Suriah recommends that students under financial pressure to settle end-of-year fees take action and ask for help: “The first thing to do is understand what is owed to the institution and what payment terms are available to you. Also ask if any additional help is possible from the institution itself,” she says. “Once you understand the figure and the payment terms, you can then see what other funding options might be available to you, including a bursary or a loan. There are several corporates that sponsor outstanding student debt repayments as part of their CSI initiatives. In our case at Fundi for example, we also have specific loan packages available to assist with end of year settlement which – it must be emphasised – are available throughout the year. We also have critical student resources around how funding works; options available and basic financial education ready and waiting on both our Fundi and FundiConnect websites.

“Most importantly though, we want to encourage students who are worried or stressed about matters relating to finance or anything else relating to their studies to seek help from their tertiary institutions or from the many ecosystem players ready and available to help. You’re not alone when it comes to navigating this journey – and there are so many people who want you to succeed! Reach out, ask for help and see what is available to you. That way, you can end this year being able to celebrate all you have achieved and all that lies ahead,” she concludes.