Stadio CEO Chris van der Merwe. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Stadio CEO Chris van der Merwe. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Chris van der Merwe, a stalwart in SA’s private education sector, will step down from tertiary education provider Stadio as it shifts focus to distance learning.

Van der Merwe, who founded Curro in 1998, will leave Stadio at the end of March 2020. He will be replaced by Chris Vorster, current CEO of Southern Business School, which was founded in 1996 and which currently has 13,000 distance-learning students.

Van der Merwe will move to a non-executive director role after stepping down as CEO.

He has “established the framework through which it [Stadio] will deliver on its purpose of empowering the nation by widening access to higher education”, Stadio said.

Van der Merwe was an “educational visionary”, Small Talk Daily's Anthony Clark said, adding that he had “created billions of rand in value for shareholders”.

As he is 57 years old, which is young for retirement, it will be unsurprising if he is back soon with another venture, Clark said.

Stadio was unbundled from Curro and listed separately in October 2017. Since then, it has grown from 840 students to more than 31,000.

Stadio aims to grow to 100,000 students, with 80% of them being distance-learning students and Vorster has “a vast understanding of the higher-education domain”, Stadio said.

Stadio, the owner of private higher-education brands such as Milpark Education, Embury Institute for Higher Education, Prestige Academy and Afda, said its focus is to develop multi-faculty large-scale campuses. It wants to offer the programmes under a single brand, Stadio Multiversity.

Stadio is developing two new greenfield campuses in Centurion and Durbanville, and is investigating starting a medical school.

In afternoon trade on Monday, Stadio’s share price had slipped 6.39% to close at R2.05, putting it on track for its worst daily loss in just over three months. The company’s share price has lost about two thirds of its value since listing.

In a separate announcement on Monday, Stadio said it would pay R155.5m for the 26% stake in SBS that it did not own.

gernetzkyk@businesslive.co.za