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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Communities urged to help tackle student funding crisis

Education has the power to transform lives and build a better future, but for many South African university students, the path is fraught with immense challenges. The start of the 2024 academic year showed that these challenges still present themselves and that more is needed to assist students in need.

“South Africa has no shortage of people who want to help build our nation and its future. The key is to unite these efforts and to make sure our students are not left behind,” says Lea Schafer, newly appointed Head of Fundraising and Communications at student crowdfunding platform Feenix.

The platform was started in the wake of the #FeesMustFall protests of 2017 and aims to connect students with the financial resources and life skills they need to make their academic dreams come true. More than R180m has been raised for 3934 students to date.

For Schafer, joining Feenix represents an immense opportunity to help make a difference.

“I am so proud to align myself with an organisation seeking such profound transformation through the power of education. By collaborating with our community, we can unlock the vast potential within South Africa’s students,” she explains.

Events that took place at the start of the year, she adds, show that there is still a real need to assist these students. In one example in Cape Town, about 100 students were reportedly forced to start their academic year with their belongings in the multipurpose hall at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. According to media reports, most of the students, who have been living in the hall without mattresses or other furniture, had been struggling to find accommodation for almost two weeks.

“While some students across the country were already well underway with their academic journeys, others were scrambling to secure food, accommodation, and essentials, often having to move multiple times, and relying on friends or relatives. We need to unite as a nation to change this,” says Schafer.

92% of the students Feenix surveyed last year came from households earning below R300,000 annually, highlighting the need to address systemic socioeconomic barriers to positive higher education outcomes.

Schafer points out that education is the key to success, but many students are financially and emotionally drained. “Our students need stability in their lives, as well as financial support. The reality on the ground, even at our top universities, is that many students are forced to fight for basic survival instead of focusing on their studies.”

“Imagine going a week without proper food because you don’t have the money but persisting in pursuing your qualification, even facing immense pressure to perform academically,” she says.

“We must ensure all students have access to basic amenities, safety, and good living conditions – which universities cannot provide alone. Beyond these fundamentals, students require holistic backing like financial literacy, mentorship, and mental health services, which 36% currently cannot access,” Schafer adds.

“We’re excited to bring Lea on board to elevate our impact in the world of university funding,” says Feenix CEO Cara-Jean Petersen.

“Lea’s expertise from the corporate and NGO sectors is an invaluable asset as we work to create meaningful change through education. We must ensure that students’ basic needs – as well as their financial needs – are met so they can focus on their studies,” Petersen says.

“It truly takes a village to raise a child, and the students of today are the dream-bearers for a better South Africa tomorrow,” says Petersen.

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