UKZN's Discipline of Digital Arts within the School of Arts has received a significant donation from Mr Rob Harley of Stewart Investors in Edinburgh, UK. The generous contribution aims to provide support to postgraduate students by assisting with registration fees, fee debt, and equipment upgrades.
The donations began in 2020 during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital Arts students were particularly affected by the shift to online learning due to the digital nature of their studies. Many of them lacked essential resources such as laptops or smartphones. In response to this predicament, Dr Michelle Stewart, a dedicated Digital Arts lecturer and coordinator of the programme, reached out to potential sponsors explaining the difficulties faced by the students. It was Harley who responded with incredible generosity, offering a donation.
As an alumnus of the College of Humanities, Harley is thrilled to support the students and his alma mater, as he recognises the importance of inspiring and guiding future generations. ‘I’m a devout believer that all good things happen because someone outstanding works their socks off to inspire, guide and encourage others towards a vision of something better. I’ve known Dr Michelle Stewart for 30 years, and it’s a privilege to support her programme and its students. I hope the students have a chance to put their talents and capabilities to good use, and that the vision and inspiration keeps multiplying,’ he said.
Said Stewart, ‘This initial contribution played a vital role in supporting the students. It covered the purchase of affordable smartphones for a large number of students and provided eight laptops for senior students engaged in complex digital projects from home. The smartphones were instrumental in facilitating online teaching and learning, as the curriculum was adapted to leverage this technology.’
Since then, Harley has continued his support by donating annually to the Digital Arts Discipline. Currently, 80% of the donation is allocated to supporting postgraduate students financially. This includes covering registration fees and aiding with debt relief. The funds have made it possible to pay the registration fees for most of the students pursuing their honours, masters, and PhD degrees, ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder their academic journey. Additionally, a portion of the donation is dedicated to supporting postgraduate student projects and research, including providing production fees for film projects and acquiring specialist equipment.
Among the students who have directly benefited from the donations are Mr Sfundo Cele and Mr Amukele Sosibo. Cele is working on a documentary film project about the late sculptor Michael Gasa, as part of his research work that focuses on archival documentary film and its role in preserving South African cultural history. Thanks to the donation, his production fee has been covered, allowing him to focus on creating an impactful film. He recently curated an exhibition of Gasa's work, which will be included in the documentary.
Mr Amukele Sosibo’s funding helped him register for the academic year by covering his registration fees. Coming from a single-parent household with a supportive mother and a brother, his home environment played a role in shaping his career aspirations. His love of cartoons and art classes during his school years, both in primary and high school, led him to pursue art later in tertiary education.