Private education in SA growing fast, maturing rapidly - futurist

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When the private sector gets involved in an industry, it quickly shows up any weaknesses in the public sector.
When the private sector gets involved in an industry, it quickly shows up any weaknesses in the public sector.
  • SA's demographic profile - a young population - lends itself to investment in education.
  • A combination of factors have led to education moving more into the privatisation arena.
  • A futurist at the University of Stellenbosch Business School forecasts greater diversification of education offerings in the longer term.

A combination of factors have led to education in South Africa moving more and more into the privatisation arena, according to Dr Morne Mostert, director of the Institute for Futures Research at Stellenbosch University Business School.

These factors include what he describes as a severe under-performance by government.

"Fortunately for SA, there is a vibrant private sector. In countries where you have a very well performing government public schooling system, you do not see this trend, neither in countries where there is a poor performing public and private schooling system," explains Mostert.

Furthermore, in terms of broader trends, SA's demographic profile - a young population - lends itself to investment in education. 

"In the past, there was a big distinction between private and public schools in terms of cost. Now we see players in various cost bands. This shows the private education sector in SA is rapidly maturing," says Mostert.

He foresees even greater diversification of education offerings in the longer term, including those based on his model of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) For School Competitiveness.

"As schools become privatised, like any other institution, they have to think about competitiveness. In the past, most schools never had to think of this. They will have to increasingly think about what differentiate them based on 5 elements. These elements - part of the USP model - are infrastructure; intellectual (academic); personal, social and cultural; physical; and professional," says Mostert.

Some of these elements could be offered together and some separately. Their use will then determine the reputation, "brand" or prestige value of a private school. The infrastructure offering will, for example, be an important factor for the offering by premier private schools. This could include laboratories, sports and cultural facilities.  

"So-called employability is increasingly becoming an important factor and one can expect more of a professional type of development in the education offered. In future you will see a greater variety of schools focused on professional development," says Mostert.

"My argument is that, in future, schools will compete on these elements and the consumer - the parent or payer of service - will become much more discerning - almost like ticking a score card of the school based on the 5 elements."

Mergers and acquisitions

He foresees the trend of mergers and acquisitions increasing in the education field as the privatisation process expands and organisations which are cash-flush look for opportunities to buy smaller players.

"Therein lies the significant paradigm shift in SA. Private education is becoming a bigger part of the landscape and we should not expect private institutions to behave like public ones, in the same way as we do not expect companies to behave like government," says Mostert.

"Furthermore, public schools are not known for innovation. Parents willing to pay for private education now expect innovation. It is not about merely providing content. Anything can be learnt online. While public schools tend to focus on standardising the curriculum, private schools have to differentiate themselves also on this aspect."

Inequality

Mostert explains that, when the private sector gets involved in an industry, in this case education, it quickly shows up any weaknesses in the public sector offering. Inequality could be exacerbated because not everyone will have access to this kind of innovative education.

"Yet, a country does not move forward by lowering its education standard for everybody. That would be a disaster and create a closed economy. In my view, access to data is essential. I have said in the past that this will see the rise of the digital elite if we do not give access to data to [all children], whether they are in private or public schools," says Mostert.

"I am not saying education is equal only to having WiFi, of course. But I believe in the creativity and innovation of the youth and, if given an opportunity to have access to innovation - they can liberate themselves and go beyond the limitations presented in their schools."

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