How to make university more affordable

By Paul Hanly: CEO New Leaf Technologies

Considering the turmoil faced by a number of universities in South Africa at the moment, it is very clear for all to see that the current university model has become completely unaffordable to the vast majority.

Sending a child to university costs somewhere in the region of R10 000.00 per month after Tax. In broad terms, fees are about R 5000.00 per month and then budget at least another R5 000.00 for transport, residence costs and living expenses. That relates to R120 000.00 per year after tax. Let’s put that into perspective. If a family earns R 1 million per year, less tax they have about R 600 000.00 left of which 20% must now go to university fees. That relates to a huge portion of total income and has to come out of the “disposable” part of income. Who has that much disposable income these days? It’s financially distressing to say the least. More than one child and that puts university at a new level of unaffordability, so I am honestly not surprised there is an uprising going on. What is surprising is that it didn’t happen earlier. Less than 1% of the population can afford it.

Why then to we continue with the same traditional business model for universities when in it is so unsustainable?

We now have the technology to change the way we learn. We don’t have to stick to the old business model and it is changing the world over, but not here. Yet!

Blended learning offers a mix of classroom, on- line and collaborative learning that universities could easily offer at a far more affordable price. Part of a degree could be done in an on line environment, where group learning and collaboration through use of social media tools can be provided. There can still be plenty of virtual interaction between students and lectures and hence no loss of quality of education.

The educational year could be rotated so that students have the chance to go to real time lectures during certain months of the year, whilst studying on line for other portions of the year. Exams could still be written in a secure environment and there would be no loss of integrity.

That would save a tremendous amount in residence fees, lecture costs and infrastructural costs. It would also vastly increase the student capacity. Universities could charge many more students who will pay far less. That makes for a far more sustainable business model in my eyes.

There are a few other cherries on the cake.

Performance can be measured in real time. Students that aren’t performing can be encouraged with a carrot or stick. This form of measurement could extend to the lecturers, be analysed by department, faculty, subject, etc and used to improve the efficiency of the whole organisation.

Adaptive Learning Technology can be introduced to adjust course content to suit individual student’s knowledge gaps. If you already know something why go through it again? That means it takes less time to learn.

These principles don’t just apply to universities, they apply to the way in which we are going to learn in the future, be it in corporate training or education.

What’s more, this technology is available.

It is not something that we have to wait to be invented. We should be using it.Now.

Paul Hanly is the CEO of New Leaf Technologies P/L who provide cutting edge learning technology solutions.

If you want to know more visit www.newleaftech.co.za or drop me a mail paul@newleaftech.co.za

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