New online platforms seek to flip the search for university funding on its head

The fees funding crisis in South Africa has encouraged the creation of new ways of crowdfunding and connecting students and funders. After the recent launch of Feenix, The Daily Vox takes a look at two more platforms that are changing the funding landscape.

Omenon

This novel platform caters for grade 10 to 12 pupils and university students. It flips the traditional approach to finding bursaries, scholarships, and part-time work on its head by creating a database of students that need funding, and allowing companies to set filters to find the type of candidate they want to fund.

Latie Ngoasheng, founder of Omenon, said the platform was created because he knows how difficult and costly it is for learners and students, especially in rural areas, to get access to information. “It was hard for me to get a bursary. When I was in matric, every time I searched, I got the link and when I opened the application the closing date had passed,” he said. Omenon was designed to get rid of the administrative hassle for both students and companies looking for applicants. “So I created a platform where companies can easily filter for who they want, whenever they want. We can get rid of closing dates and this thing where information is the key sector for students to get sponsorship.”

A student or high school pupil creates a once-off profile on Omenon’s database which includes personal and academic information, a profile picture and an optional video message. Once companies register on Omenon, they set up filters when searching for candidates. Once they’ve found a candidate, they send a message through Omenon which the student will receive in the form of an SMS. The student then replies to the SMS, either accepting or rejecting the offer. If the student accepts the offer, Omenon links them with the company directly.

Importantly, they also put them in contact with other students that have received sponsorship from that company and are doing the same course at the same university. “This is so that they can now assist each other. That way, they’re more guaranteed to have an easier academic life in varsity or colleges,” said Ngoasheng.

The two-week old startup has 300 students on their database so far, but no companies have registered yet. “I’m incubated by the Innovation Hub and their suggestion to build the database first and then approach the companies once I have a huge database.” Ngoasheng said that he has approached companies, and Eskom and Transnet have shown interest. But the trouble is getting access to the right people, especially big corporations. “You need to know who to talk to,” he said.

The inclusion of high school students is also something different. Ngoasheng believes that including schoolchildren in the search for funding from an early age will encourage them to take school and their higher education prospects more seriously. He gave the example of a company encouraging a pupil to do well at school and offering to fund their higher education once they pass matric. “Just imagine the hope or impact that notification will have on that learner’s life, and the kind of society that we’ll build,” he said.

BursaryNetwork

This crowdfunding platform, launched in February 2016, was created in response to the issues raised by the Fees Must Fall movement in 2015. “It’s an alternative to how we can respond to the lack of funding in tertiary institutions,” said Musa Mpelepele, an administrator for BursaryNetwork.

The platform  is exclusively dedicated to raising funds for university tuition, but it is currently only open to second-year university students. Mpelepele said this because a lot of students tend to fail their first year after matric. “What we want to ensure is that at least the student has been able to go to second year, and if they need funding from there then we can come in and help. It’s money that people are giving to you, for free, as a student and we want to ensure that you have high chances of succeeding,” he said. Currently, the platform has helped 14 students with their tuition fees.

Second-year students at any South African university can register on their website. Students fill out an application form and upload the required documents – academic transcript, proof of registration and tuition invoice – and a profile picture and video message which personalises their story. Once the university has verified that this information is correct, BursaryNetwork creates a student profile for registered donors to view and contribute. The platform also has a forum where donors can interact with students. “If they have questions for you, they are able to write to you,” said Mpelepele.

“We do have companies that are registered and they contribute quite a lot, as well as individuals who can contribute as little as R100,” he said. To date, BursaryNetwork has raised R532 946 and has 538 donors. Students are given a 60-day period by BursaryNetwork to actively promote their profile to friends, family, and potential companies to get them to donate via social media and other platforms. But Mpelepele said that if you haven’t managed to raise any funds during those 60 days, you aren’t kicked off the network. “[We] want [you] to meet the target as soon as possible but that is not to say that if your days are expired, we just say go away. We engage with you… we’ll increase the number of days on the platform.”

For donors to begin contributing, they can register for free on the website and donate a minimum of R100. BursaryNetwork charges an administration fee of 5% with every donation, which covers website hosting and banking charges.

BursaryNetwork deposits the funds directly into the student’s account at their respective university. “We want ensure the money is used purely for purpose of education,” said Mpelepele.

Both Omenon and BursaryNetwork are still in their infancy, and available only online. Given the exorbitant cost of data in South Africa, platforms like these may not be accessible to all young people. But each is an important attempt at taking on the burden of high fees, and making it easier for those with the means to help to make contact with those in need. And more importantly, by involving high school students, networks like these take the conversation about access to opportunity beyond the confines of the university.

Featured image by Aaisha Dadi Patel

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