This Youth Day, observed annually on 16 June, Ralph Ruthford from Novus Holdings calls on the youth to stay in education to cushion the economic blow of COVID-19.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) recently warned that COVID-19 will have far-reaching economic consequences on the youth, with unemployment to skyrocket and diminishing job prospects for 15-to-25-year-olds in the future.
“With South Africa having a dominantly youthful population, and with the most recent statistics showing an increase in the youth unemployment rate, the prospects for school leavers amid COVID-19 seems bleak,” says Ralph Ruthford, Group Executive: Human Resources Novus Holdings.
The problem, says Ruthford, is exacerbated by socioeconomic inequalities and the country’s worsening economic outlook, which recently slid into a recession.
“Furthermore, while it is unclear to what extent the pandemic will impact those who should be matriculating this year, we do know that the expected learning losses on learners due to disruptions from COVID-19 will be huge, and may end in a high failure rate at the end of the 2020 academic year,” says Ruthford.
Many Grade 12 learners will be assessing their prospects as they prepare to head back to the classroom in phases this month, in line with schools reopening as per government regulations following months of closure due to the nationwide lockdown. Ruthford says that learners may be feeling anxious about what the future may hold, given the widescale uncertainty and potential impact of the virus on their economic future.
“I urge the youth – especially those aged 16 and up – who may be impacted by diminishing job prospects – to stay in education for longer; whether this means staying in school, or seeking every opportunity possible to further post-school studies,” says Ruthford.
Global evidence from previous recessions shows that young people who’ve just left full-time education are hit harder than other age groups. Furthermore, over the past decade, globally, one-in-three non-graduates, and one-in-five graduates, have got their first employment experience after education in sectors such as retail, hospitality, travel and leisure – all sectors severely hit by the pandemic.
In South Africa, the evidence suggests that only 26% of graduates finish their three-year degrees. This is according to the Vital Stats Public Higher Education 2016 report, which finds that the number of students who drop out of higher education institutions has increased to staggering proportions. This is likely to increase even more in 2021, given the pandemic.
What is more disquieting, is that the Higher Education and Skills report from 2019 suggests that a staggering 51% of school leavers do not have the finances to pay for their tuition after school.
“Most South Africans cannot afford to pay for tertiary education. Bursary funds that provide additional personal support can go a long way in ensuring that school-leavers do not drop out of tertiary education. They can also help to get those who have completed their studies, land a job in line with their skills and abilities much quicker,” says Ruthford.
One such initiative is the Bursary Fund Trust, supported by Novus Holdings. The Bursary Fund Trust has, since inception in 2008, awarded more than 120 bursaries to the value of R15 million. At the end of 2019 it awarded bursaries to the value of R510 000 to seven matric learners to help finance their tertiary education in 2020. In addition to the funding, the Trust provides support and guidance to all bursary recipients.
“The Bursary Fund Trust makes a difference as it aims to create opportunities, and it is important that we provide as much opportunity for learners today so that we can limit the long-term effects of the pandemic on the economy. By encouraging school leavers to pursue higher education, and by supporting those who stay in education for as long as possible, it is possible that our youth may have a brighter future,” concludes Ruthford.