The announcement by Absa of a R17m bursary investment over three years for academically deserving but financially vulnerable students of Nelson Mandela University was met with an initial sense of disbelief, followed by gratitude and immense relief.
Eighteen students from the George Campus are amongst the first group of beneficiaries of this initiative.
Executives from Absa, Nelson Mandela University and community stakeholders met with the elated recipients at a function held in their honour at the university’s George Campus on 13 September.
The event follows the launch of this innovative partnership in Port Elizabeth last month at a time of increased efforts by the University to widen access to higher education for academically deserving students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The exact circumstances of the 18 George bursars may differ, but the golden thread through the portrayal of their academic journeys, is their ambition to study and to excel, as in many instances they represent the hopes and dreams of family members and their communities. Furthermore, they are motivated by a strong desire to plough back their energies and expertise so that society in general can also reap the benefits of this unexpected, but well-deserved financial investment.
First year BCom Accounting student, Thandolwenkosi Maphumulo, from Umlazi in KZN and the first in his family to attend university, was attracted by Nelson Mandela University because, he says, the university “…offers one of the finest programs in the country and I consider myself fortunate to be able to attend”. “Growing up in a less privileged community has not only offered financial and academic challenges, but has also helped me realise the value of a tertiary education. Working as a volunteer in my community throughout my high school career, I enjoyed helping people learn about community services available to them. I hope to be able to serve in my community sometime in the future, where I might have even more of an ability to help less fortunate and under-represented social groups. My educational pursuits would not be possible without generous support from scholarship sponsors like your organisation (Absa). Thank you for enabling this opportunity”, he concluded.
Students also expressed their appreciation for the confidence that both Absa and the university have placed in them by recognising their potential and their hard work, stating that they are now motivated to work even harder in order to embrace the “gift of education”. The ability to complete their studies without financial worries (to them and their families) is another common thread.
Speakers at this celebratory occasion were in agreement that a multisector partnership approach was essential in order to prepare young people to help build a positive future for all. “We have to make hope a reality and despair unconvincing”, Campus Principal, Prof Quinton Johnson stated.
Drawing on indigenous examples, Absa Citizenship Manager, Andy de la Mare, emphasised that “…the country needs well-groomed graduates if we are to experience shared growth. We realise our interdependence, he stated, hence the decision by Absa to invest in education as a sustainable strategy which goes beyond corporate social responsibility,” he said.
Absa Customer Network Head, Brahm Ellie, shared his personal experience of how the support of a private organisation had assisted him to be able to study and achieve success and how this has motivated him to reciprocate. He views the bursary initiative as the “physical manifestation of Absa’s commitment to be relevant in society”. He encouraged the bursars to “learn, earn and return”. He also elaborated on the learnerships and other value-adding programmes that Absa has put in place to support young graduates and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Responding on behalf of the university, Prof Denise Zinn, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, explained the university’s quest to help build good citizens. She thanked Absa for their collaborative spirit and for demonstrating the value of Ubuntu though the partnership with the university. She also encouraged the students, saying that they have been chosen to receive the bursary because they deserve it and that they should believe in themselves. “We hope this gift will be given back and that you will help us build the kind of future we desire”, she said.
Dr Denver Webb, Acting CEO of the University Trust, concluded the inspirational event by also expressing his gratitude for the Absa partnership, explaining that “no bird can fly with one wing”. “Like Madiba we, through every student we help, are changing the world one individual at a time”, he said.
Criteria for the Absa scholarship included sustained academic performance; displaying of leadership potential through involvement in community and social initiatives; participation in extra-curricular activities, and pursuing of qualifications in the sphere of commerce, science, humanities, engineering or technology.