Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

The Access Trust

More than money: a model bursary programme that focuses on holistic student development and post-qualification job placement.

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Facilitate access to educational opportunities | 17 January, 2014 - 22:00


Our Mission

The Access Trust, registered and established in 1998, has been in operation for 15 years. Its mission is to enable capable young South Africans from disadvantaged communities to access skilled employment through gaining qualifications at public Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges.

Our Core Project Activities

Our main activities are selecting suitable candidates, funding their training in selected courses that promote industry-relevant skills, and providing student support services. The latter service entails monitoring and mentoring the students throughout their studies, assisting with placement into industry, and providing life skills input – mainly through workshops.

Our Project Context and Rationale

As a response to the overwhelming gap identified in the labour market, the Department of Higher Education and Training places particular emphasis on providing access to education, and youth-oriented training and employment programmes that are geared towards addressing issues of poverty alleviation.

In this context FET Colleges have an important and transformative role to play in delivering vocational and occupational education. However, the vast majority of young people are unequipped financially to pay for their own studies at FET Colleges. While government has clearly demonstrated a move towards improving higher education infrastructure, institutional development, resource mobilisation, and facilitating the development of scarce technical skills, the plight of young people is bleak. The youth remain dependent on external financial support in order to access educational opportunities and complete studies at FET Colleges.

Financial support, with the purpose to access Further Education and Training, affords school graduates and unemployed young people the opportunity to pursue higher education. With this, they can obtain a strong theoretical foundation in a discipline towards an academic qualification; or they can learn the theoretical components of an occupational qualification that is formally recognised and accepted within a trade or industrial sector.

Our Programme Approach: purpose, strategy and outcomes

The Access Trust offers capable young people between the ages of 18-23 years – who show potential – an opportunity to access employable skills by providing bursaries to study at a FET college. Over the past 15 years we have been able to support over 2300 students in the Western Cape to attend four different FET Colleges and Life-Hospital Learning Centres.

  • 53% of the students are studying engineering and related fields such as electrical engineering, motor mechanics, boat building, refrigeration, fitting and machining, and drawing.
  • 25% of the students are pursuing occupational fields namely: hospitality and catering, professional cookery, travel and tourism, and performing art.
  • 11% of the students are studying Education and Early Childhood Development.
  • 7% of the students are studying nursing.
  • 4% of the students are studying IT.

Roughly 70% of our students find jobs upon completion of their studies. Our intervention addresses the skills development and unemployment challenges faced by young people who become successful students. It offers them hope and an opportunity to become economically empowered citizens and to become “change agents” in their communities.


Key to our success in running the bursary fund is the personal attention given to each person through the student support programme.

One of our student support officers personally visits each student on campus. This gives the students an opportunity to discuss – face-to-face – their academic, social, and economic challenges and/or successes.

A telephone helpline is available for additional assistance to the students. When we are unable to assist a student we refer them to relevant professional services.

We offer the students life-skills workshops that give them the opportunity to gain essential skills through interactive, role-play and simulations. This aids them during their studies and during the transition into the world of work. The workshops are participatory and students are given the chance to interact with each other. They focus on team building, communication, diversity, responsibility (the values) and accountability. 

Final year students attend a work readiness workshop, which aims to equip them with the tools of how to market their skills. They undergo a mock presentation scenario and a mock interview, and get guidance on where and how to look for employment.

In 2012 we launched a pilot work-placement programme that was designed to improve students' employment rates. The objective was to form partnership with business that would become host employers for internship placements, giving students their first entry into the workplace.
Expanding our Business Networks with Potential Host Employers

To implement the work placement programme our main focus was, and still remains, to maintain and establish new relationships with potential host employers. To improve our business networks we became a member of the Cape Chamber of Commerce that would open access to potential business partners. We also established a partnership with the merSETA to increase our network and respond to the third National Skills Development Strategy. We have connected to a number of industries through our networks and established new relationships with various SETAs in the different industries, who provide us access to their members in the different industries.

We have formalised a partnership with the ECD Centre based at the Garden Campus, College of Cape Town. A memorandum of understanding was formalised with the ECD Centre to place three of our EDC graduates.

Future Plans

With the advent of bursaries from the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the National certificates Vocational, the Access Trust was faced with a conundrum about the relevance and need for our bursaries. On the one hand, we were delighted that the state would be providing bursaries for learners at FET colleges, but on the other hand we acknowledged that very few of our bursars were pursuing these courses and that our scholarships where still necessary.

Most of the FET colleges still offer courses that fall outside the NSFAS net. And because the allocation of NSFAS bursaries is for a specific group of courses and is based solely on financial need, there is a cohort of young, financially needy people who cannot afford college tuition but who are not eligible for a NSFAS bursary.

The Access Trust’s commissioned an independent study to investigate the relevance of our bursary in the future. The findings revealed that we continued to have a vital role as a bursary and job-placement service provider to learners in the FET College sector. Consequently, the board resolved to continue providing bursaries to learners in non-funded courses for which there are no NSFAS bursaries.

In addition, the Access Trust is currently engaged in a study, which focuses on developing a profile of all non-NSFAS funded programmes at public FET colleges in the Western Cape. This study will explore the key challenges relating to financial assistance.


In this learning brief the Access Trust has shared its best practice model of how to provide bursaries for students studying in non-NSFAS funded programmes at public FET colleges in the Western Cape. This brief focused on the continued need for bursaries in light of recent changes in government bursary funding, and it showcased a student support system that builds essential life skills amongst the bursary holders. Finally, the Access Trust has shown how to successfully ensure job-placement for all bursary holders by partnering with Chambers of Commerce, merSETAs and an ECD centres.

47 Ranelagh Rd, Cape Town Western Cape South Africa

 (021) 671 1521


In Short

The Access Trust shares its best practice model of how to build better bursary programmes by focusing on student’s need for financial stability, a reliable support system, and future job security.

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