The year 2016 was a terrible year in education for anyone attending a public university who had started the year intent on progressing to the next level in their studies by the time the year closed. It was just not to be. Whether you wanted to be part of the protest action by students or not, your studies were affected. The #FESSMUSTFALL movement snowballed overnight and spread throughout the tertiary space like a veld fire. Many did not write exams. As a result, many did not progress to the next level when the 2017 academic year commenced.
This was not so in private institutions. If you did not make it to your next level of study in a private college or university, it was because you didn’t study or you didn’t pay. Either way – it was YOU.
So with public studies so easily interrupted and put on hold, I conclude that in 5 years time the lions share of new entrants to tertiary studies will go to private colleges, and yes I have reasons for this outrageous conclusion. They are as follows:
Please take the next 6 minutes and watch the video clip below. It’s a young parliamentarian lamenting the fate of someone that deserves to.. lemme not spoil it. Watch for yourself
The young woman audibly articulates one of the biggest things wrong with public education. Access to education via financial means. I remember when I attended my orientation at UWC around this time of the year 22 years ago – in 1995. It was a whole week in duration. I was physically present at every session, but I spent two-thirds of the time panicking about where I’m going to get the R800 for registration from. R800 was almost 3 times what I earned per week working in a factory back then. Fortunately, my best friend Ricardo Jones was able to withdraw money from his pension fund at work and enabled me to complete my registration. So I know a thing or two about how difficult it must be for many young people who don’t have their own Ricardos.
Without money you cannot study. That is a fact everywhere. But at a tertiary institute that is government-funded, this should be the last thing on the list of access criteria. Instead it is the first. One would think that in a country with millions of young people ripe for being educated and sent into the world to develop solutions to the problems we face, the government of the day would see that as an opportunity to market our country to the rest of the world. Alas, it is not to be. So money is and will remain one of the biggest hurdles to receiving conventional tertiary education and qualifications.
This is not so at private institutions. The only criteria outside of academic achievement is affordability. If you passed well at secondary level and you can afford to study, they will take you. You can receive the best possible education at the best private institution today. All you need is the money to pay for it and it can be yours. No questions.
The boxes that you need to tick to gain entry to a public university is in no way complemented by the quality of education dished up by the primary or secondary public education sectors. There remains a massive disconnect. In the late 80s and early 90’s you needed 6 passes at 80% or more to get into the MBChB program at UCT. But the same education system that required these 6 passes at 80% gave schools in townships only 6 subjects that were crazy hard and at white schools they had up to 10 subjects and all were easy. So naturally it was easier to get 6 passes at 80% at those schools and you had to be super smart to get all A’s at a township school.
Fast forward to 2017. The education system has lowered the pass mark at secondary level to 30%. In my day this would have gotten me into the MBChB program at MEDUNSA or UCT in a heartbeat. However, many of our young people are still struggling to get into public universities. Which makes one question whether the disconnect between what is taught at secondary level and what is required as competency at tertiary hasn’t widened over the years. Because two-thirds of the private colleges in existence today did not exist 20 years ago. And we find more and more youngsters being taken in at private institutions. Where the criteria is not as stringent.
Our universities will seriously need to relax their entrance criteria if they want to avoid getting cannibalised by these private behemoths coming up.
The Private Education concept
In the movie The Chronicles of Riddick, actor Vin Diesel sees a vision of a lady that tells him: “once you wake.. once you truly wake..”
Our private tertiary institutions have not truly awoken to who and what they are in the education space. And it’s not rocket science either.
At primary and secondary level, private schools are perceived to be better in the quality of education they provide. It is for this reason that parents are happy forking out thousands of rands to pay for their kids to attend these “prestigious academies”. Private schooling – in their heads – equate to their kids have a much better chance at upper echelon tertiary education and in turn upper echelon employment opportunities.
The kids themselves tend to think of themselves as better than kids that attend public schools. This is evident in the “twang” adopted by most black South African kids that attend private schools. So it is clear that psychologically private education occupies a higher ground than the public school system in the minds of even people in the public school system.
So why is there an avalanche of young people clamouring to get into public universities year after year? The answer to that is really simple too. The private institutions have not organised themselves into a cartel of like-minded marketers that speak with one voice. The fragmented private college fraternity has not adopted a single-minded focus in their approach to marketing that aims to communicate one message – PRIVATE IS BETTER. You’ve never seen a private school have someone hand out flyers on a busy street corner. Or advertise in print “ad nauseum”. Private institutions at primary and secondary level advertise like the “CAN’T GETS” they are. At no point do they say ALL WELCOME. The only time everybody is welcome is at their open days. And they all do THE SAME THING so that there is no confusion about who you’re dealing with.
So again. Private colleges need to wake. Really wake. And then unite. Then create a marketing model across the entire spectrum of private colleges that speaks with one voice. Regardless of what the messaging is. The voice needs to stay constant. The takeaway should be clear. YOU WANT TO STUDY HERE. YOU WILL DO YOURSELF THE BIGGEST FAVOUR IN LIFE IF YOU STUDY HERE. STUDYING HERE WILL OPEN DOORS FOR YOU THAT NO ONE ELSE CAN. That there is the key
I believe that over the course of the next 5 years money will become a bigger barrier to studying at public universities, the entrance criteria may tighten to avert situations like the #FEESMUSTFALL protests of 2016 and private colleges will step up their game in the marketing space. What this means for public universities is a sharp decline in applications to study and the lion’s share of enrolments in January every year going to private colleges (this may already be the case). It also means that private colleges have to learn from the public universities how to be operationally efficient, how to deal with the development of the whole person and not just teach a curriculum, and perhaps even lower their annual fee increases to accommodate the masses of students they will be taking in.
Whichever way the tertiary education pendulum swings.. THE FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IS PRIVATE
THE FUTURE OF HIGHER EDUCATION IS PRIVATE