NMMU ‘missing middle’ students receive scholarship boost

MAY 30, 2016

Sivuyisiwe Gora, 20, falls into the so-called “missing middle” category of students, who are deemed not poor enough to qualify for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

She achieved outstanding results in her first year of analytical chemistry at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) last year but, unable to pay her fees, almost dropped out.

NMMU’s debt and down-payment relief initiatives earlier this year, in response to the #FeesMustFall movement, meant she could register for second year – but she still had no funding whatsoever – so it was with much relief when, just last week, she received a full scholarship through the newly-launched Old Mutual Scholarship Fund Programme.

Gora, who is from King William’s Town, is one of 10 first to third-year students at NMMU selected to receive the substantial scholarships, based on their outstanding results in subjects related to maths and science. Each scholarship is worth between R70 000 and R80 000, depending on the students’ financial requirements for their field of study.

NMMU’s Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Unit (GMMDU) – which has been running its highly-successful technology-linked maths and science incubator school programme at 18 high schools in the King William’s Town area through the Old Mutual Education Flagship Programme (OMEFP) – is managing the scholarship programme at NMMU, and will also mentor and support the students throughout their studies.

The OMEFP – a R25m per year national initiative which runs at nearly 50 schools, including several in the Free State and Limpopo – is one of many projects in which GMMDU is involved, in a bid to boost the performance levels of Grade 10 to 12 maths and science learners, improving their chances of accessing higher education, while also growing the skills of their teachers.

For this scholarship programme, Old Mutual is also partnering with two other universities (Free State and Limpopo), which will see a total of R2m given to financially-needy, academically-deserving students this year alone.

Provided they continue to achieve top results, these students could potentially receive the scholarship for each year of their degrees. 

None of the 10 NMMU students who received the bursaries have any other financial support, with most of them falling into the so-called “missing middle” category.

Gora, who had applied unsuccessfully for many bursaries, said at first she did not believe the recent email confirming her selection. “It was only when I saw that the email was addressed directly to me that I knew it was true.”

Because her fees were outstanding last year, she had been unable to get her results, which meant she could not apply for her compulsory in-service training this year – and she is doing that now.

“I’m so happy. I want to continue studying until my Master’s degree.”

Another recipient is first-year mechatronics student Bandile Danxa, 19, from East London, who was overjoyed to be selected.

“It means a lot to me. The only person working at my home is my mother, who is a domestic worker. When I got the email from Old Mutual offering me the scholarship, I was so excited. I don’t know how I can thank them enough.”

He has dreams of one day coming up with an invention to make people’s lives easier.

The 10 students are studying different degree courses, ranging from engineering to accounting to science. All of them participated in the OMEFP school programme in recent years.

“This scholarship programme is all about transferring the successes from school into the university system,” said GMMDU Head Prof Werner Olivier. “At the 18 Old Mutual schools in which we are involved, more than 20% of the Grade 12 learners improved by more than 10 percentage points  in maths last year. One learner came into Grade 12 last year with 31% in maths, and ended up with 68% in his final exams, enabling him to access higher education. This is what we want.”

OMEFP’s Eastern Cape representative Dali Matta said the students, being the first cohort to receive the scholarships, were the “torch bearers” for others. “We expect a lot from you … We look upon you as future leaders of this country to lead us to a better future. You will only be able to do this through performance, dedication and commitment.”

Image: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University students (from left) Sivuyisiwe Gora, Bandile Danxa and Avela Mbelani are delighted with the scholarships they received last week through the newly-launched Old Mutual Scholarship Fund Programme.