Below you will find some additional information about bursaries, and some useful perspective on how to continue to gain a bursary when going on to your next school.
Let’s start with what a bursary is. ‘Bursa’ is the Latin for ‘purse’, and all a bursary is a monetary discount on fees. In this article I want to go behind the scenes and explain to you how bursaries work and therefore what you might do to increase your chances of getting one.
Most schools will have a ‘Bursary Pot’. Simply put this is an amount of money they put into their budget to provide discounts for parents. For our school for example we put aside the equivalent of a certain number of terms of fees to be distributed. In theory a bursary for an individual child can be up to 100% of fees, but in practice I would estimate that three quarters will be around a 10% discount, the majority of the remainder will be 20% and a rare few more than this, though probably substantially more.
Bursaries are awarded to people based on their financial need. Very broadly speak-ing, a bursary is intended to help parents put a child into the school where they would not otherwise have been able to afford it. As a result, all bursaries will require an application that will involve full financial disclosure, often including details such as tax returns. Most schools will require a re-application annually to check that circumstances haven’t change. There is no getting round this. Any bursaries and applications will always be kept completely confidential. Only the school executive and governors will be aware, and any documents will be securely filed away. None of this is published. Your financial affairs will be treated with the utmost sensitivity.
So why do schools provide this generosity and isn’t it unfair on those parents that are paying full fees? The answer to this is that education is about so much more than just the foundation of classroom learning. One of the most important things is the peer group your child grows up and learns with. As a general rule, having a more diverse peer group (background, skills, abilities etc) is a good thing and most schools will use bursaries to ensure that the diversity of its pupil body is not limited for financial reasons. This differs from a scholarship because the attributes being looked for are broader and more vague and the talents need not be so exceptional.
So how to get a bursary? The single greatest tip I would provide is to start early. If you ask for a bursary in the next 12 months, the likelihood will be that the budget has already been allocated and used up. If however you enter an early discussion about maybe needing a bursary in a number of year’s time, the school is far more likely to be open to it. As an aside, remember that children brought up in Africa are of significant interest to schools in the UK for example and have a greater than average chance of qualifying for a bursary. UK schools recognise that salaries in African countries make UK fees difficult. They also find that African students show exceptional leadership and sporting skills and as mentioned before, this contributes to their own diversity.
There are usually 3-4 key decision makers when it comes to bursaries: the head of the school, the bursar, the chairman of governors and the governor with finance responsibility. The two people you need to talk to first are the head of the school and the bursar.
A final tip is how to handle cash wealth versus asset wealth. A common situation with Africa based parents is that many are large-scale farmers, and many own their farms. This means that on paper they are very wealthy once you take into account land value. However, if the farm has not been producing for years there may be no cash-flow making paying for fees impossible. In theory acres of land could be sold, but many schools are sympathetic that this is not always possible. If this is the case, make sure this is made clear in your bursary application.
Bursaries have to be renewed annually so if you circumstances change for the better, you will need to factor in that you might lose your bursary. Changes of circumstances often become public knowledge and it’s better to be open about everything. There are always stories of people building new beach houses whilst asking for ever greater financial discounts. Additionally, late or non-payment of fees becomes even more frowned on if you have already been given a helping hand. On the positive side, if you are really struggling there could be room for a deeper discount to be given.
Above all remember that not everyone gets a bursary. Most impressive are parents who hand their bursary back once they have felt they no longer need it.