Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Umthombo Youth Development Fund

A cost-effective way to scale up a student-mentoring programme

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Facilitate access to educational opportunities | 21 July, 2014 - 11:00


Project context

The Umthombo Youth Development Fund (UYDF) seeks to address the shortage of qualified staff at rural hospitals in order to improve healthcare services to rural communities. We tackle this shortage by investing in the tertiary education of rural youth studying towards a healthcare related degree. We provide academic and social mentoring support to these students to ensure they have the best opportunity to succeed.

Why we suport rural youth at university

Rural youth face many challenges when transitioning from their high school contexts to urban-based universities. They are often poorly prepared – academically and socially – for tertiary education and city life, causing many of those with academic potential to fail or drop out of university. We have found that by providing good quality academic mentoring and social support for select rural students we can help them overcome these challenges and achieve a high pass rate.

The challenge we faced as our programme grew: the need for more mentors

Initially, our programme supported less than 30 students. With this small number providing regular, quality mentoring and support was relatively easy and manageable. However, as our programme grew and the number of participating students increased to almost 200, we faced the challenge of how to continue providing effective mentoring support for all students. This challenge was compounded by the fact that we have students studying at 13 different universities across the country. Our fulltime Student Mentor could not effectively manage the task alone and our budgetary constraints did not permit us to hire more fulltime mentors. We needed to find another solution.

Our solution: a network of part-time mentors

Our strategy was to set up a network of part-time mentors to provide face-to-face support to our students. This meant that they had to be situated close to, or on, the various campuses where our students are studying. Our fulltime mentor works with, assists, and overseas the local part-time mentors. We specifically recruited local mentors who are passionate about youth development, and who have time to meet and assist 5 to 10 students monthly to help them address their challenges. Their role is to help students identify and find the academic support they need, and they hold students accountable to access the support. 

How it works

The local mentors initiative was introduced in 2010. We have 14 mentors across the country, each supporting between 5 and 10 students whom they meet at least once a month month. Senior or final year students who are progressing well do not get assigned a local mentor. At these meetings the mentor and student can discuss academic performance, social and lifestyle issues affecting the student’s progress, or any concerns such as finances and relationships that impact the academic performance. The local mentor then submits a student report to our fulltime mentor supervisor. These reports are used to track each student’s progress.

The local mentors use a standardised reporting template to ensure that they ask each student the same questions. This is helpful in identifying common issues facing the students. The report template contains critical questions about academic and social issues and captures the agreed upon actions to address these, as well as the next meeting date.

We financially compensate the local mentors for the time spent with each student allocated to them. Once they complete and submit the student report they get paid.

The positive impact of our mentoring

This approach has allowed us to scale-up our vital mentoring programme to rural university students by employing the services of 14 skilled professionals at a fraction of the cost of employing fulltime personnel. Furthermore, using this approach we have been able to mentor more students while helping them maintain an exceptional 88% university pass rate.

Final lessons to share

Through our mentoring programme we have learnt the following lessons:

  • Rural youth who pursue tertiary studies in urban settings need special academic support and social mentoring to help them succeed.
  • Mentoring requires more than academic support (which most tertiary institutions offer), and should be designed to assist students to deal with social and personal issues.
  • A mentor must be able to assist the students to identify their problems and develop strategies to overcome them.
  • The mentor must hold students accountable for finding help when needed.
  • Organisations like ours can scale-up their mentoring services to reach more students by employing part-time local mentors for a reasonable price. This is a cost-effective way of growing the programme.

3 Shongweni Road, Hillcrest, KwaZulu Natal

 031 765 5774


In Short

In this brief, Umthombo Youth Development Fund showcases how to scale-up a mentoring programme to reach more students by employing part-time local mentors for a reasonable price. Other organisations can learn from this cost-effective way of growing their student mentoring programmes.

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