MEGAversities at the tip of Africa – 4 interesting facts about higher education in SA

The recent #RhodesMustFall and Open Stellenbosch campaigns at two of South Africa’s most prestigious Universities put the spotlight on the need (or at the very least, a popular desire) for racial transformation within the country’s system of higher education. Although 80% of the South African population is black only 14% of the country’s approximately 2,200 professors are black. This is quite the thought provoking statistic, one that is supplemented by the following four, equally interesting, statistics and facts about higher education in South Africa.

1) Stellenbosch University one of the top 2000 richest companies in the world

…at least it would be if Stellenbosch University (PTY) LTD were ever to be realised sometime in a dystopian future. Currently, however, the institution of higher learning nestled in the heart of the scenic Winelands remains a public entity subsidised by the State, but if it were to one day decide to trade on the JSE rather than in racial scandals (1)(2) then it would quickly find itself in the company of Big Business.

The most recent financial report from Stellenbosch University (SU) indicates that the academic institution had almost R11 Billion in assets in 2013 – close to a third of the total assets of Shoprite Holdings (Shoprite, Checkers, Hungry Lion, OK, House & Home) at the time.  This means that SU effortlessly beats Wits (R9.5b) and UCT (R7.2b) for the top spot as the country’s richest University.

And then, if SU decided to become a publicly traded company, it would comfortably have enough assets to be included in the Forbes Global 2000, an annual list of the top 2000 of the world’s biggest public companies.

2) Wanted an MBA in the 1950s? Well you were out of luck unless you were willing to move to the US… or South Africa

During the steady revival of the world economy in the 1950s, following the Second World War, large transnational corporations were eager to employ a new breed of University educated managers.  Thus the unprecedented growth in the Masters of Business Administration, the MBA , during the era of Elvis. And where better to look for MBA graduates in the 50s than the birthplace of the MBA, the United States, where the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration would establish the world’s first MBA programme as early as the 1908. By the 1950s, the MBA had not yet caught on outside the US, and the only international alternative was, naturally, in South Africa, 15 000km away.

In 1951 the University of Pretoria would deliver its first batch of 25 MBA graduates, making it the first, and at the time the only, alternative to North American MBA programmes. Today, more than 200,000 students graduate from MBA programmes across the world.

4 Fast Facts South Africa_ Higher Education

3) UNISA – the MEGAversity at the tip of Africa

If you thought that all universities were ivy-adorned institutions of privilege were the elite few would congregate to share their secrets on the best BMW or Mercedes payment plans, then think again. Mega Universities are huge distance-teaching institutions with over 100,000 active students in degree-level courses. In 1996 the University of South Africa (UNISA) was one of only 11 such institutions in the world.

The past 20 years, however, have seen a major swell in the ranks of Megaversities, with the Indhira Ghandi Open University in Delhi, India the most impressive by far with more than 4 million students, almost the entirety of the New Zealand population, enrolled in 2015. Today there are at least 60 distance-learning institutions across the world that can claim to have more than 100,000 students at any one time.

UNISA, however, with 400,000 students currently enrolled across 130 countries, is still be able boast about being at least in the top 20 when it comes to the highest number of university enrollments.

4) Massive demographic discrepancies between black population and professors, but still better than the UK

The removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the heart of the UCT campus at the beginning of 2015 was the result of a virulent campaign by students, of all races, against what they perceived as systemic racism at a historically white university, and in fact most universities across the country. And unfortunately, to the detriment of 21 years of transformative efforts, their argument is supported by statistics, at least at the employment level.

According to the Council on Higher Education  approximately the same amount of black and white staff, 46 000 and 43 000 respectively, are employed in the higher education sector of South Africa. However, almost two thirds of black employees are employed in an administrative capacity, while only 33% can be found in senior management and as academics. Inversely, and in stark contrast, two thirds of white higher education employees are either senior management or academics.

While the population of the country consists of 80% black people, only 14% of all professors are black. This translates into almost 5.7 times less black professors than there would be if the professorial cohort was demographically representative. However, this seems to be a tragic trend that is continued throughout the rest of the world as well. In the UK, for instance, only 0.46% of professors are black while 3% of the population is Black, meaning that there are 6.5 times less black professors in the UK than there should be a demographically representative academia.

MEGAversities and MBA exclusivity. Multi-billion Rand institutions and demographic discrepancies. These are just four of the interesting elements that characterise higher education in South African . But then again, that’s South Africa for you – interesting, contradictory and a little bit funny at times.

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