Barclays Africa to double education support

30 October 2016 - 02:00 By Maria Ramos

In view of the crisis at universities, the bank will boost its 2016 financial aid by R57m says Maria Ramos. During the past few months we have watched with great concern as universities across the country experienced sustained student protests for free education. In some universities the 2016 academic year is in danger of being lost.We empathise with the plight of students whose parents are not able to fund their university education, and we call upon students and universities to do everything they can to save the current academic year.story_article_left1Should this year be lost, it will be very difficult to accommodate a new intake next year, further compounding the problem of access to higher education.Education is the foundation of social and economic development. The inequalities of our society place a responsibility upon all of us to find an equitable funding formula which gives priority to deserving students who do not have the means to pay.We are also mindful that the challenges in education are broad and not limited to financial barriers to entry into higher education. The basic education system is critical to the success of post-school education.While the government annually allocates billions of rands to provide access to higher education, it is clear that more needs to be done.Higher education institutions depend mostly on government grants and tuition fees for income, according to data from Statistics South Africa.Of the R63-billion received as income by higher education institutions in 2015, 43% was sourced from the government, 34% from tuition fees, 6% from donations and 17% from other sources, such as investments.The presidential task team and presidential commission of inquiry established to look into funding arrangements in higher education were two interventions that saw key stakeholders across the government, civil society and the private sector meet to discuss this pertinent issue.Some of the issues brought to the surface were: accumulated student debt; insufficient funding for those who were eligible in terms of National Student Financial Aid Scheme criteria but did not receive financial assistance; and the plight of the so-called "missing middle" from lower-middle-income families.There is no one stakeholder or funding source that can meet the costs of quality higher education for all South Africans, and the call is for each and every group to put time and resources into finding a sustainable solution, while addressing the current environment and its needs.story_article_right2When Barclays Africa launched its Shared Growth strategy earlier this year, education and skills training featured strongly as one of three pillars that were crucial to socio-economic development throughout Africa.As part of our commitment to invest R1.4-billion into this pillar across the continent over the next three years, we had already begun with the roll-out of R49-million in 2016, which has mostly benefited historically black universities in South Africa.Of this, R23-million is for tuition fees for the "missing middle", reaching about 550 students, including 112 scholarships awarded to children of Barclays Africa staff.These are students who have a shortfall on their financial aid scheme funding or whose parents can only afford a portion of their student fees.The remaining R26-million has been invested in university research and capacity building. In addition to scholarships and various other university initiatives, we continue providing support to 16 technical and vocational colleges, and the 60,000 youths registered in our ReadyToWork free online work-readiness programme across the continent.However, in light of the current university protests and the pressing needs of our students and universities, we recognise that something needs to be done now to alleviate the plight of more students in need of financial assistance.We have therefore decided to contribute an additional R57-million towards the settlement of the 2016 student debt for about 1,450 students in seven universities across South Africa.This brings our total contribution to student tuition for this year to R80-million and R106-million in total assistance to universities, at an average of R40,000 per student, distributed at the universities' discretion.From next year we will increase our contribution to an average R70,000 per student, providing assistance to 3,000 students across our markets in Africa, a R210-million investment. That increase will also be reflected in our internal programme, which will rise from 112 scholarships to 500 being awarded to children of Barclays Africa colleagues in 2017.story_article_left3Over two years, we aim to have spent more than R290-million across the continent, reaching 5,000 students, while a sustainable national university funding model is developed.We know that our contribution is not enough to resolve the problem for every student but as a large corporate citizen we recognise the special responsibility we have to increase our support, and we believe strongly that every student and education fraternity that we impact is one step closer to the goal of accessible quality education for all.This is not a knee-jerk reaction, but a natural response of our Shared Growth commitment, which is driven by the desire to help build a more equitable and prosperous Africa.Having this ethos in place allows us to create a day-to-day business that is present and proactive in understanding the communities in which it operates. The organisation we envision under Shared Growth is an active and positively impacting citizen in those communities.Ramos is CEO of Barclays Africa Group

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