Doubling down on university completion and employment in South Africa

This blog is part of a series focused on the stories of our Dell Young Leaders alumni who have successfully transitioned from universities to meaningful employment. You can find the entire series here.

The advent of fee-free education policy that seeks to remove financial barriers for disadvantaged young South Africans has been one of the most discussed topics in the country’s higher education sector in recent times. For most foundations, trusts, corporates and individuals who cumulatively invest over USD 100 million annually in universities and students, the news about fee-free education has raised questions on the long-term relevancy of and need for their contributions.

While it is true that this shift in the education system will impact grantmaking in 2018, it is abundantly clear that the present fee-free education drive will not solve the real challenges and issues that our students face: university completion and employment.

Our experience with the Dell Young Leaders program in South Africa has taught us that money alone doesn’t solve problems. Though free tuition gives students a leg up, secondary costs – both material and intangible – play a role in completion and eventual employment. The fine print on a university degree price tag ranges from the cost of books and supplies to emotional support and mentorship along the way. The Dell Young Leaders program provides first-generation students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the academic, psychosocial and professional support they need to earn their degrees and secure employment. Through the program, we’ve seen the impact that such ‘wraparound services’ have on students who lack a personal support system or network.

Given that free university access comes with a high cost to South Africa, we are calling upon funders in higher education to shift their resources from scholarships to support and interventions that can help streamline students’ journey to graduation and beyond. Read more here.

And we have more to say on the topic. Our Dell Young Leaders will be sharing their stories as part of a ‘Look Back’ blog series that will chronicle their journeys as students to young professionals. So, join us as they tell their stories, and find out how a holistic approach to supporting students from the classroom to the office is transforming the trajectory for South Africa’s future leaders.