Access, success and financial support important for student success

Access to institutions, success and financial support: these are the elements for student success at South African institutions of higher education. This was the message from Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, at a gala event of a conference held in Stellenbosch this week. The conference is titled Access to Financial Aid in Further and Higher Education in South Africa.In addressing delegates attending the annual conference presented by the Financial Aid Practitioners of South Africa (FAPSA) in collaboration with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), Prof Botman said that this triangle of support is the strongest form of support institutions can present its students.

Prof Botman said that it is imperative that in a world of financial risks, a student’s first year be secured, not only financially, but also academically. In addition, he said, the challenge was also about how to help students get to their second year of study as very often financial support from among others, the private sector, depended on success in the first number of years of study.

To tackle this problem, Prof Botman said, Stellenbosch University (SU) has successfully introduced a First Year Academy. The Academy is also a first for South African universities. “The Academy has already produced significant results in improving the success rate of our students. In essence we have created a structure (spanning all our faculties) that focuses on the problems of first year students and we have now expanded this approach to address the needs of students in their senior years of study.”

He also said that the success of students is meticulously tracked on a day-to-day basis. “The extensive use of a tracking system is not only used as a diagnostic tool to point out shortcomings or problem areas in the students’ academic skills and abilities, but it is also used as a support system to help students to study with success.”

He also referred to the issue of reaching out to the community and especially the large number of potential students in rural areas that in comparison with those in urban areas do not have access to higher education. “Over the next few years Stellenbosch University will be also rolling out its Rural Training Platform over vast areas of the Western and Southern Cape as well as the West Coast to provide high level training opportunities for rural communities and our students alike. Part of the comprehensive activities of such a platform will be educator and learner-focused programs to provide critically needed academic programs for rural learners.”

He also mentioned a number of challenges surrounding language, which is a factor influencing access to SU and also has an effect on academic success. He said that the University is to a large degree making it possible for a student to study in his language of choice, but as success is very often embedded in diversity, students are also being exposed to other languages.

He was also appreciative of the work done by NSFAS and said that he hoped that by 2015 there would be a turn around with more financial support coming from the private sector in the earlier years of study.

The conference, hosted by SU, concludes today.

More information on FAPSA:
FAPSA is a professional organisation in South Africa that seeks to promote the best practices for student financial aid administration that will keep up to date with current and future developments and issues in the field of Student Financial Aid – drawing from the expertise and experiences of members at higher education institutions as well as counterparts at international organisations. FAPSA is run by a Management Committee and membership includes Practitioners who work in the field of Student Financial Aid at tertiary institutions as well as various government departments and other stakeholders who have an interest in student funding. FAPSA also network with other funding agencies such as NSFAS, banks, and financial institutions involved in the funding of tertiary education.