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The Higher Education Fever in South Africa: Optimism and Access to University Studies

BY: Alice Matsoso|21 February 2020
BLOG| Leadership, The digital student life, My future career, Evolving world of work, Deciding to study online

Stellenbosch Graduate Institute is proud to introduce guest author, Alice Mampuru an Entrepreneurship Development Practitioner. Her passion lies in SMME development. Alice believes that SMMEs play an integral role in Economic Development. As an Entrepreneur herself, she believes that education that is tailored and customised for individuals and groups based on their, unique needs and talents can be more effective. SMME and Entrepreneurs in particular, continue to struggle to access such programmes that are structured to meet their unique needs and talents. Alice's interests include research in Entrepreneurship for Emerging African Economies and Innovation for Global Challenges.  Here is what Alice has to say about education in South Africa:


Over the past few decades, South Africa’s education sector has been dominated by attempts to create accessibility to higher education and training for high school leavers. Almost without exemption, the education policy allows all learners equal right to free higher education as means to address the long standing socio economic inequalities. While government through NSFAS aids students who wish to further their studies, corporate South Africa also provides financial resources in a form of bursaries for previously disadvantaged and high performing learners. Universities however, continue to maintain what can be regarded as acceptable standards and best practices not only to protect the legitimacy of institutions of higher learning but their reputations and global footprints.


Facts about access to free higher education can be better explained if prospective students, particularly those who fight to be aided by government to achieve their dreams, know less about their prospects than do institutions of higher learning with a wealth of knowledge resources to draw from their long standing legacies. It is not just that universities are better informed about physiological characteristics of learners  but, students and student movement organisations are unrealistically optimistic about what can be done to address the struggle for equal access to free, quality higher education.


Here is the point I really want to emphasise: Not every individual is imbued with “academic success”. I suggest that among the general population of students and student movement organisations, exists a high level of optimism that creates a “fever” for university education, especially when means of access seem to be embargoed. Government has now resorted to the establishment of TVET colleges which offer a perceived ease of access as opposed to traditional universities. In the recent State of the Nation Address which promised to establish a brand new university in the City of Ekurhuleni and numerous other TVET colleges, will the increased investment in physical infrastructure ever be able to meet the increasing demand for higher education in South Africa? My answer is, NO.


It can therefore, arguably, not be allowed for the education standards to be dropped to reduce the barriers to access to higher education and training but rather, those who wish to lend on the other side of the fence, should be filled with the contempt of commitment towards “academic success”. Much focus therefore, should be paid towards how the education sector can optimise access to affordable higher education by means of online learning and the use of technology and the internet of things.


In the wake of the 4IR and the emergence of smart cities and the likes of artificial intelligence and the internet of things, I hold a strong view that we should be equally concerned about the establishment of smart schooling, smart universities and of course smart workplaces to optimise the efficiency of education delivery as well as corporate productivity. Government and corporate South Africa should start to consider supporting and fast tracking development of smart universities as a solution to infrastructural deficiencies in the higher education sector of South Africa. This way, we can see a tremendous saving in the cost of infrastructure for housing the learning activity. The likes of Stellenbosch Graduate Institute are the developing front of Smart Universities which should attract much investment in high technology to expand national and global reach while maintaining quality education standards and best practices.  

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