More collaborative efforts and partnerships need to be formed by universities to help raise funds for students in debt. Picture: Nic Bothma
More collaborative efforts and partnerships need to be formed by universities to help raise funds for students in debt. Picture: Nic Bothma

Universities need to infuse entrepreneurial thinking to solve funding crisis

By IOL Reporter Time of article published Mar 25, 2021

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While student debt to universities has ballooned to approximately R14 billion, calls for more collaborative efforts have become louder.

Chief Executive Officer of student crowdfunding platform Feenix, Leana de Beer, says that no individual or stakeholder can solve the university funding crisis alone.

“Now is the time for everyone to work together,” says De Beer.

The past three weeks have seen a spate in student protests across the country over historical debt and funding. These protests have resulted in disruptions to academic teaching at universities.

The resulting economic impact of the national lockdown has put severe strain on the government’s subsidy allocations, National Students Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) funding and university operating budgets, and more importantly, the pockets of hopeful university students wishing to study this year.

De Beer said; “Qualifying students not being able to access university education is a shared frustration of both students and the higher education sector stakeholders. The only way we will be able to create a more inclusive, equitable and financially sustainable system is through collaboration between both the private and public sectors.”

She said a collaborative approach is needed in solving the funding crisis. To which Professor Anesh Singh, Executive Director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Foundation, agrees.

“Funding of higher education is a joint responsibility of the learner, the institution of higher learning, the educational system, business and society at large. Unfortunately, no single stakeholder is going to have a one-size-fits-all solution. The only way that we will be able to address the funding challenge is through Private-Public-Partnerships (PPPs), which as universities we are constantly working towards.”

David Marupen, Deputy Director of the Resource Mobilisation Centre at the University of Limpopo, explained that the increased demands on universities have meant that funding from traditional sources, like government subsidies and tuition fee income, is not enough to cover everything.

“This situation over the last year has been compounded with universities having to also redirect funds to set up multimodal teaching platforms to ensure that students are able to continue their studies. The added pressures require universities to create a third stream of income through collaborations with alternative funders and the private sector.”

He said universities need to infuse entrepreneurial thinking into everything that they do – from commercialising assets to promoting enterprise development, partnerships with corporates, as well as including this into the teaching and learning programmes offered to students.

“There is tremendous value in doing this, as it allows us to look beyond traditional funding sources to find new income streams. For students, it means equipping them with the necessary skills to take charge of their own finances and future careers,” said Marupen.

The majority of tertiary institutions have understood the urgency of doing this.

In 2015, Rhodes University launched its VC’s Guarantee Scheme, which ensures that no academically deserving student should be denied the opportunity to continue their studies, provided that they continue to perform satisfactorily throughout their studies.

Rhodes University’s Isivivane fundraising campaign last year raised approximately R10 million to help fund students – including some of those on its VC's Guarantee Scheme.

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