Funding Your Study Through Tertiary Bursary Programs- South Africa

A tertiary bursary is awarded for study after high school at TVET colleges, Universities of Technology and Universities.  There are several different types of bursaries awarded for selected reasons.  These reasons may include academic excellence, special talent, categories of people – racial, religious categories, gender or disabilities and financial need.  It is important to read carefully the type of person the bursar is looking for.

Bursaries are provided by charitable organisations, wealthy individuals and companies.  Companies such as Nedbank provide bursaries because they want to see more young people graduate into their sector.  These organisations are spending their own money so they get to choose the type of person or study field that they want to spend it on.  

The government also provides bursaries for scarce skills training.  This includes teachers, social workers, artisan trades and many of the other courses offered by TVET colleges. Scarce skills are jobs in high demand with few people qualified.  You can read more about scarce skills here.  Some of these government bursaries are administered through NSFAS but the application process is different to applying for a NSFAS loan.  You can read about NSFAS bursaries here.  If you can’t find a bursary option in your preferred study field, there are also some general bursaries that apply to any course of study.

Bursary Applications

To get a tertiary bursary you need to apply.  Application forms are available online.  Be careful about applying on time, including the correct paperwork.  Sometimes you need to include a copy of your C.V.  For ideas about what to include in your C.V. go here.  Bursars may open applications up to one year before you start studying at tertiary so you need to start looking from the beginning of Grade 12.  Some bursars only offer for young people beginning their studies.  Some only offer if you are already in or have already passed your first year of tertiary studies.  If this is your first degree it is is called “undergraduate” studies.  Many bursaries are only awarded for “post-graduate” studies.  This means studying for a Masters or Doctorate (Phd).

Bursaries may cover all tuition and personal costs or only part.  Pay close attention to this when you apply so that you can properly plan your finances.  Personal costs can include accommodation, transport, food, stationery, text books and laptop.  Make sure to find out when the bursar is likely to pay and whether  they will cover registration costs.  If they do not cover registration or only pay after the registration date, then you may have to make your own plan to cover registration costs.   Bursars may pay your whole grant in one payment.  This will mean that you need to budget carefully to make sure that you money lasts for the whole year and all your essential costs are covered.

Work-back Conditions

Many bursaries require you to work for a particular company during your holidays and upon graduation as pay-back to the company.   This is a “work-back” condition.  Although this is paid employment you should think carefully  before you agree to sign this type of bursary.   Make sure you will be happy to work for this company, where ever they might send you, and that you agree with the ethics of how this company operates.

It can be hard to land that first job after tertiary study.  One of the advantages of a work back contract is that you have a guaranteed job for the future.  Companies that take in young graduates will also make sure that you meet all the professional competency requirements for you to register with your professional board.  This means that when you move on to your next position, you will be more highly qualified and better paid.

Signing a Bursary Contract

Signing a tertiary bursary contract is a serious affair.  The contract is a legal document that involves a large sum of money.  Carefully read and take note of the conditions of the bursary. Conditions may include things like maintaining specific grades, sending in your academic record, attending mentoring events or workshops, not changing courses of study.  If you fail to meet the conditions you may have to pay back the bursar.

Bursars can also include an “exclusion clause” in their contract.   If your contract has this clause it means you cannot take a bursary from any other company.  If you have a full costs bursary then there are no potential problems with this.  Problems can arise though if your bursary only covers part of your costs and you are not able to self-fund for the balance.  If there is no exclusion clause then you can have more than one bursary at a time or combine a bursary with NSFAS funding.  Take care to clearly communicate with all your funders about their respective contracts.

There are three bursary websites that SAILI recommends.

GoStudy – When you get to the link, click on “browse by study field” on the right side of the page.  You then scroll down an alphabetical list of study fields to find your area of interest.  You may have to click through to the next page.  Advantages of this website is that it specifically notes work back or “service conditions”.  Also it has useful links from the bursary page to other parts of the website.  The disadvantage is that it is a little difficult to navigate through the first section to an actual bursary page.

Bursaries South Africa– This is an easy to navigate bursary search site.  You can use a drop-down to select a study field or see the most often selected fields in the centre of the page.  If you don’t see your study field you can search the website using the search box at the top of the page.  Advantages of this website is that is easy to navigate and has helpful blogs and additional information about bursaries including how to avoid a bursary scam.  Disadvantage is that it does not include closing dates for the bursary.

Bursaries 2017 – Like the sites above, you can search this site by study field.  The big advantage of this website is that each month you can see a list of bursaries currently open.  You can also follow them on Facebook and get monthly reminders about opportunities that are closing.  The disadvantage of this website is that it doesn’t have the depth of additional information available on the above sites.


A final word – funding your tertiary education requires substantial planning.   To be successful on your tertiary bursary application  you are the must be the type of person the bursar is looking for and also you must completed all paperwork on time.  Start looking for bursaries at least a year before you want to enter tertiary study.  Take note of required documents and start to collect those together in a portfolio. Make a diary note of closing dates for bursaries you are interested in.  Properly check out the companies that are offering the bursaries and the types of bursary contracts they offer.   Preparation is everything!

14 replies
    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      You should be eligible for NSFAS funding then. You must also apply to a tertiary institute and be offered a place for NSFAS to pay you.

  1. Neo
    Neo says:

    Hi there, I did matric in 2016 and applied for teaching at NWU(Vaal) in which I was asked to apply for NSFAS, unfortunatly I failed matric and my application for was still pending….now my aim is to apply for Higher Certificated at UNiSA will NSFAS be able to fund me?

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, Yes you can apply for funding to NSFAS for a higher certificate. I think it will be a new application though. Kath

  2. Nombulelo Mvelase
    Nombulelo Mvelase says:

    In the middle of 2016, we signed the agreement form worth of R43000, this year I do not have NSFAS, because my 2016 account was not credited,, I have consulted the FAB office, they said they run out of funds, but they sent NSfAS the list of unpaid students, they do not know whether NSFAS will still pay or not. My question is did I owe NSFAS these 43000, because I have signed the agreement form, but my account is not credited

  3. Tsholofelo Mashiane
    Tsholofelo Mashiane says:

    hi.i did my matric in 2014 and passed with higher certificate.i want to study teaching and only have 23 I allowed to bridge a course and apply for bursary???

    • Kath Morse
      Kath Morse says:

      Hi, You can apply for NSFAS funding for any course at a registered public institute: TVET College, University of Technology or University. You cannot use NSFAS funding at private colleges and universities. You can apply to study now and you can apply for funding from September. If you are accepted then your course will start in January 2019. Do you have an idea about where you can go to bridge? Kath

  4. Junade Cloete
    Junade Cloete says:

    Hi. I received a bursary at a college during 2017. I failed and applied again, but had to pay cash that I don’t have. When will I qualify for a bursary again.

      • Andiswa
        Andiswa says:

        Hey kathi..I’m a Dut student whom us nsfas approved but the school recently told me that nsfas won’t fund my course because it’s a bridging course..the outstanding balance is all on me now and they say it’s too late to de you possibly have any suggestions to help me


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