In the last two weeks all of our bursary students have returned to their student residences around Cape Town ready to tackle semester 2 of the academic year. The different academic institutions have slightly staggered start dates so it has been a busy couple of weeks for the Masicorp volunteers and student mentors that have kindly transported the students, and their belongings, back to campus.
This year we put two days aside to meet with each student individually, and discuss their progress. Programme manager Susan De Vaux has had to travel out to the city to meet our three student nurses, who have had a short break due to their internships keeping them busy in medical centres around the city. The remaining students met up with us in Masiphumelele during their vacation time. It was a chance to check that academic progress was on track, but also to confirm that personal circumstances and finances are also satisfactory. With the rising cost in living we offered an extension to the living allowance that forms the student loan component of the bursary and most students welcomed the increase enthusiastically.
As ever most concern centered around the first years who were living away from home for the first time, and had to make the difficult step up to tertiary education from the high school. From their results it was clear that they had done this well, with good passes in subjects they were familiar with from school – including maths and English communication. Sadly there were a few fails in modules where the subject matter was more specialised and completely new to the students (e.g., soil science and computer aided design). The role of the mentor is important here to keep the student reassured following the inevitable knock to the confidence that this generates. At high school the students were the best performers in their year, but now find themselves in lectures with even higher achieving students from all across the city.
For each student with a fail we have arranged an action plan for recovery to get them through the year. In many cases the university offers a resit in the second semester, while some courses can be recovered in their second year. The bursary provides funds for extra tuition where needed, and the students will be able to access the private coaching that is offered on campus. In most cases this is a great relief when they realise the costs are covered in the programme. We also have a pool of retired teachers/lecturers that can also give their time to help with areas that are particularly problematic.
This week the Research SA organisation published this report on higher education in South Africa. There are some worrying statistics here for the country as a whole with a 33% drop out rate in the first year of HE courses. At Masicorp we have an overall drop-out rate of just around 10% over the eight years of the scheme, which is largely thanks to the excellent work of our mentors on the ground, our generous funders and the careful management of our students. This time last year we reported a 100% success rate for our new students, and we hope to be reporting similar good news at the end of this academic year as a result of our careful monitoring of student progress.