An entrepreneurial outlook on financing your postgraduate studies

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Every student should get on with their postgraduate studies with an entrepreneurial mindset. I won’t delve much into defining the concept but will proffer the understanding that an entrepreneur is a goal getter, and someone who embodies the qualities and spirit of being foresighted, innovative, risk-taking and reward oriented. These characteristics are crucial in postgraduate studies because the purpose of higher-order learning is to enhance inherent qualities in a learner, to enable them to become better performers and leaders in areas of interest and expertise. As such, it is essential to know what is it that one embodies and harness it to develop the envisaged professional aptitude.

Like a learner, an entrepreneur succeeds by understanding the business principles of the industry or sector they are performing in. For example, postgraduate study is a vocation within the knowledge enterprise that involves both social and economic transactions with a multitude of stakeholders. A lot of money is exchanged within this space between tertiary institutions, publishers, book stores, internet vendors, real estate agents, grocery stores, clothing stores and transport providers, just to mention a few. Thus, a student will need to pay tuition, but also spend money on accommodation, food, ICT, books and transport in the process of learning. Managing to pay off these expenses allows a student to focus on the learning component of their studies.

This brings me to the other expenses that a postgraduate student needs to cater for related to research. One has to raise funds to pay for fieldwork expenses, or purchasing a software package, research instruments, professional editing, travel for conferences and publishing, among others. A lot of planning is required to canvass the resources required to conduct research; hence a student should master the relevant skills to attract the required support in their study journey.

Although student enrolments at the postgraduate level have been increasing in South Africa and many other countries across the globe, several learners are graduating with heavy debts that entangle them in perpetual poverty. Other students are refraining from studying further because of the burden and fear to accumulate debt, further prolonging their ability to transform their socio-economic status. Tertiary education should neither be attained at any cost nor should the cost deter people from learning. The alternative is to treat postgraduate studies as a vocational exercise that can be championed from an entrepreneurial mindset.

How to think like an entrepreneur

An entrepreneur never thinks of self as an amateur, rather an inventor motivated to convince investors, to provide the resources to help them succeed in their business.  Similarly, a postgraduate student is already a qualified expert in a particular area, who is developing further professional prowess. There is a need to understand what resources and forms of investors one needs to succeed in their business. For example, a student may be pursuing a specialised degree programme or research topic but still needs to draw in funds to pay for tuition, research, methods training, writing training, editorial support, travel and buy-outs. Different investors exist within the knowledge enterprise to fund each of these areas of need. Some interesting opportunities to target include:

  • the National Research Fund (NRF) which covers a broad range of degree programmes and study levels. The NRF also offers funding for study exchange programmes to several destinations across the globe. The experience of going on a study exchange is rewarding and provides access to a broader pool of scholars and learning resources that may not be readily available in the home institution.
  • the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), funds doctoral studies in the humanities and social sciences disciplines in South Africa.
  • The Mandela Rhodes Foundation sponsors Honours and Masters level degree programmes in South Africa. 
  • Erasmus+ is a funding avenue managed by the European Union that sponsors study programmes across different disciplines and study levels, including study exchange opportunities for Africans to visit a partner university in Europe or complete a full degree.
  • The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa Program, provides fellowships to any African national pursuing doctoral studies at universities in South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, focusing on the broad themes: peace, security, and development.
  • Canon Collins, funds postgraduate programmes in several disciplines to selected African nationals studying in South Africa, Malawi, Ireland and the UK. 
  • The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT), funds Masters and PhD programmes in South Africa.

Where to start?

The starting point when seeking graduate funding is to search the funding page of your target institution(s), for example, University of Pretoria, Cape Town University, Wits University, Rhodes University, University of the Free State, Nelson Mandela University, Stellenbosch University, just to mention a few. Importantly, one should take note of the funding cycles, eligibility requirements and application dossier, and ensure that you work within the cycle, as well as prepare the relevant materials needed for each funding opportunity. A full discussion of these elements will be covered in another post.

Apart from the financial support provided by these entities, a student who attains graduate scholarship gains access to a network of experts and mentors that play an advisory role in nurturing each scholar to reach their full potential. Thus, graduate funding should not only be viewed as a financial resource, rather an avenue to develop and harness essential skills, links and acumen to become the best in your field.

Dr Ruth Murambadoro

Ruth Murambadoro is a life coach and published African scholar who works on women, transitional justice, gender justice, peacebuilding, and politics of the Global South. Her notable writings include a single-authored monograph Transitional Justice in Africa: The Case of Zimbabwe, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2020. Her renewed research focus is on exploring the gendered nature of the post-colonial state to broaden understandings of violence perpetrated against women – a constituency that remains marginalized by political concessions that undermine their political agency and their ability to live free from violence in Zimbabwe. Over the next 5-10 years Ruth endeavours to develop artistic creations working closely with emerging and seasoned creative African artists to broaden her current project on a digital repository (re)presenting African women’s stories. 

Follow her on Twitter: @WaZvogo

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