KZN scholarships could be slashed due to high fee costs

KZN scholarships could be slashed due to high fee costsAlmost half of South Africa’s population live in rural areas, but are served by 12 percent of the countries doctors. The Umthombo Youth Development Foundation in Kwa-Zulu Natal has assisted rural youth to become qualified health-care professionals. This image of a rural homestead in KZN was originally broadcast as part of Health-e News TV journalist Fathima Simjee's 2012 documentary, "A calling."

For the first time in 14 years, KZN’s Umthombo Youth Development Foundation may not award scholarships to rural students hoping to study health sciences next year as fees increase by almost double the rate of inflation.

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Zamani Dlamini is now a nurse thank to Umthombo Youth Development Foundation funding. He now gives talks at his former rural high school and helps cousins and siblings with homework by candle light.
Zamani Dlamini is now a nurse thank to Umthombo Youth Development Foundation funding. He now gives talks at his former rural high school and helps cousins and siblings with homework by candle light.

Zamani Dlamini was born in Bembeni outside Hlabisa, where he worked at a local taxi rank with his father after matriculating. The job helped put food on the table at home but his grandmother’s words echoed in Dlamini’s mind.

“She would say, ‘one day I want you to be a nurse because you cared for me, you gave give me food, you gave me water,’” he remembers. “She’d say, ‘you must be a nurse because in this world, you can’t live without any paper (degree) in your hand.’”

An Umthombo scholarship allowed Dlamini to stop driving taxis and become a professional nurse. He is one of about 220 graduates produced by the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation.

As university students nationwide celebrate a freeze on fee hikes for next following protests, Umthombo Director Gavin MacGregor says high university fees may mean the foundation may not be able to afford to offer bursaries to new students next year.

[quote float= right]She’d say, ‘you must be a nurse because in this world, you can’t live without any paper (degree) in your hand’”

According to MacGregor, health science tuition fees have increased by about 10 percent annually in recent years – a rate that is almost double inflation.

This year, medical school tuition costs ranged from about R44,000 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal to R61,500 at the University of Cape Town. These figures do not include room and board. A freeze in tuition increases in unlikely to help the 65 students who may go without bursaries next year.

“Due to the increased university fees, we may – for the first time in our 14 year history – not select any new students next year because of a lack of funds,” said MacGregor.

The foundation is also battling the loss of two funders who recently represented R4.3 million of Umthombo’s funding, according to MacGregor.

Umthombo’s financial woes come amid the scaling back of financial assistance to aspiring rural doctors in the North West province.

The province has also said it is unable to accept any new students into a joint scholarship programme it runs with the University of the Witswatersrand, according to Dr Ian Couper director of Wits’ Centre for Rural Health.

Combining a unique mix of financial, social and academic support for its students, Umthombo has achieved a 93 percent university pass rate in the last three years. The foundation is supporting 230 students this year through a combination of funding from South African corporates and trusts as well as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story also appeared in the Daily News