The burden of sourcing funding for fees became one of the major points discussed by Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice Chancellor of Unisa at the alumni cocktail event on 27 July 2017 in New York. He said to alumni and stakeholders alike that “Unisa as the oldest and foremost representative of Open Distance eLearning in Africa, it is unique in its nature.”
“Unisa is a key pillar of South Africa and Africa’s higher education and its sheer size of over 375 000 students enrolled and with over 700 000 alumni, makes our university a national and a continental asset. Unisa delivers on a yearly basis 12,5% of all degrees conferred in South Africa. In 2016 alone, Unisa hosted 116 graduation ceremonies, during which we awarded a total of 47 777 degrees, diplomas and certificates. This number included 243 Doctorates and 1011 Masters degrees.”
According to Prof Makhanya, Unisa is expected to continue to provide quality education and skills as well as promote access to higher education to influence the socio-economic development of South Africa and the African continent.
The fee burden imposed on all the institutions of higher learning
The university is facing a study fee burden imposed on it by the #FeesMustFall movement that has engulfed institutions of higher learning in South Africa. Unisa receives a fraction of the funding of what a face-to-face university would get in government subsidy for each student at undergraduate level.
According to Prof Makhanya this necessitates that we face head-on the challenge of student funding and the allocation of financial resources within the university. “We can only achieve the desired results with the combined fundraising efforts from alumni and various stakeholders, especially in the USA.”
Building and ICT infrastructure are a necessity
He said, “even though our student body remains mature, an exciting development in recent years is the enrolment of younger students who regard their studies as a full-time responsibility.” As a result, our students want to have the same student benefits and experiences as those in contact universities and “this means we are left with the burden of establishing student centres in South Africa”.
Providing facilities goes concurrently with the provision of adequate ICT infrastructure that will help to service the ODeL model. “Our model is heavily reliant on technology for its efficient and effective administration and delivery. … and the entire reason for distance education is that it can happen from a student’s location – anywhere, any time,” said Prof Makhanya.
“However, we find that the majority of Unisa students in South Africa do not have access to ICT facilities especially the internet which they need for their studies. “This,” he said, “is compounded by the high costs of data which limits our students’ access to the internet”.
Partnerships define tomorrow
Prof Makhanya indicated that more strategic partnerships needed to be formed especially in the area of bursaries, mobile services, research and equipment and other vital infrastructural projects. “The cocktail function with the alumni was brought together with the expectation of an even bigger role to be played by donors and partners to find ways of giving support to Unisa and its students,” said Prof Makhanya.
Organisations such as Brand South Africa also attended the event and they proposed to co-host future alumni events and also partner in other areas to mobilise US based alumni of UNISA. The inaugural meeting of the Advisory Board of the Unisa Fund Inc. was also held the following day and it agreed to increase its membership to nine. The role of the Board is to raise funds in the USA and even donate to the university. Brand SA (its CEO) will in future be part of the Board and that a seat would be reserved for whoever is its CEO at any time.