Thursday, 17th of June, 2021, was a day of jubilation at the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT). Twenty-nine of the 50 students benefitting from the Standard Bank Group’s sponsored laptops gathered at the institution to receive their learning devices. Although the Standard Bank Group was not represented at the ceremony, Universities South Africa’s senior management was virtually represented, as was MUT’s executive management.
Dr Linda Meyer, Director: Operations and Sector Support at Universities SA (USAf), who has been leading USAf’s fundraising that led to the Standard Bank Group’s response, said this was a culmination of engagements that peaked in the middle of 2020. She mentioned that USAf secured more than R290 million in that fundraising drive, mostly from sector education and training authorities and from the banking sector. These grants, intended for bursaries and other capacity development initiatives, were distributed among USAf’s member institutions.
USAf experienced delays in the procurement of laptops due to a shortage of supplies attributed to the extended CoVID-19 related lockdown.
“MUT became one of our favourite institutions in the way that they administered this programme,” Dr Meyer said, commending what she called an outstanding level of administration. “Some of our universities may be commonly referred to as previously disadvantaged. However, their administrative systems are far more superior than those of others, as Ms Cynthia Nkosi, Senior Bursaries Officer at MUT’s Financial Aid Office, has demonstrated.” Dr Meyer said in her quest to keep up with the administrative demands of this donation and to speed up MUT’s processes; Ms Nkosi had responded to emails during unusual times, as early as 02:00 in the morning and often during weekends. “That is why I always advise colleagues to ‘never take things at face value.’”
Briefly describing the work of USAf, Dr Meyer (right) said it is a representative association of South Africa’s 26 public universities. “We work relentlessly to advance the interests of students, especially those in the poor missing-middle household income category. We thank not just the Standard Bank Group but also others who stepped up to the plate in the manner that they responded to our pleas and made these contributions.”
Also acknowledging the team of project personnel in her directorate for the role they had played in advancing this work, Dr Meyer told the MUT executive management: “Always know that in USAf, you have a friend who will continue to work unceasingly to ensure securing assistance for our unfunded yet deserving students within the university system.”
Representing the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of MUT, Dr Manyane Makua (left), Acting DVC: Teaching & Learning at the institution, said he was unaware that the Manager in their Financial Aid Office, Mr Andrew Kubone, had been working so hard. “On behalf of the Vice-Chancellor and the students, I wish to thank you, Mr Kubone, for pulling off such a great project.”
He said he had often witnessed students using mobile phones to access learning platforms. He could not understand how they did it. Turning to the students, he said, “You need more user-friendly gadgets to study, and these laptops fulfil that need. Guard them like you would do your most prized possession. They will help you during your tenure here and way beyond completing your studies. I know that you are as grateful as we are, both to the Standard Bank Group and USAf.”
Dr Manyane said this event had got him thinking more deeply about how MUT could do more, especially for the needy students not funded by NSFAS. He mentioned that before being appointed to the DVC position, he was a Senior Director in the Teaching and Learning Development Centre, which raises funds through various projects. “I need to convince my colleagues to raise more funds beyond what this project has achieved, to reach out to more students. We should also use some of the funds we raise through other projects to assist students who are deserving academically. Once we put our heads together, we will impact many more.”
At the ceremony, Mr Andrew Kubone (right in the left photo) emphasised the “one student, one laptop” stance of MUT. He told the 29 students in attendance that the Financial Aid Office was monitoring their records well to ensure that individuals who had received a device from one fund could not apply for another through NSFAS, for instance – a practice called double-dipping. He extended gratitude to USAf and the Standard Bank Group on behalf of those who could not attend that day.
The R500,000 channelled to MUT is part of the R3 million pledged by the Standard Bank Group in September 2020 to help six public universities, which had just been rendered more vulnerable than others by the COVID-19 pandemic. Standard Bank also responded to fundraising engagements between USAf and the Group’s Corporate Citizenship and Social Investment Branch. All the six institutions received R500,000 each.
MUT’s 50 recipients of these laptops are all undergraduates who were in their first year of study in 2020. The majority are pursuing a Diploma in disciplines ranging from Accounting, Agriculture, a variety of Engineering streams, Environmental Sciences, Information Technology and Public Administration.