A timely financial foot-up for needy students at Wits University’s School of Mining Engineering is making the world of difference to their results, their career prospects and their future contribution to the South African mining sector. According to BME marketing manager Hayley Wayland, many students from poor backgrounds cannot afford a conducive living environment in which they can focus fully on their studies without financial and other stresses.
“BME commends the Wits School of Mining Engineering’s strategic interventions for needy and deserving students, and is pleased to be able to offer an annual donation of R50 000.00 specifically for this purpose,” said Wayland. “The results have been remarkable, with immediate results being seen among those students who benefit from these funds.”
Professor Fred Cawood, head of the School of Mining Engineering, said that in the past more than half the students in their first year of study dropped out by year-end – being “unprepared for the socio-economic realities of life” in a major city.
“Fewer than one in three of our students arrive with a support system in Johannesburg,” said Professor Cawood. “Many of them have never been in Gauteng before, and many are the first in their families ever to go to university; they often don’t know what is required of them when they arrive, and often there is insufficient provision for basics like accommodation and food.”
He said they sometimes have sub-optimal living arrangements, in which it is difficult to concentrate and to perform at their best.
In terms of the scheme, companies and individuals can specify that donations of any size be used to assist deserving students. The School then assesses all needs and makes donations to students according to their needs; students are not required to repay what they receive.
Wayland said that BME was impressed by what a difference their donations made on the performance of the students.
“The tragedy is that many students drop out not because they can’t manage the subjects they have taken, but because they can’t afford suitable accommodation, transport, food and text books,” she said.
“By intervening in this way, the School is making a huge difference to these student’s lives. As importantly, it is ensuring that all those years of schooling do not go to waste – which may happen if a student drops out. South Africa cannot afford to lose the skills contribution that these students will later make to the economy.”
Professor Cawood said the consequences of dropping out were “dire” for these students, as many would have to return to their impoverished backgrounds. “The impact of these donations from private companies is significant,” he said. “We have turned the drop-out ratio around, and now have more students progressing to a higher year of study than those who are failing.”
He said that none of the students supported by BME had dropped out, and four of the six had passed all their subjects to move on to their next year of study.
“This is a clear testimony of what can be achieved through carefully targeted partnerships,” said Professor Cawood.
Wayland said that BME aimed to become an employer of choice for young talent, and already offered bursaries to mining students.
“It is heartening to see how this extra sponsorship that we provide also makes such a difference in the lives of young people who are determined to succeed in their studies,” she said.
After initially being available for only first-year students, the assistance is now being offered to second-year students as well, Professor Cawood said. During the third year with practical working sessions, students are then able to make their own arrangements. It is also generally during the second year of study that company bursaries are awarded directly to students, he said.