Our 23rd annual Higher Education Conference, held in Cape Town in September 2016, took place in the midst of public representations to the University Fees Commission.
The call for zero-percent student fee increases for 2016 kick-started the debate about the future funding model for higher education. It was therefore apt for PwC to release "Does the future add up? Perspectives and views from PwC" at the conference. This publication reflects on the funding challenges in the sector and shares PwC’s views on expenditure efficiencies, generating more third-stream revenue and adopting a commercial mind-set.
PwC Southern Africa’s CEO, Dion Shango, welcomed delegates and emphasised the importance that PwC attaches to the sector. Dion contextualised the conference theme, “Imagining the 2030 university!” by pointing out that the sector’s short-term response to its 2017 financial challenges must take into account the long-term sustainability of the sector. The educational goals set out in the National Development Plan (NDP) should also guide universities in these challenging times.
Dr Diane Parker, the Deputy Director General for University Education in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) delivered the keynote address on behalf of the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, the honourable Mr Mduduzi Manana.
Dr Parker highlighted the significant progress that has been made in higher education since 1994 and reminded everybody that the goals in the National Development Plan (NDP) are challenging, but achievable if all stakeholders work together.
Dr Parker provided an overview of a comprehensive array of initiatives supported by the DHET, which will all contribute to the realisation of the ideal 2030 university landscape. Dr Parker acknowledged that the sector is currently facing funding challenges, but urged stakeholders to partner, with the long-term sustainability of the sector being their primary driver.
Professor Ihron Rensburg, the outgoing vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, then argued persuasively why the transformed postcolonial university now matters more than ever before. He too acknowledged that the sector is facing difficult challenges, but encouraged stakeholders to craft innovative new solutions to move the sector forward to the university as imagined in the National Development Plan. He reminded us of Nelson Mandela’s words: “It always seems impossible, till it’s done”.
Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, vice chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, took the podium to share innovative proposals on how to ‘sweat assets’ and thereby grow universities’ third-stream revenue base.
After lunch, delegates were presented with the opportunity to attend four different breakaway sessions. Charles Nel from the Institute for Internal Auditors made a presentation on the strategic imperative of the internal audit function at universities.
The University of Cape Town, which has insourced various outsourced services during the last year, shared practical experiences of the process. Hardy Maritz, Robin Golding and Andre Theys shared the financial, legal and procurement dimensions of the insourcing decision.
Suleman Jhavary, a PwC supply chain management expert, presented various new ideas on how to implement austerity measures within the university sector. Pamela Maharaj, a partner in PwC’s People & Organisation competency, shared insights on how digital disruption can enhance the student journey and save costs in the long-term.
Larry Soffer, a well-known illusionist and mentalist who has performed for celebrities such as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, amongst others, provided magical entertainment at our networking dinner that evening.
Popular Cape Talk radio host, Africa Melane, our master of ceremonies for the conference, facilitated our day-two panel discussion on the affordability of higher education. The panel consisted of the CEO of the Council on Higher Education, Professor Narend Baijnath; chairperson of the University Councils Chairpersons Forum-SA (UCCF-SA), Mr Mbulelo Bikwani, Executive Officer of the National Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), Mr Msulwa Daca and Dr Diane Parker from DHET.
Professor Baijnath argued that sharing costs is the appropriate funding model for the South African university sector and that improved throughput rates will make higher education more affordable.
Mr Bikwani pointed out that today’s funding challenges were yesterday’s solutions and therefore cautioned against short-term solutions to the funding challenge. He urged the sector to find ways to increase access to the poor.
Mr Daca shared details of NSFAS’ initiatives aimed at funding the ‘missing middle’ and improving collections, while Dr Parker pointed out the inequities in throughput rates are a hindrance to ensuring affordability in the higher education sector.
Roshan Ramdhany, a PwC partner who attended the 2016 NACUBO conference in Montreal, shared insights and experiences about global challenges facing the sector, including funding challenges, student unrest and digital disruption of the education business model.
Christoph Braxton, a PwC IFRS expert, explained the impact of the new statement on leases (IFRS 16), as well as the main proposals in the draft King 4 code of corporate governance applicable to universities.
Charles de Wet, a PwC tax specialist, shared the latest developments in value-added tax and employees’ tax impacting university students and staff.
With a record attendance of more than 200 delegates, the 23rd Higher Education Conference remains as relevant as ever and confirms that higher education matters to PwC.