Covid shakes up higher education

Pandemic drives change in sector

Professional services firm PwC has warned that South Africa’s higher education sector is faced with new technological, financial and collaborative challenges in the face of COVID-19.

These are some of the highlights from PwC’s Vice-Chancellor Pulse Survey 2020. Roshan
Ramdhany, PwC education industry leader, said the pandemic is a catalyst for change in the higher education sector in how it can serve the general population as well as equipping its students with the knowledge and skills to make an effective contribution to the economy.

“Universities will need to take action as quickly as possible to avoid students dropping out of the academic year due to financial pressures or family and health circumstances. It is notable that not all students have access to the internet or the necessary tools in their habitual areas,” Ramdhany said.

“While the pandemic has had an adverse impact on the socio-economic state of South
Africa, it could nevertheless become the very driver for action in addressing the consequences of social inequalities.”

The study further found that limitations on annual fee increases as well as an increase
in outstanding student debt are expected to place huge financial constraints on universities.

Sunday World reported last week that data from Stats SA showed that the country’s 26 public universities depended more on the government for funding. Ramdhany said the
pandemic’s impact on higher education will largely depend on the type and length of the country’s economic recovery.

“Ultimately, and far from being just a threat, COVID-19 has to be considered as an impetus
for accelerating long-overdue changes within the South African higher education system.
Educational institutions will undoubtedly form a critical part of the country’s post-COVID-19 recovery if they successfully align short-term financial sustainability with a clear view of longterm identity and purpose.”

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