How to fund your Postgraduate Studies

By Isabelle Coetzee

During his State of the Nation Address (SONA), president Cyril Ramaphosa pointed out that nearly one million students are currently enrolled in higher education.

He confirmed that fee-free higher education will be available to poor and working-class South Africans.

“Starting this year, free higher education and training will be available to first year students from households with a gross combined annual income of up to R350,000,” said Ramaphosa.

This is a step in the right direction. However, what will happen to students who would like to pursue postgraduate studies?

Unfortunately, the government won’t provide funding for these students. However, there are other ways to fund postgraduate studies.

Financial aid at universities

According to Elijah Moholola, media liaison for the University of Cape Town (UCT), 10,765 postgraduate students were registered at UCT in 2017.  

"Of these, 7 865 were eligible to apply for postgraduate funding (only honours, masters and PhDs are eligible and most PGDip programmes are not funded through the Postgraduate Funding Office)," says Moholola. 

"Over half the eligible students (4,663 of 7,865; or 59.2%) applied for funding. Of these, a total number of 3 038 students (65.1% of those who applied, or 39.5% of total registered eligible postgraduates) were awarded scholarship funding," he explains. 

Every university offers its own variant of financial aid. 

Some have extensive booklets detailing bursaries and scholarships, while others simply have representatives who will explain what’s available.

To help you figure out what's out there, we created a map of South African universities with the correct link to their postgraduate funding programmes.

External bursaries and scholarships

If you’d prefer to find funding outside of your preferred tertiary institution, you can also have a look at the following websites:

Taking out a student loan

If you’re unable to find a bursary or scholarship for your preferred course, you might still be eligible to take out a student loan.

You can approach any of the main South African banks for a student loan, as well as a handful of private companies.

Here’s a list of the most popular choices:

How can you improve your chance of receiving funding?

The UCT Postgraduate Funding Office (PGFO) recommends that students should be aware of these seven key things when seeking funding: 

  • Be flexible: Financial assistance for postgraduates comes in various forms. Some are administered by the university and others by external agencies and donors. Students should investigate a range of options.
  • Keep those marks up: Most postgraduate awards are based on academic merit, with only a few available for financial need alone.
  • Plan ahead: Start looking for funding opportunities well in advance. Opportunities for funding are often announced months before the deadline to register for a degree.
  • Keep in touch: Follow @UCTPostgrads on Twitter for announcements about bursaries, scholarships and other opportunities. Otherwise, details are available on the Postgrad Hub’s electronic noticeboard. Similarly, you can follow other universities on Twitter as well (or equivalent) and subscribe to relevant newsletters for updates. 
  • Do your research: The Postgraduate Funding Office offers a range of material to help students find funding for their studies. Many booklets can be obtained from the PGFO or downloaded from the Postgrad Hub. You will be able to find similar material from most other universities as well. Find out more by clicking on your chosen institution on the map above. 
  • Prepare for a balancing act: With the exception of a number of fellowships, full financial support to postgraduate students is rare. This means financing one’s postgraduate studies is likely to involve a combination of scholarships or bursaries and part-time employment, or loans. So when planning their funding, students should consider as many funding opportunities and sources of support as possible.
  • Ask for help: The PGFO is within easy walking distance from most faculties and departments on upper campus. Staff members are available to advise students on the diverse funding opportunities available to postgraduates and help with submission of applications for funding. Students should also speak to researchers and potential supervisors as they may have access to grant holder bursaries. Never hesitate to call the postgraduate office of your chosen institution if you need help. 

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