Securing the future of education

A call to invest in the University of Venda

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Many South African universities are considered among the best in the world. However, there are also many issues that are hidden below the surface that have come to the fore in recent years with massive protests at most universities. Most of these protests have been around funding for students who cannot afford university fees.

In order to find out more about the funding that universities require and how these crucial entities within our society go about creating their own finance, we sat down with the Chief Executive Officer of Univen Innovative Group Company (UIGC), Dr John Mudau.

Mudau’s main focus as CEO is to ensure that the company is financially sustainable and achieves its mandate, as handed down by the university.

“We have to generate enough revenue which we can then hand over to the university so that they can use to support their main programme, especially the core business of the university, which is teaching, learning and community engagements,” says Mudau.

Having been CEO for just over four years, Mudau is acutely aware of the challenges.

”The biggest challenge is that we are not in a position to provide enough money to the university, mainly because the company only started in 2010.

“The second challenge is raising revenue. We have established entities, which are subsidiaries of the company. We have a subsidiary called UIGC Travel, which is a travel agency that provides a one-stop facility for booking travel arrangements and accommodations. We also have a company that deals with security, providing guards, an entity that deals with landscaping, cleaning services and gardening, and an entity that deals with commercial farming, which is called the UIGC Barter Farm, producing macadamia nuts, bananas and avocados. Lastly, we have a division that deals with training,” explains Mudau.

While these new, smaller companies have been a welcome addition to the UIGC, they still need support. However, in the long term, Mudau is confident that these companies will bring their own rewards.

As public enterprises, South African universities may not undertake fundraising exercises; however, wholly owned private enterprises such as UIGC change the game.

“A vehicle like UIGC makes it very easy for a university to get into a commercial transaction without compromising its integrity or changing its focus,” says Mudau.

In the long term, Mudau's goals for UIGC will have a far-reaching effect on those who cannot afford university fees.

“One very critical commitment we have made is that in the next three years, we want to provide enough money to the university to fund 50% of the students enrolled there, both in terms of tuition and learnership. We made this commitment very mindful of the landscape of our economy today, but we believe that once we stabilise our smaller entities, which will be in the next 18 months, we will start getting returns that will assist us in funding students of the University of Venda. In our view this is going to promote access to quality higher education, and this is going to be done regardless of students' background.

“Furthermore, over the next five years the UIGC would also like to provide the finance for the university to provide on-campus accommodation for at least 5 000 students,” says Mudau.

The majority of students at the University of Venda are from poor households. Government has already decided that households of that earn less than R300 000 qualify for free education, but the middle of the range still exists, namely those households that earn perhaps R350 000 per annum but still can’t afford to send their child to university, and definitely not a second child.

Furthermore, says Mudau, not even households that earn R500 000 per annum are likely to be able to afford the fees. Perhaps they can for one child, but definitely not two; this is where the UIGC wants to direct its funds.

In closing, Mudau called on the private sector to open their doors. It's not about asking for donations: if companies can “come and own 1%, 2% or 3% of our massive organisation, we can find the ways to fund that small percentage, but then we are in the private sector which will allow us to use our expertise to further fund the students at the University of Venda,” concludes Mudau.

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