May 16, 2022

Wanting to study after matric is a hope that many of South Africa's youth have, but for some it is just a dream. This is because of the exorbitant funds required to study at a tertiary institute, such as a college, university and so on. However, these hopes and dreams can become a reality with the aid of a bursary. This article will give some clarity on bursaries work and explain some of the terms and conditions contained in a bursary contract.

What is a bursary?

A bursary is based on a contractual agreement between the entity providing the bursary (“organisation”) and the person receiving the bursary (“bursary holder”). The relationship itself, being contractual in nature, will be legally enforceable and the bursary contract will define and govern the rights and obligations of each party. It is important that the bursary holder reads the terms and conditions of the contract carefully, before signing it.

Generally, a bursary is funding (generally in an amount of money) that is granted by the organisation to the bursary holder. This funding assists the bursary holder to study, either before they commence their studies or during their studies.

One can apply for a bursary to the relevant sponsor, which can be an academic institution (such as a university), or a business (such as a law firm or corporate company). It is common that organisations will offer bursaries depending on their field of work or type of business, or any other considerations they consider relevant to their organisation. For example, a law firm may offer bursaries to individuals who aspire to be attorneys or an auditing firm may offer bursaries to those who want to be accountants.

How does a bursary work?

Each organisation offering a bursary will have their own set of requirements to qualify for a bursary and be a successful candidate, as well as their own terms and conditions that must be met in order to maintain the bursary.

The bursary contract will contain the terms and conditions and will function as any other legal contract to be binding on the relevant parties. Some terms and conditions of a bursary are related to specific academic standards that must be maintained throughout the duration of the bursary, financial need, geographical location of the recipient, what the funds can be used for and so on. For example:

>     Type and duration of the bursary: a bursary can be a full bursary or partial, a yearly bursary or one that may cover an entire degree. For example, the bursary can only cover a certain percentage of the study fees and only for one year, which means that the bursary holder must reapply every year.

>     Nature of the funding: a bursary will generally cover the study fees, but in some instances, it may be extended to also cover living expenses (such as food and accommodation), as well as stationary and textbooks. It is important to know what exactly will be covered by the bursary and to what amount before applying for such a bursary.

>     Academic requirements: a bursary generally requires that a bursary holder maintains a certain average in respect of the academic results. If this average is not maintained, the bursary agreement may be cancelled and the bursary holder may be required to repay the funds already provided.

These are just a few examples of what can be contained in a bursary agreement, and it is the duty of the bursary holder to understand all the terms and conditions before accepting a bursary.

Must the bursary funds be paid back?

With most bursaries, the organisation sponsoring the bursary do not require the recipient to pay back the monetary value of the bursary upon completion of their studies. However, some organisations may require the recipient “pay back” the funding by completing a service obligation. This means that the bursary holder must work for the organisation after they graduate for a period specified in the bursary agreement.

 If it happens that the bursary holder does not want to work for the organisation thereafter, they may be required to pay back the bursary funds to the organisation.  In some instances, it might be possible for the bursary holder to be “bought out” of the bursary agreement by another organisation the bursary holder wants to work for. This means that the other organisation will pay the initial organisation on behalf of the bursary holder. However, this is something that must be agreed to in writing between all the parties.

It is important to carefully read the terms and conditions of the bursary agreement as it may provide for instances where it is possible to lose a bursary after being awarded one. Bursaries have initial requirements that must be met at the application stage, however, a bursary will more than likely contain ongoing requirements such as attendance of lectures, academic standards, where the student resides, not being a holder of any other bursaries or financial aid, service requirements for the duration of the study period and after and so on. If any of the requirements are not met, then the organisation may withdraw the bursary and the bursary holder will be liable to pay back the funds s/he already received. The exact terms relating to such a situation will be set out in the bursary agreement.

Where can one apply for a bursary?

One can apply for a bursary at the academic institution where they want to study. There is also the Department of Higher Education's National Student Financial Aid Scheme (“NSFAS”) which offers bursaries to aspiring students in financial need. Government institutions such as local municipalities, provincial and national government departments may also sometimes offer bursaries, so it would be wise to check with such departments. Let's not forget the private sector. Many companies offer bursaries, however, often they will require a specified number of years that you have to work for them.

Unfortunately, there are a great number of students in need and it is not always as simple as applying for a specific bursary and immediately be successful with the application. It would be smart to keep your options open and not let all your hope rest on the one and only application you made. Carefully consider what you want to study and then look at the various organisations you can apply to and what the terms and conditions of each bursary are. Look at the work obligation period (if any), the duration, geographical requirements, additional costs that are covered, academic requirements and so on. You may find that some bursary contracts are better suited to your end goal.

Obtaining a bursary could unlock a world of endless possibilities. It may not be easy to obtain a bursary but it is important to stay focused and keep pursuing your dreams. And once you get that bursary, it is vital you meet the terms and conditions of the bursary agreement to enable you to complete your studies.

Did you know…Being granted a bursary comes with rights and responsibilities as set out in the bursary agreement.