Impact SA

Q&A: Holistic bursary initiatives to curb youth unemployment


With the end of the school year fast approaching, the future of South Africa’s youth is high on the agenda. Holistic bursary initiatives are critical to ensuring our youth can become gainfully employed.

According to Stats SA, attendance of educational institutions among youth aged 18–24 in 2021 was relatively high, although a clear lag in completion was linked to socio-economic status. Bursaries are crucial to closing this socio-economic divide.

Paramount to bursary initiatives is the addressing of youth unemployment. Idle youth is a dangerous youth, and we owe it to our youth to provide these critical elements in the form of effective bursary initiatives to assist them to integrate into the economy.

Educational Specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments, Shamiso Chideme, unpacks the importance of effective bursary management. In a Q&A, she identifies key focus areas in bursary initiatives that broaden the opportunity for our youth and assists them to become gainfully employed.

  • What is South Africa’s university dropout rate?

Earlier this year, Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, expressed that the Post School Education sector is in crisis, with between 50-60% of first year students dropping out.

  • What are some of the reasons for this high university dropout rate?

According to a report by Stats SA titled, ‘Increase in number of out-of-school youth in SA’, in 2021, the most prominent reasons for non-attendance included illness and disability (22,7%), poor academic performance (21,2%) and lack of money for fees (19,6%).

  • Why is South Africa’s very successful National Student Financial Aid Scheme not enough?

Although this scheme supports about 120 000 of 735 000 university students, these loans and bursaries do not cover the full costs of study, leaving poor students struggling to meet living and other expenses, thereby contributing to dropout.

  • What is meant by a ‘holistic’ approach to bursary initiatives?

Bursaries are not just about tuition fees. They are also about accommodation, meals, utilities, transport, learning tools such as books and laptops, and critically – and often overlooked – psychosocial support.

It also means broadening the bursary offering by going beyond the formal university education and expanding into other essential avenues of education – opening pathways into TVET colleges and the arts. This approach is crucial to expanding on the pool of candidates, providing a lot more opportunity, and reducing the incidence of idle youth.

  • Why is psychosocial support so important?

These students need one-on-one engagement. They need mentorship, support and for some, even clinical psychologist support. Psychosocial support means regular engagement with students – ‘checking in’ with them and tracking and monitoring their academic performance.

Psychosocial support makes them feel engaged like they are part of a broader community and that they’re not alone within the higher education institutions. They feel supported and this enhances their performance.

  • Are there examples of initiatives that focus on this holistic approach?

Yes. I can provide two examples: The first is Netflix’s commitment to supporting black representation in the Film & TV industry in South Africa; and another example is Anglo American Platinum’s drive to align bursary management with the Group’s Sustainable Mining Plan.

Both these offerings open avenues for youth who don’t necessarily qualify for the formal university setting.

  • What is meant by “don’t necessarily qualify for the formal university setting?”

Qualifying bursars don’t have to be top of the class. Holistic bursaries fill a gap by focusing on those students who have worked hard and passed well enough to qualify to go to a higher education institution. This broadens the opportunity and ensures that these students are able to integrate into higher education institutions.

  • What makes the Netflix initiative unique?

In the context of South Africa, the creative arts space is a very under-resourced sector – Netflix prioritises this space, which is most often overlooked.

A major benefit of the Netflix initiative is that they have expanded on the age restriction in the application process to include 18 – 35-year-olds (usually 25 is the cut-off), thereby increasing opportunity for candidates.

  • What is unique about the Anglo American Platinum offer?

Anglo American Platinum bursaries are targeted at 18 – 25-year-olds and are aligned with the Group’s Sustainable Mining Plan. The bursaries cover tuition fees, textbook allowance, personal allowance, allowance for private accommodation or university accommodation and meals.

The stand-out here is that most bursaries want students that are performance-based. The selection process with Anglo Platinum fills a gap by focusing on those students who haven’t necessarily been top of their class but have worked hard and passed well enough to qualify to go to a higher education institution. This broadens the opportunity, and, in aligning the bursary offer with their Sustainable Mining Plan, Anglo Platinum can contribute to a potential future workforce.

  • Are bursaries just about getting into universities?

No.Bursaries are about looking at the broad spectrum of TVETs too. These students are also in need of financial assistance, to be able to study as a boilermaker, a welder, a plumber and even the arts. There are excellent programmes that offer work readiness within the scope of these ‘trade’ skills, and within the psychosocial support element, thereby providing opportunities to these learners and preparing them to be economically active.

  • What should be top of mind for corporates who offer bursaries?

When we look at the broader issue of South African youth who are Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET), we need to acknowledge that our youth are at a loss and struggling to find opportunities. Bursary initiatives are essential. If our youth don’t receive support, like financial systems within a holistic approach to pursue their tertiary education, it leaves them idle. Corporate bursary offerings should look to supporting holistic bursary programmes to assist in eradicating youth unemployment.


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