The #FeesMustFall protests highlighted that there are many students and families who are struggling to fund their university tuition. Some students, unable to get NSFAS loans, or bursaries and scholarships have taken up crowdfunding to raise money. A new kind of crowdfunding platform for South Africa was publicly launched last week. Feenix, backed by Standard Bank, is providing university students with a funding alternative.
Crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon of fundraising, where a donor beseeches the wider internet community to support their cause. University of Cape Town student and gender activist Wanelisa Xaba is using crowdfunding to pay her Masterâ€
But Feenix isnâ€
How Feenix works
Feenix was created to help South African students from households that earn less than R600 000 per year (the so-called missing middle), who want to attend any public university in the country. â€œStudents looking to receive funding for their tertiary education make a profile motivating for their funding on our website,â€ said King. They can create a video or a written profile on themselves. They will also need to submit a fee statement from their university.
â€œWe validate and check all studentsâ€
People or companies looking to fund students can go through student profiles to find a student whose story they connect with and are willing to make a contribution to. They can then either donate enough money to cover the whole outstanding amount, or a portion of it, said King. Funding is only permitted for a single year of tuition.
According to King, Feenix has raised around R250 000 since 5 June 2017. They have 200 students registered to the platform, and 150 people and ten companies registered as donors. So far, ten students have received funding.
For companies that arenâ€
The money paid by donors is managed by Standard Bank, the main sponsor of Feenix. They confirm the outstanding amount and directly pay it to the university. This means – according to Feenixâ€
How a funder chooses a student
King said there are many factors that influence which student is chosen by a funder. â€œWe have found that students with complete and compelling profiles receive more views, and are more regularly funded â€“ but it is not the only thing funders look at. Some funders are only interested in funding students from their home town, or who went to the same university as the funder.â€ So itâ€
Feenix is only available through their website to public universities, as it is in its first phase. â€œWe hope to expand the platform in the future and are working on innovative ways to increase opportunities for access with that expansion,â€ said King. They have a three-year roadmap but, King said, â€œ[we] plan on being around for as long as it takes to make a difference.â€
However, the exorbitant prices of data makes accessing Feenix expensive, especially for students that fall in the lowest income bracket. The ‘how it works’ video doesnâ€
What makes the Feenix crowdfunding platform innovative is that it is specifically made for South African students and targets the missing middle. Finding alternatives to limited bursary options, exclusive scholarships, and the overburdened and underperforming NSFAS is a great initiative that needs more buy-in from the public. Itâ€