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Bursary Management – Success Factors

JENNY FINDLAY - Lead Facilitator / Coach

Bursaries and scholarships are phrases most of us are aware of. Many companies run their own programmes to contribute and build their communities, earn BBBEE points and to see our country grow through education.

Both scholarships and bursaries cover the educational expenses of students based on academic performance and financial needs. The slight difference is that scholarships are more inclined to fund students with outstanding academic performance, and bursaries are mostly prone to support students in financial need.

We have the honour and privilege of Jenny Findlay joining the People Dynamics and Dux team in October 2020. Jenny managed the Peermont Group Trusts and Bursary programmes for 19 years. We asked her to share the key success factors of setting up and managing a bursary programme.

Q: Why are having Bursary Funds so important?

There can be no question that funding tertiary education is a worthy cause especially in a country that has such an extreme disparity as South Africa. However, there are risks to investing in tertiary education namely, our country’s institutions suffer from an extremely low graduation rate and basic education continues to lag behind international standards. For any investment in students to be maximized and not wasted we must ensure that students are both ready for the tertiary experience and supported along the way.

Q: What are the key success factors in running a successful bursary programme?

When we look at what makes a successful bursary programme, it must be said that the days of spot funding are over. For a more effective return on investment (ROI) the initiative needs to have a well thought out strategy.

Why are you running this programme?

The “why” is very important. Each organization should establish clearly why they are moving into the space of funding tertiary education students. It is not as simple as throwing money at an institution and ticking a box. (Although some bursaries run like this, unfortunately)

Companies choose to venture into this space because they have:

  • to meet a legislated criterion,
  • want to improve their BBBEE score
  • contribute to their community
  • build skill in their industry
  • include it in their skills development plan

Any bursary programme needs to focus on a specific target market, have key selection criteria, include a 360-degree intervention by offering holistic, comprehensive, wrap around support in addition to paying for fees, accommodation, books and other necessities.

The way we look at it is “changing the world, one child at a time!” For the best ROI and highest throughput rate, merely paying the bills and asking for results at the end of the year will no longer be enough.

The key success factors are: –

  • Knowing your why
  • Top quality selection and career guidance
  • Orientation
  • Effective administration
  • Comprehensive psychosocial support
  • Regular check ins

Selection and career guidance

Once you have established your “why”, the number 1 success factor is the selection criteria. Many funders have introduced several testing strategies to ensure that the best candidates are selected. Obviously, their academics need to be strong, bearing in mind that if your catchment area for student is from previously disadvantaged communities, the township schools seldom complete the entire syllabus and some top performers in the schools do not have top marks.

One of our key criteria is that those selected achieved a minimum of 75% for English, irrespective of what degree they wanted to study for.

When we selected our beneficiaries, having an all-round developed individual was important.  We look for additional criteria, such as:

  1. Community involvement
  2. Leadership positions
  3. Volunteering
  4. GRIT
  5. The X factor


Doing well at tertiary is about much more than academics. The candidate will need to be tough, determined and have that extra something. I call it the X factor. It is difficult to describe but you will know it when you see it. The X factor was often revealed during the interview process. It’s a pity that many programmes no longer use interviews as part of the selection process as it gives candidates the chance to shine and stand out. Someone that has a sense of humour, can laugh at themselves and has that self-effacing characteristic normally stands out.

Initially we were shocked at how poorly the young ladies performed during the interviews. We have seen improvement in confidence over the years, especially after we introduced the Go Getters Programme in Mpumalanga. Go Getters focused on building emotional intelligence, thinking skills and personal growth skills. With a focus on gender equality, it was important to find the strong young women to take advantage of this opportunity.

Career guidance

A word of advice – Many students at our tertiary institutions fail due to being in the incorrect course. The risk is that students often choose courses based on the earning potential and not what suits their personality or skill set or even what they love to do. Companies and funders also often fund certain degrees and the desperate student will agree to signing up just to gain the bursary. A quick career interest test will assist in checking if there is a good fit and prevent tears further down the line. We found the PACE tool very helpful.

We also did allow students to change courses if they were able to without adding time to their qualification.


A well planned on-boarding programme is essential to ensure the success of the funded student.

This can be run in the form of an in-house programme over 3 or 4 days. The programme will prepare the students for tertiary and in particular focus on the difference between school and tertiary.


Many top performing learners think that because they aced their matric they will do well at tertiary – “Big fish, small pond” syndrome. Unfortunately, secondary schooling does not adequately prepare students for tertiary. In fact, the gap is substantially bigger than most think.  Within the first week, we have had reports of students feeling lost, left behind and developing anxiety.


Comments like:

“The lecturer is speaking Greek”

“I will never be able to read this many chapters every week”

“The first test is next week and I know nothing”, are all too common.


The orientation programme is also a convenient time to run through the bursary contract and the rules and policies of the programme, especially the conditions as to how to continue to be funded. Over the years we developed some additional rules and suggestions for peak performance.

Included in this was:

  • a minimum of 45 hours of work per week,
  • participation in and active us of the support programme
  • smart note taking
  • good time management
  • daily summaries.


During orientation we also took the opportunity to address the parents, which proved highly successful and was appreciated by them.

The orientation included a fun afternoon, movies and a lunch, which led to the group bonding and becoming a great support for one another. On the last day they were introduced to the Alumni who had progressed through the programme. This is a great opportunity to connect and share important tips and skills.


Effective Administration

Ensure that students have the correct paperwork from your company to enable them to register, apply for accommodation and open the book account. Without this there are often unnecessary delays leading to anxiety and poor performance.

Double check that your candidate has indeed registered for the course your organization has decided to fund. Check that the funders address appears on the paperwork. Some form of discount for early payment can sometimes be arranged with the institution.

Just a word on registration, if your candidate has been carefully checked out during the paper phase of selection, then this should not present any problems, however, enrolling at a South African university is not always plain sailing. There are simply not enough spaces at our tertiary institutions.

Also, be prepared for the candidate that can’t register due to previous debt or missing the final cut off for acceptance. Have a strategy for these instances as decisions need to be made quite quickly to prevent further delays.

Tracking and tracing everything for your student is extremely important. We used excel for this purpose, but there are many LMS software programmes on the market if you wish to invest in this. By having all the information at your fingertips, you can correctly intercede timeously and prevent failures and tears. We found this invaluable.

We developed good relationships with key people at the relevant tertiary institutions and this ensured that there was always open and regular communication which assisted to solve issues when they arose.


Support Programme – psychosocial support

The importance of psycho-social support cannot be over emphasized. Your student faces many challenges when starting at tertiary, some of which are:

  • Adjusting to the culture of the institution
  • Adjusting to different way of doing things
  • Getting used to no-one checking up on you
  • Being away from home in a new environment (homesick)
  • Having so much freedom learning to manage this
  • Exposure to vast array of different people
  • Overcommitting to clubs and committees

Do not assume that your student knows:

  • How to study effectively
  • How to manage time effectively
  • Is computer literate
  • How to complete a project or assignment
  • How to find help

…because they don’t!


DUX has designed an entire programme to support the tertiary student.

Our content has been effective in supporting our students over the years ensuring an average 85% throughput rate. The content is available online and can be delivered in live or online workshops and monthly sessions.

With our vast experience we have added to the content over the years….

  • Relationship management
  • Academic writing skills
  • Money management
  • Thinking skills, forming opinions and decision making
  • Critical thinking (over the years this has come up often as a complaint from tertiary institutions that students do not understand and are unable to think critically.)
  • Emotional Intelligence


Regular check ins

Through our support we regularly check and collect results from our students, picking up any issues early on and addressing them. This has made a big difference in the overall performance of our students.


Success Factors summary

  1. Select candidates with GRIT
  2. Offer comprehensive, wrap around support for the entire academic year
  3. Offer a decent orientation programme
  4. Collect all results throughout the year to monitor and evaluate the students’ performance, this gives you the opportunity to implement timeous support.
  5. Offer additional workshops and coaching for emotional intelligence, critical thinking and other gaps once identified.
  6. Be available for those messages and talks as they come up.
  7. Reach out for regular check ins – the students do not always share their problems and need to be counselled or coached.


Q: What was your goal as a bursary manager?

My priority as a bursary manger was always my student.  I wanted them to perform well, graduate in the right amount of time and secure gainful employment. To this end, the DUX Student Support programme that addresses skills development in emotional intelligence, thinking skills and personal growth was our secret weapon in our success.

My second goal linked to this, which was to make sure the programme was managed well, and our investment was well looked after. The smooth administration is key to ensuring that challenges are solved efficiently and that there are no unnecessary delays impacting negatively on the student.

Tertiary education is extremely valuable and will make the difference in our society. However, it is expensive and therefore needs to be funded in a smart, effective manner.


Your Goals, In Reach, Together 

Dux and People Dynamics is your partner in Bursary Management and Student Psychosocial Support. Contact us on: 060.656.1305 and  People Dynamics / Dux Student Support / Bursary Management / Psychosocial Support / People Development

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