SA is unlikely to see more private universities entering the higher education sector.
Amid the crisis engulfing universities across the country, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande told the fees commission on Thursday that the government was not keen on allowing private universities on a full-blown scale.
This week, Stellenbosch-based investment holding company PSG Group said it wanted to invest some of its R1.7bn cash in private universities.
PSG’s existing investments include a 58% stake in Curro Holdings, SA’s largest private education group.
“We currently have R1.7bn cash available for further investments in our existing portfolio and one or two smaller greenfield businesses,” PSG chairman Jannie Mouton said.
Some of the cash could be deployed through Curro, which will increase its teachers’ colleges from one to three, while PSG’s private equity arm would handle its other investments in the education sector.
This could place more pressure on SA’s traditional universities, which often struggle to accommodate students.
Nzimande said private universities posed a serious threat to the public education sector. He said allowing them into the mix would result in an increase in the cost of higher education‚ academics being poached from the public sector as well as the loss of the financial contribution of wealthy students to the public higher education sector.
SA has several private tertiary institutions including Monash South Africa, Varsity College, Damelin and Milpark Business School. Private institutions must first register with the Department of Higher Education and Training to have the legal authority to offer higher education.
“We need the wealthy students in the [ public sector] in order for them to pay fees….
“We are under pressure to allow private medical schools. We have a problem with this‚” said Nzimande.
He said the demand for financial support for the poor in the public education sector was huge‚ therefore, it would be unjust to fund students in private institutions. However, this was a matter that required further consideration, said Nzimande.
He said a possibility was to fund students enrolled in private institutions for programmes that were not available in public institutions and were classified as critical skills.
However, the minister said he did not see the National Student Financial Aid Scheme funding students in private colleges.
The commission‚ chaired by Judge Jonathan Heher‚ was established in January to inquire into‚ report on and make recommendations on the feasibility of fee-free higher education and training in SA.
With Reuters and TMG Digital