Scholarships, Bursaries and Study loans

One of the biggest factors affecting the study goals of young people today is the lack of finance. There are high costs required to study, tuition fees and accommodation being the main ones, in addition to transport, food, books, stationery and airtime. As with any dream, there are hardships and barriers to overcome and many young people, even from poor backgrounds, are able to succeed despite the odds. If you don’t have the money to study, then financial aid is sometimes an option and this comes in different forms such as scholarships, grants, bursaries, incentives, loans and other more creative means.


A scholarship is an amount of money awarded to a student for the purposes of study. Scholarships are usually awarded on the basis of academic achievement, financial need, achievements in sport and other criteria. Scholarships are like a “gift” in that they usually don’t need to be paid back. If you are very lucky, your scholarship may pay for all the costs of study including accommodation and transport, or it may just be a one-time award. Either way, it’s worth applying for, because it’ll help reduce the cost of your education. Some scholarships are geared toward a particular group of people, for example, there are a number of scholarships aimed at helping disabled people, women and girls, as well as people in specific countries and from poor backgrounds. Scholarships are not paid directly to the student but are administered by a trust or body set up for this purpose. There are thousands of scholarships out there, from all kinds of organizations, but beware of scams which make promises but which only want your information and may cause you harm. For more information on scholarships visit the Kaizen scholarship list. 


A grant is an amount of money awarded to a student, usually on the basis of economic or other need, for example, a person suffering from the effects of poverty or disease. Grants are like a “gift” and so do not need to be paid back. Some grants require that you meet minimum academic criteria in order to be accepted. Grants are usually not paid directly to the student but are administered by a trust set up to ensure that the funds are used for the purpose intended by the donors of the money. The difference between grants and scholarships is that grants are mainly based on need, whereas scholarships are merit-based.


A bursary is an amount of money awarded to a student for the purposes of study. Bursaries are awarded on the basis of academic performance, financial need and other requirements. The terms of the bursary will vary from bursary to bursary. Contract bursaries require that the student“ pay” for the bursary by working for the bursary provider on completion of their studies.

Bursaries are usually provided for fields which are in high demand, sometimes known as scarce skills. Scarce skills are those occupations where there is a scarcity or shortage of qualified and experienced people. This shortage may be current (happening now) or expected in the future. For this reason there are many bursaries in the fields of Engineering, Science, Finance and Computer Science. You can find most of the bursaries which are available on your country GoStudy website. It is clear from the descriptions that there is not much difference between a bursary and a scholarship. It is more common to use the word scholarship when referring to international study and bursary to local study. Countries like the United States only use the word scholarship whereas countries like South Africa refer to both bursaries and scholarships.


Most public universities and colleges are state-subsidized and therefore students get a subsidy or discount on their fees. This reduces the cost of tuition and international students are charged much higher rates. For example, students who are citizens of countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), pay a subsidized rate when studying at public universities and colleges in Southern Africa. SADC countries include Angola, Botswana, Congo (DR), Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It would therefore be cheaper to study in your own country or a country where you may be given a subsidy due to your citizenship status.

Student Loans

Most young people do not qualify for a bursary and need to consider taking a loan to pay for their studies. Student loans are offered by banking or other institutions for the purpose of paying for studies. Student loans must be repaid once you have graduated. Most banks require you to pay back your student loan over the same number of years that it took to complete your studies. The loans must be paid back with interest. Most banks will require some form of surety or security before they grant a student loan. This means that a relative, friend or sponsor must guarantee to repay the loan if you do not. Some banks will also require that the person who signs surety for your loan must also pay the interest on your loan while you are studying. Visit your local bank to find out what products they offer to students. Be wary of student loans which are not offered by a reputable bank and which are not approved by government. Explore other options before considering a loan.

Meet with the university or college finance department
Visit the finance department of the university where you intend studying to discuss the fees as well as possible subsidies, finance plans and discounts. Some countries have government-funded student loan schemes to assist the poor. To get this type of loan you may need to complete a means test, in terms of which information regarding your family’s financial situation will need to be submitted. Where a family is able to contribute some funds to assist with the cost of the studies, they are expected to do so.

In South Africa, for example, citizens have access to low interest government loans by means of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The NSFAS is a financial aid system that enables academically deserving and financially needy students to study. Applications for a NSFAS loan must be made via the institution’s Financial Aid Office or Student Support Centre. The student receiving a loan from NSFAS must pay back the capital and interest on the loan. However, interest charged is less than that charged by the commercial banks. The student will be expected to pay the money back at a rate in line with the income of the student at the time the payback period begins. The repayment period and the monthly amount take into account what the person is earning. Unfortunately, these loans are only available to South African citizens. Visit for more info.

Online and Distance Education 

Studying online, or via distance education, allows you the freedom to study from anywhere in the world, and pursue your choice of study from a variety of universities and colleges. There are many online and distance learning options to choose from.  However, make sure that the instiution you are studying through is accredited and that the courses they offer are accreditted with a reliable accreditting body and whose courses may be recognised within your own country. One of the most longstanding distance education institutions is UNISA based in South Africa. Unisa is the only open distance learning institution with university statushas over 300 000 students including international students from over 130 countries. Studying online saves you transport and accommodation costs, however the cost of tuition is usually not less expensive thcourses available an classroom based face-to-face tuition.  Studying online also has a number of drawbacks related mainly to the effects of social isolation. Online courses are delivered entirely online. You study alone but do have some interaction via the internet with lecturers and other students. Students often feel isolated and miss the social interaction that accompanies the traditional classroom on campus. Online courses are also not well suited to courses which require practical demonstration and laboratory work. As an online student, you’ll be expected to have a computer and reliable internet access in order to log into and use an online learning system. Through the online learning system you’ll receive all your study materials and instructions, and submit your assessments. This may also lead to extra costs if you do not already have these in place.  

Things to consider:

 There are a number of creative ways of reducing your costs of study which you can consider:

 Get help from family:

Try to pay as much of the costs of your studies that you can afford with the assistance of family or a sponsor who agrees to assist. Make sure the family member is giving you the money as a gift as you don’t want to create bad relationships later down the line, especially within your own family.

 Get a part-time job

If possible, get a part-time job to help pay some of the costs of your studies. Part-time work has other benefits as well in that it gives you some experience and looks good on your CV.

 Study part-time

Many students pay their way by working in the day and attending night classes. If you decide to go this route you must be fully committed. Sometimes it is better to study full-time for a year at least before starting a job which will distract you from your goals.

 Reduce transport costs

Transport costs can eat into your finances so try to reduce your costs by studying somewhere close to where you stay.

Study at a local college (not a university)

State-sponsored technical, vocational, community-based colleges are usually the most affordable and accessible means of study. Colleges provide more practical hands-on training at the lowest cost of all registered training providers. In addition, they are accessible because they are based mainly in rural areas. You will then not have the cost of moving to the city where accommodation is expensive.

What about the cost of International study?

Many students from Africa choose to study in another country because their home country does not offer the course they want. In some cases these more prestigious universities are in the United Kingdom and abroad. South Africa is a growing destination for international students from Africa. The reasons for this are the affordable fees, proximity to home and cost of living. For SADEC country members there are government subsidies for students from the region. South African universities have a good reputation for academic excellence and offer programmes which are not necessarily available in their home country. A cheaper and more practical option may be for you to study an undergraduate degree in your home country and follow it with a post-graduate degree abroad. This will give you the chance to identify and study a field that you are really interested in, and to prove your worth. Top universities prefer to take international students with a proven track record. You will stand a better chance of being considered for a bursary or grant.

In conclusion

One of the biggest barriers affecting the career choices of young people is access to finance. In some cases goals and dreams need to be reassessed and alternatives need to be considered in order to achieve what you want in life. Don’t be discouraged! Education is one of the most important investments you will ever make. As B.B. King once said, “The beautiful thing about learning is no one can take it away from you.”

Keep persevering!