Rise in business degree applications at private institutions

By Janice Roberts


Students opting to study towards BComs and other business-related degrees at private higher education institutions are consistently and substantially increasing year-on-year.

This is not only due to the shortage of places in the public sector as there are also more applications from students who elect private as their first choice, given the sector’s work-readiness approach and smaller class-sizes.

“Although the matric pass rate dropped last year, there are more learners who passed their National Senior Certificate and qualified for access to higher education than in any previous year,” says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education.

She says that although there has been some expansion in the public sector, existing and new public universities can still only accommodate some of these young people.

“While many student hopefuls still believe that if they cannot be accommodated at public institutions they have no options in the higher education space, there has been a marked shift towards students realising the real benefits of attaining their degrees via private higher education institutions,” she says.

“It is clear that private higher education is becoming the study route of choice for an increasing number of young South Africans, in line with international trends.”

Although there are hundreds of qualifications on offer across a myriad of fields, BCom enrolments at the Independent Institute of Education, now represent almost 30% of the new student intake at their Varsity College campuses across South Africa. At their Rosebank College, enrolments continue to increase more than 15% year-on-year.

Additionally, 25% of new students are registered on Higher Certificates with the explicit intention of going on to do a degree in the next year, says Coughlan.

“In the past, many viewed private institutions as geared mainly toward creative courses or offering only diploma programmes. Despite these incorrect perceptions still clinging on in some uninformed circles, it is encouraging to see that there is an increasing recognition of the fact that private institutions are subjected to exactly the same accreditation and registration regulations as public institutions,” Coughlan says.

“South Africa has a single quality assurance system and one National Qualifications Framework so any institution offering a registered and accredited qualification – whether public or private – is offering a qualification of comparable standards and equal standing.”

Coughlan points out that most of the qualifications offered by reputable private higher education institutions are degrees (including postgraduate qualifications) or pathways to degree studies (such as Higher Certificates), or diplomas directly related to key occupational areas such as IT, public relations or sport development and management.

“These degrees and pathways are available in all key business fields including law and economics, accounting, statistics, marketing, public administration and finance. Additionally, all important information and communication technology fields such as gaming, software and application development, networking, IT management, information systems, security and support and most of the essential human and social sciences including communication, education, psychology and sociology, justice and criminology, theology and languages are offered.

“Obviously the various fields of design and creative sciences and arts are also available at many good institutions, but it is an absolute myth that these qualifications dominate the offerings in the private sector.”

Coughlan says that because there is no state subsidy for private institutions, the cost of private higher education is still higher than at public universities. However, this cost is often offset because of improved results.

“Private institutions are often far more affordable from a broader perspective than members of the public seem to realise.  And because these campuses are mostly relatively small with class sizes rarely exceeding 100 students, individual focus and therefore higher success rates are the norm.

“As a result, proportionally more students graduate, making the overall educational experience a real value for money opportunity.  Students are encouraged to find out the facts about fees from campuses they are interested in – they may be surprised particularly when considering what they are getting in return.”

Coughlan says that of the Class of 2014, 60% of the Independent Institute of Education BCom graduates were employed within four months of graduating with 30% of graduates going on to study further.

“To make the right decision about where, what and how to study, prospective students must start researching and receiving information about all their options, in a context which does not continue to pander to historic misconceptions,” she says.

“Choices about tertiary education must be based on a thorough assessment of the fit between personal aspiration, circumstances and the institutional choices available.  And it is incumbent on all roleplayers – parents and guardians, teachers, counsellors and the media – to expose those considering further study to all available options, and to add private higher education to consideration sets as a matter of course taking all the facts in to consideration.”


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