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02 June 2005

Factsheet 4 : Contours of private higher education and training

Press Release

The size of the private higher education sector is smaller than originally anticipated, recent HSRC research reveals. Far from the original estimates in the 1990s, of some 150 000 enrolments, the head count enrolment of registered private institutions at December 2001 is 85 000 students.

Moreover, the distinction between private and public provision is not clear-cut. The research showed that the majority of private sector enrolments are actually based in public-private partnerships.

A total of 55 428 students were enrolled at private institutions for programmes certificated by ?other? institutions, with tuition and administrative support provided by the private institution. The majority of these (79%) are certificated in South African public higher education institutions. Only 1% is certificated by recognised British universities, and the remaining 20% by local or international institutions and professional institutes.

What was striking is that 46 682 of these students (or 85%) were enrolled in a single private institution, with the majority of these enrolments certificated by three Afrikaans medium public universities. Even more striking, these enrolments are primarily in the field of education, with a headcount of 37 963 students.

Nevertheless, a sizable proportion of students study at private institutions that offer their ?own? certification, with 30 229-headcount enrolments. These enrolments represent the equivalent of 5% of the headcount enrolments in public institutions.

The mid 1990s saw a flurry of attempts by British and Australian universities to enter the South African higher education market, but the data indicates the impact of state regulation. A relatively small proportion of students were enrolled in such transnational institutions, only 1 242 in 2001.

The proliferation of private higher education in South Africa is thus manifest in a growth in the total number of institutions, rather than in total enrolments relative to the public sector.

The contours of the overall shape of the private higher education sector are also given stronger definition by the HSRC study. The potential contribution to human resources development in South Africa, complementary to the public higher education sector, is influenced strongly by the concentration of enrolments at lower qualifications levels and within specific fields.

Of note is that 11% of the total enrolments were reported at below Level 5 (the post-school, non-degree stratum of qualifications available at colleges, technikons and some universities) and thus formally within the Further Education and Training band on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

A high 46% of total enrolments were at Level 6 (undergraduate and bachelor’s degrees). However, most of these are accounted for by the huge enrolments in further education diplomas at the single private provider mentioned above, and certificated by three public universities. The only other substantial enrolments at this level were in the field of Business, mainly in Business Commerce and Business Administration programmes. Private providers are not offering traditional bachelor’s degrees on a significant scale.

Level 5 enrolments ? non-degree certificates and diplomas ? account for 37% of the total private enrolment, and for the majority of enrolments at private providers who offer their ?own? certification. They are more evenly spread among the NQF fields of business, the majority being ?own? certifications; of education, the majority being ?other? certifications; and of sciences, primarily computer science and information technology, also primarily ?own? certifications.

Only 4% of the total private enrolments were at Level 7 ? post-graduate diplomas, honours and Masters degrees ? with the majority in the field of Business, enrolled for the lucrative MBA programme.

These trends suggest a key role for the private higher education sector in the development of intermediate skills to complement the high level skills developed in public universities and technikons. Currently, the key business and information technology fields are well served, but there are very few enrolments in the scarce fields of science, engineering and technology, and health and social services. The fields of focus covered in the programmes of the private higher education sector may need to be expanded.

Human resources development and equity are inextricably linked. The data indicates a fairly deracialised private sector among the private institutions that offer their ‘own’ certifications. Black students, 62%, and Africans in particular, form a greater proportion of enrolments than whites, but the African proportion is lower than that in the public universities and technikons. Data for enrolments in private institutions that offer programmes certificated by public universities was not available, but anecdotal evidence is that the majority of students are black.

Moreover, there are distinct variations in the racial and gender profiles of private institutions across NQF levels and fields. For instance, transnational private institutions have markedly higher enrolments of white males, particularly in business and MBA programmes. African women formed the highest proportion in the field of science, clustered at the level of certificates and diplomas in information technology. These are the kinds of low-level vocational programmes whereby women traditionally gain access to the labour market. These trends reinforce the persistence of a gender and racially segmented labour market, and indicate that private institutions too, face great challenges to contribute to greater equity.

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