The protests over student fees that closed campuses across the country last year have not spoilt private education companies’ appetite for expansion.

Advtech group academic director Felicity Coughlan says the protests did not have a direct effect on its institutions and operations.

The strongest immediate effect may be a "delayed start to the year of the public institutions, meaning that some late enrolments on our campuses can be expected", she says.

While private universities have historically accounted for a relatively small proportion of university enrolments, studies have shown they have been on the rise over the past decade, says Hendrik van Broekhuizen, a postdoctoral research fellow at Research on Socio-Economic Policy at Stellenbosch University.

The Department of Higher Education and Training’s statistics on postschool education and training show that private institutions account for about 13% of all university enrolments.

Van Broekhuizen says that while the demand for university education in SA far exceeds what the public sector provides, the supply-demand mismatch is not just a result of physical capacity constraints.

"Major factors driving a wedge between the demand for and the supply of higher education are the inability to finance further study and inadequate academic preparedness for further study," he says.

Research has confirmed that academic achievement in grade 12 is highly predictive of university success resulting in many university applicants not gaining access to university.

Coughlan says the demand for higher education remains unabated and students are becoming more aware of the wide range of options of offer in SA.

"Students, who now understand that standards applied in public and private higher education institutions are the same, are beginning, in increasing numbers, to consider degree options that are available outside of the public sector."

Of the 610,178 pupils who wrote matric in 2016, 162,374 were eligible for bachelor degree admission and just more than 240,000 were eligible for diploma and higher certificate studies.

Local private education companies have been hard at work to ensure they can meet the demand. Fast-growing Curro Holdings broadened its tertiary education platform through its acquisition of a 50% stake in BA Isago University in Botswana late last year.

The deal was carried out through its teacher education-focused subsidiary Embury, which has its main campus in Durban.

Embury offers physical and distance learning courses and is due to open campuses in Midrand and Montana in 2018.

Curro’s rival, Advtech, which has a wider presence in the specialist tertiary education market, plans to extend its campuses and broaden its programme offering as part of its medium-term expansion plans.

The company, which has five higher education brands with more than 29,000 students, said 2017 registrations were under way and it expected an increase in student numbers from 2016.

The group’s brands include Varsity College, Design School SA, Rosebank College and The Business School at Varsity College, with a variety of higher education qualifications offered across 20 campuses.

Added to Advtech’s offering are distance learning and postschool qualifications accredited by sector education and training authorities (Setas) through its Oxbridge Academy.

It also has one culinary brand, Capsicum.

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