Bridging the gap
Since the inception of its bursary programme in 2007, SANRAL has been very successful in identifying exceptional students, especially from previously disadvantaged communities
The cost of tertiary education is the subject of much public debate in South Africa. As a responsible corporate citizen, SANRAL has to take this into account when making decisions about the support it offers to bursary students. Skills development is listed as a priority in the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 – the broad framework that defines the country’s developmental trajectory. The NDP highlights the reality that future investment in critical infrastructure is highly dependent on the ability of the tertiary education sector to train skilled engineers, artisans and technicians.
SANRAL is responding to this call through its skills development and financial support of engineering students. This is a sector in which South Africa is experiencing critical shortages. Because the agency will play a defining role in the rollout of South Africa’s future infrastructure programmes, it is of vital importance that the organisation attracts and trains some of the brightest students in the country and then manages their careers within SANRAL.
Since the inception of its bursary programme in 2007, the agency has been very successful in identifying exceptional students – especially from previously disadvantaged communities. There is also a specific focus on supporting the education of women in the civil engineering and built environment sectors – areas from which they have been excluded in the past. In 2016, SANRAL awarded 122 bursaries to students at nine universities. This investment (more than R7.5m) includes bursaries for 14 postgraduate students who are conducting groundbreaking research in infrastructure development. The bursaries offered by the national roads agency cover more than just tuition fees. They include stipends, books and educational material.
To prepare the students for professional careers, SANRAL bursary holders are offered vacation jobs to familiarise themselves with the work environment. Bursary holders are also mentored and provided with assistance on practical projects, if required, during their studies. SANRAL offers work-integrated learning opportunities in conjunction with contractors and consultants working on its projects. This platform allows interns to use the workplace as an active learning environment and assists students in obtaining the practical experience they require to complete their qualifications. In terms of a performance agreement between SANRAL and the Minister of Transport, the number of internships offered should be equal to 10% of the staff complement. However, because of the high demand for practical experience within the engineering field, SANRAL is exceeding this target and offers internship opportunities equivalent to 44% of its staff complement. SANRAL’s bursary programme is making a tangible contribution to closing the skills gap in South Africa.
Up Close With...
Susan de Jager
Susan is a former teacher in the Family Math programme and is now part of the Science-for-the- Future team, Foundation Phase Family Math Coordinator at the University of the Free State. She says the programme is about bringing together teachers, parents and learners to demystify mathematics and science. The facilitators of Family Math train identified teachers at the University of the Free State. Teachers then go back to their schools and use the relevant and colourful material to teach.
“Every term, I invited the learners’ parents to a meeting at school. I let the parents do and experience the same mathematic activities as their children, in the same hands-on and fun way. Thus, they were introduced to the mathematics curriculum. It helped them to help their children at home. Family Math supplied the parents with a module and all the necessary material. SANRAL was the sponsor and this was key,” she says. “Sometimes the learners attended the sessions with their parents, at times grandparents, even some illiterate caretakers. It is one of the goals of Family Math to bring together the whole family and in this way to change attitudes.
“The sessions were very enjoyable and I felt as a teacher that it was a highlight in many of the mothers’ lives attending those meetings. It is mostly women who attend the parent sessions. Parents became more involved in the education of their children through this programme.”