The impact of global influences on tertiary education in SA

The South African higher education sector has gone through many changes over the past few decades.

THE South African higher education sector has gone through many changes over the past few decades.

Influenced by both local and global macro-environmental factors, we have seen many shifts in higher education globally that have driven the need for innovative change to ensure education remains relevant and current.

The impact of globalisation, massification of education, increasing student mobility, the teaching and learning curricula evolution, the private education revolution, the academic profession, the importance of research, the effect of information technology on education, and the political and economic instability have all induced the need for a stronger focus on private institutions that offer online distance learning.

Continuously developing, redesigning, and providing quality academic programmes and content to fulfil the current and future demands from industry to align with global trends have become critical.

According to a Unesco report of 2009, as the world economy becomes more integrated, higher education institutions across the globe display more similarities with one another.

English, for example, has become more commonly accepted as the language of the sector, and economic and regional blocks tend to share resources and centralise standards and objectives.

The Brics nations are expected to follow suit. The need for healthy partnerships with international educational bodies is crucial. The global trend of increasing student mobility is expected to grow and this will shape the landscape of universities as they gear themselves to attract these students who are an important source of income in a sector faced with dealing with limited government funding and a shrinking income from subsidies.

Emerging economies want graduates to share commonly identifiable characteristics such as being creative, adaptable, ethical and versed in the practical application of theory.

The private education sector has experienced a revolution as the prevalence of private education providers is expanding in a world where national governments are finding it harder to maintain subsidy levels in the face of the growing social expenditure demands and a world economy that shows growth not in keeping with expanding population bases.

Private education institutions provide access to students who qualify but are not admitted to the public universities that are constrained by space, allowing students the opportunity to become more employable as they gain work experience while studying.

According to Louw (2016), “I believe that in the next decade or two, it’s within the private sector of education where the consistent quality of graduates will lead the private providers to attain greater reputations.”

Louw continues that “The matriculant will have a clear choice: go to university cheaply for a qualification rooted in theoretical knowledge, removed from industry and pragmatism – a qualification which won’t guarantee anything or pay a private provider for relevance, work readiness, competence… and ultimately a job.”

The higher education sector comprises a host of private education providers with different qualification offerings.

The burgeoning developments in the IT sector have caused many to predict that the traditional university may soon be rendered obsolete.

According to Louw (2016) “The successful education of the future won’t teach isolated, specific content around a singular career direction. In fact, successful education of the future will not teach at all. It will facilitate collaboration, real-world activities, critical thinking, lateral thinking, lateral thought across business functions, adaptability and seamless, confident communication.”

Academic programmes no longer follow singular career courses, but we have seen a trend indicating a wider exposure to different disciplines that align to provide the graduate with bigger picture thinking.

South African academic, Michael Goldman, recently stipulated that the key role of the chief marketing officer is to look beyond mere marketing and rather focus on the wider growth of the business.

He challenged marketers to be business people first and marketing artisans second, thereby inducing a shift for these professionals from brand-centric advertising roles to being the primary custodian of the customer and driver of growth and opportunity, demonstrating how marketing activities need to deliver against their intended P&L business objectives.

According to a SA Institute of Race Relations report of  2014/15, only 6.5% of 46 044 graduates at public institutions studied marketing, that is 2 989 students.

The continent is facing disintegration of the higher education sector in most countries and young people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to obtain a “world-class education and qualification”.

Difficult economic times invariably cause more people to study and this is recognised as a trend in most countries. Private school expansion is predicted to double over the next 10 years, creating a group of people with much more discerning views regarding their continued education.

Many public universities are offering cheap education with theory, large numbers and transferring low skills levels; while industry requires qualifications to be pragmatic, industry-focused with practice-based activities. That has provided the opportunity for private institutions to supply quality-based recognized qualifications.

Distance education is a mode of delivery to reach large numbers of students and this is being touted as the education mode of delivery most likely to grow exponentially in the immediate future.  It is an important instrument of social integration, as it creates the space in which people from all walks of life meet, mingle and learn from one another, responding to the social and economic challenges of society (Badat, 2005).

Political and economic stability of regions also affect higher education in South Africa. History has shown that academic institutions are often the first casualties of regional instability.

Going forward, according to the Organisation for International Economic Development, some of the most likely influencers will include the rise in student numbers, the increase in female students and international students will become even more influential factors in determining the ability, or not, of universities to survive financially.

Garwe (2016) reminds us that the current phase of development of African countries engenders student unrest on campuses, excessive enrolments, quality assurance shortcomings and a brain drain of forward-thinking academics – issues to which private higher-education institutions have more freedom to respond.

In South Africa we have seen the increased competition in the sector as traditional face-to-face institutions enter the distance/on-line education space.

The growing population and urbanisation have played a major role in the increased number of students. Private institutions need to ensure the delivery of educational materials suitable for digital and smart applications as more and more students have access to cellphones and tablets with cheaper broadband being available, encouraging more online students.

Increased nationalism and closing of borders to immigrant employees has increased the need for internationally-recognised qualifications. The massification of higher education has swept across developing countries with bigger classes being taught by inadequately qualified personnel who will concentrate on presenting theory for rote learning.

This impacts on private institutions to fulfil the need for graduates who understand the theory and apply it in an effective manner in workplace situations as smaller, private providers are known to respond a lot quicker to the demands of business and society due to the lack of bureaucracy that hampers public institutions.

Lifelong learning has also become a global trend as people now change careers several times during the course of their lives. Continuous improvement and updating of skills and knowledge is essential to keep pace with a rapidly evolving economy and to remain competitive in the job market.

Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing rapid growth with the demand for education outstripping supply. A large portion of students choose to study in South Africa.  South African public universities only allow access to a specific quota of foreign students, the remainder look to private higher education institutions.

Many potential students are turned away from public institutions because they are competing for a limited number of spaces. The distance-learning delivery method addresses the lack of access to residential universities and institutions, faced by many southern African students.

The inherently quicker responsiveness cycles of distance learning private institutions facilitates the Africanisation imperative.

The higher education environment in South Africa offers a range of government and private tertiary institutions.

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Published: 01 Jun 2018
Author: By Angela Bruwer
About the Author: Angela Bruwer is the executive academic head at the IMM Graduate School.

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