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Where and how to fund tertiary education in 2024

5 September 2023
5 minute read
Young man in graduation gown with morterboard

Your child is in matric and has a dream! Turning that dream into reality requires a post-matric qualification, which comes with a price tag! Fortunately, there are several different funding options that you and your child can explore to make learning after school affordable! We take a look at scholarships, bursaries and loans, as well as other funding options you can access.

Scholarships and bursaries

Although the definitions differ, scholarships are most often awarded on merit with no strings attached. In other words, because a learner excelled in academics, natural sciences for example, or sport, they are awarded a scholarship. Scholarships are usually for a set amount, which means they may not cover all study costs. For example, your child may be awarded a scholarship of R40 000, or a scholarship that pays full course fees only, no books or accommodation, for one year's study of actuarial science at a particular university. There is no requirement that the recipient “pay back” the scholarship or meet any further criteria once it is awarded. However, the awards are also usually once-off as opposed to annually.

Bursaries are awarded to applicants who need financial assistance and who have also met some qualifying criteria, such as over 70% for mathematics. Unlike scholarships, bursaries are not set amounts and usually cover different costs, such as course fees, books and accommodation. They have some kind of “pay back” requirement, such as working for the company for three years after completing studies. They may also be awarded for more than one year, depending on academic performance (mainly making sure courses are passed!)

Scholarships and bursaries are a great way to fund tertiary studies, and you can apply for as many as you can find!

Find scholarships and bursaries

  • Your school
  • Universities and colleges where you plan to study
  • Platforms such as careerwise, fundiconnnect and youthopportunitieshub
  • Companies such as banks, insurers, tech companies, mining companies, pharmaceutical companies and retailers (their websites have these details)
  • Government departments, parastatals (yes Eskom needs engineers!) and municipalities
  • Institutions such as the South African Reserve Bank and CSIR
  • Professional bodies such as the engineering councils and South African Institute of Chartered Accountants may offer financial assistance

Top tip: Look local and global! Don’t limit your search to South Africa, search both local and international companies, governments and foundations. Why not apply for that Google scholarship or bursary?!

NSFAS and financial aid

Financial aid, from universities and institutions such as NSFAS, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, offer financial aid to students who lack the funds to pay for their studies. “Pay back” criteria may or may not apply for the different schemes. For NSFAS, South African citizens with a household income of less than R350 000 per year can apply. NSFAS loans are technically bursaries with no "pay back”, however, the rules can change from year to year so check carefully if funding has to be repaid or not, and what happens if courses are failed.

Most of the public and private universities we investigated offer aid via NSFAS. However, there are also additional financial aid schemes offered to applicants who do not qualify for NSFAS funding, for example Gap funding at UCT.

Where to apply: The universities and colleges (registered private and public) where your child wants to study as well as NSFAS.

When to apply for bursaries, scholarships and financial aid

Applications usually open from around September for the following year’s study.

Student loans

Banks offer student loans, that do need to be repaid. Repayment usually starts after studies are completed, but charges and interest may need to be repaid from when the loan is granted. Student loans are fairly similar across banks, but you should shop around for terms that suit your need and circumstances. For example, some loans require a guarantor or surety, some don't. Banks have the details of student loans on their websites.


You can work while you study, using some of your earnings to pay for your course. This can be either through distance education, such as UNISA, afternoon or night classes, online learning or part-time studying. Working while studying works well if you are committed and prepared to give your free time to your course.

Crowd funding

You can ask the public to pay for studies through platforms such as Feenix and BackaBuddy. You can also ask friends and family for contributions, even a well-funded stokvel may be able to help! These funds may or may not have to be repaid. If not, keep a complete record of funds received and expenses paid so you can show how you used the money well. Which is useful if you require future funding for another project such as a start-up!

Student competitions

Either to fund or supplement funding, studentcompetitions offer genuine options for funding studies. There’s no guarantee of a win of course, but they are well worth considering! Also look out for essay and speech competitions some institutions such as the Financial Sector Conduct Authority offer from time to time!

Before you apply

Do some homework.

  • Find out what courses cost, what extras are required from books to lab clothing and equipment, as well as transport and accommodation costs. Costs range upwards from around R50 000+ per year for university courses and a lower R10 000+ for TVET courses.
  • Prepare a mini-CV , listing main achievements and skills, as well as hobbies and passions, and extra-curricular activities. This can be used when completing applications.
  • Read the application forms thoroughly, as well as the answers before submitting, and make sure to submit before the closing date!

You should also make a note of when you applied and how follow ups are dealt with. Many companies and institutions will only notify successful applicants by a certain date. But if no date is specified you should follow up a few weeks after applications close and find out if you are successful or not.

Top tip: If you've got a few years before your child starts tertiary education you can start saving now! 1Life's Savings education calculator can help you work out how much you need to save.

Ready, set, learn!

Dreams can come true! Applying for funding can take some time, but it’s also a good skill to learn that can be used in future. Like when your child has completed their studies and applies for that dream job!

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