New laws anger private educators
A wide range of private education companies are outraged at limitations the government is imposing on their businesses. And foreign universities operating in South Africa no longer possess the right even to call themselves universities.
Recent legislation that some argue is unconstitutional empowers the government to determine how many students private and foreign institutions may enrol, what courses they may offer, and even what they may call themselves.
Australian universities Monash and Bond, and British university De Montford, cannot now refer to themselves as universities; and the government has set a limit on the number of students they can accept. Local private university Midrand is also unable now to call itself a university.
A number of well-established private institutions have been restricted in the number of courses they can teach, some to such an extent that they feel their survival is seriously threatened. The government’s intention to protect public education at the expense of the private sector has been explicit since at least July last year.
The Council on Higher Education (CHE) argued that “private providers ... could damage public institutions”, especially by attracting students to programmes such as business courses that are very profitable for those who offer them.
The government appears to be implementing CHE recommendations, despite the fact that the minister of education is due to present his national education plan to the Cabinet only later this month. Private providers are especially angered by the government’s handling of the issue of quality.
Public institutions are exempt from the lengthy process of registration that private and foreign institutions have to undergo. This insidiously creates the impression that all public higher education is high-quality, and all private is to be regarded with scepticism—a distinction educationists reject out of hand.
Stark ideological clashes exacerbate an increasingly sour atmosphere of acrimony and litigation: can private education’s commitment to the logic of profit dovetail with the government’s commitment to education for social justice and redress?
Private education is now very big business indeed. Educor, for example, owns Damelin, Academy of Learning, Rapid Results College and the Midrand Campus Group, and is worth R870-million. It employs about 4 000 teaching staff and last year had 350 000 registered students—a 22% increase on 1999 figures.
The government declines to specify how many students it is permitting private institutions to register: “This information is considered to be of a confidential nature,” says Dr Molapo Quobela, chief director (higher education policy development and support) in the national Department of Education. He acknowledges that the government has never similarly capped student numbers at any public higher institution.
Quobela says Monash University intends to appeal against the conditions of its registration. A number of other institutions are still in negotiations with the education department on a range of contentious registration issues.