FROM BRICK AND MORTAR TO E-LEARNING
The student housing crisis has seen far reaching outcries from both students and institutions alike. Over the past couple of years, South Africa has witnessed student protests at institutions across the country, in particular those with very limited to student housing solutions. The student housing backlogs as reported by the Presidential Commission on Higher Education and Training stood at 300 000 beds for both public universities and public TVET colleges. Government has pledged funding (infrastructure grants) and appealed to the private sector for collaborations to address this dire need, yet the developments have been tremendously slower than the rate of increase in demand for student beds.
The advent of “free higher education” is likely to worsen the situation as demand for student housing is set to rise. To support the increase in the demand for student housing, it is important that solutions outside of brick and mortar be investigated.
The Alternative Solution
There is need for South Africa to assess the feasibility of E-learning at institutions of higher learning. The University of South Africa (UNISA) has managed to host approximately 400 000 students through e-learning (also known as distance learning) and has been proud to report many success stories. At the beginning of 2018, University of Johannesburg (UJ) also launched its first e-learning programme in MCom Strategic Management. The first step would be to determine those programmes which can be non-contact based. This can be done through a study which should further unearth the infrastructure requirements for off-campus learning centres.
The ideal consideration by universities will be postgraduate programmes which would ultimately ease the need for student residences, with success models being channelled further down to undergraduate programmes in the near future. Ideally, postgraduate students are far likely to better manage the distance learning modalities than undergraduates. The rollout of e-learning in institutions of higher learning should be done in parallel with the current efforts by both the institutions and the Department of Higher Education and Training to built residences and/or finding alternative options off-campus.
China has grown big in e-learning and has seen rural students benefiting immensely through the use of off-campus learning centres, especially for those students without access to internet at home. It goes without saying that there is a need for investment in broadband technology and strategic off-campus learning centres, which on the upside would attract investors who provide broadband and futuristic cloud-based learning platforms. E-learning has moved the Chinese student population even closer to technological advancements, which is a success factor worth adopting.
The readiness and acceptance of the concept of e-learning in South Africa is a case for further investigation and part of my upcoming publication.
Khethani Kanye, Maya Group