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#FeesMustFall – where Govt fails, business profits and the people lose

Oct 28 2016 14:17

It was bound to happen. A private company to set the ball rolling on filling a void created by the ongoing student protests. Parents are concerned, with some going as far as starting a topic on the Biznews forums on how to start a British Pound fund for future education.

The problem is real for parents, and the longer both sides of the debate diddle and daddle, the deeper the hole becomes. Analyst Garth Mackenzie picks out a JSE Sens announcement involving Curro Holdings.

In it the company is looking to enter the private tertiary education space. And while we must celebrate such opportunism the concern is that such a move will only further divide the gap between the haves and the have nots. – Stuart Lowman

By Garth Mackenzie*

It came as no surprise when an announcement was made by Curro last week that the company would seek to enter the private tertiary education space.

Curro has carved a niche for itself in the affordable private education arena – focusing specifically on somewhat affordable primary and secondary education. Curro fees slot in between state schools and more elite private schools.

The reason for the company’s ongoing success in this space is simple: The government’s failure to provide decent education to its citizens has left the door open for private enterprise to fill the gap, and make billions of rands in the process.

The same can be said for a lot of industries. Think private security, private healthcare and medical aid schemes. Incompetence on the part of government offers fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurs willing to fill the void.

The current anarchy at South Africa’s universities is creating a huge amount of uncertainty around the future of tertiary education in the country. The #FeesMustFall movement is incredibly short sighted in its demands.

In a country where less than 5% of the population contributes the vast majority of the tax revenue, there simply is no budget for free quality education. Not without squeezing the remaining life out of an already dwindling tax base.

This is not Finland where there is vast equality and everyone contributes to the tax coffers and shares in it equally. South Africa has among the highest inequality in the world. It is because of a failure to understand this that the #FeesMustFall movement is in the process of shooting off its own foot and will only succeed in pushing quality tertiary education even further beyond the reach of those they seek to serve.

As the university year hangs in the balance, it’s possible that the damage done by the #FeesMustFall movement may be approaching a tipping point where there simply is no turning back and the damage to these institutions will be permanent.

FeesMustFall_cartoon large

#FeesMustFall, cartoon courtesy of Twitter

Universities are dependent on the academia that make up their personnel for their continued survival.

More than brick and mortar structures, these institutions exist and evolve because of those people who are willing to dedicate their time and effort to the pursuit of knowledge transfer. The #FeesMustFall movement looks to be making it near impossible for those dedicated individuals to carry out their desire to pass on their knowledge within the traditional university structures.

This will not kill off the ambition of academics to pass on their knowledge however. Remember these are the type of people with a calibre for hard work and overcoming obstacles in order to get ahead in life. Their desire to educate won’t crumble along with the university buildings they see being destroyed around them.

This is where Curro is looking to seize an opportunity. There’s a very real possibility that there will soon be a number of academics seeking an alternative platform from which to pass on their knowledge.

Curro has identified this and will seek to replicate the model they have developed so successfully in the primary and secondary education space. The company will provide places and systems where they can link quality educators and learners who have given up on the state’s education platforms.

Read also: Free higher education? Why it’s not possible in SA. Brilliant analysis!

Curro will look to offer decent private tertiary education to South Africans who can afford it. It won’t be cheap, but it will surely be cheaper than what it would cost to go overseas to get a decent tertiary education.

In a world where technology continues to advance, what is stopping Curro from developing partnerships with offshore universities here in South Africa and rolling out quality education to those willing learners who can afford to pay for it?

Curro will seek to employ those highly regarded professors and lecturers from South African state universities who have been stopped from doing their work by the #FeesMustFall movement.

The state universities will lose their best academia. Those students who can afford to study at a private tertiary institution will do so. This will thereby starve the traditional universities of the fees of wealthier students that they desperately need to subsidize those who were already struggling to pay – creating an even bigger budget shortfall at state universities.

A South African state university qualification will become sub-standard in the same way that a South African state matric is sub-standard with some of the worst maths and science standards in the world.

Read also: Phumlani Majozi: Quality education isn’t free. Expect a fallout, either way.

All the while those few people who can afford to attend a private tertiary institution like the ones Curro are planning to offer will receive a high quality of education. An education that is actually worth something and will hold value both here and abroad. Decent tertiary education will become a luxury in South Africa.

Curro and other providers of private education will make more millions from the government’s inability to provide decent tertiary education and the inequality gap will widen further.

In the end the #FeesMustFall movement will have succeeded in two things. Firstly ensuring that those they seek to serve will be even further denied a quality tertiary education. And secondly, ensuring that private enterprise has new territory to profit from government’s failure to adequately serve its citizens.

  • Garth Mackenzie is the founder of traderscorner.co.za. He trades his own capital for a living and runs a trading advisory and education service. He is the founder and editor of BusinessDay TV’s Traders Corner show. Garth trades his own capital on the show and donates the profits to charity at the end of each year. He fell in love with the stock market at the age of 14 after he and his father began trading a fictitious account of select shares on the JSE. He graduated from RAU in 2001 with a BCom Economics degree. After running a successful derivatives trading desk for BoE from 2003 to 2009 he left the corporate world to trade his own capital and become an entrepreneur. Garth is a no-nonsense guy and likes to portray trading in a realistic light – unlike the glitz and glamour that trading is often portrayed as. He also loves to write about topics that are real and affect every South African in some way.
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