#FeesMustFall is old news… TSiBA Education NPC has been is doing it for over a decade!

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Written By: Pearl Pugin, Dean at TSiBA Education, Dean at the Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSiBA) responsible for the strategic planning, implementation and delivery of all aspects of TSiBA’s academic programmes. She holds an Honours degree in Labour Law Studies and a Masters in Management and is currently pursuing a PhD in Strategic Human Resource Management.

“At practically every higher education forum I am asked how the TSiBA model works to provide sponsored education aka ‘free’ education to 500 students a year across 2 campuses.  Every audience, without exception in the last year, has been completely enamored by the success of the academic and business model and the achievements of our students and graduates.  That is, until they focus on the numbers, the impact that such a small, private university can have on a problem of such immense proportions as highlighted by the #RhodesMustFall and then #FeesMustFall campaigns.

And herein lies the problem…despite our successes in qualifying students for international academic scholarships and prestigious local and international work internships, the numbers are not interesting enough.  The economic principle of ‘Economies of scale’ argues (in layman’s terms) that the more ‘widgets’ you can manufacture in a single production run, the lower the cost per unit.  If we consider this argument, then at a small university like TSiBA, each student should cost more than at a large public university.  This is absolutely true, except that the argument is not an economy of scale argument, it is a re-consideration of what constitutes a curriculum and how ‘cost’ per student is typically defined and measured. 

First, private universities like TSiBA sadly, receive absolutely no funding from government.  Our funding comes from corporates and private individuals who enter into relationships with TSiBA because they believe that the SOCIAL impact derived from graduating responsible, empathetic and ethical leaders is greater per student than can ever be measured.  The TSiBA value system as the foundation of our academic programme is mirrored in our funders’ personal and corporate philosophies.  The personal, social and financial impact on entire families when the first in a family, a son, daughter, sister or brother graduates with a degree and with no student loan to repay, is priceless.  As is the joy and delight of a great-grandmother in Karatara, a remote little settlement in the Knysna District, witnessing the graduation of her great-grandson.

For all of this to happen while ensuring the integrity of 4 accredited qualification is less an argument about a funding model than it is an argument around motive.  TSiBA’s funding model is not perfect, I am yet to find a funding model for universities that fits this criterion. The motive behind both the funding and academic model is however as close to perfect as I have encountered thus far.  When an entire learning community (i.e. students, alumni, volunteers, mentors, individual and corporate sponsors and staff) care deeply for their communities, building and nurturing relationships that underscore respectful interactions with each other, the result is a graduate who knows who he is and knows his work.  They are not caught up in condescending and disrespectful rhetoric around youth entitlement in South Africa.  TSiBA students understand that they are only entitled to anything, if they add value themselves.  They do this by paying-it-forward into their communities as mentors to secondary school youth in their communities, and their engagements in various initiatives that benefit their communities.

The creation of appropriate platforms for respectful dialogue is the responsibility of the leadership on all sides of the argument around free education.  These platforms need to be in place as soon as there is even a rumbling that a constituency does not feel heard.  At a recent forum, a delegate speaking about this was adamant that the structure for dialogue was in place at his public institution.  He proudly announced that he had meetings with the Student Representative Council (SRC) every quarter.  And of course, if I bothered to respond that I met with the SRC at my campus every week, the argument would be that this is possible only because of the size of the institution. 

This argument may hold if you forget that the SRC is proportionally the same size at any institution of learning, regardless of the amount of students.  This argument may hold if you forget that regardless of the size of the institution, a private university accommodating 500 students is benchmarked in terms of quality assurance against the public institution that has 50 000 students, without the requisite funding.  This argument holds if you forget how much more institutions like TSiBA can contribute to creative solutions on how to invest in keeping hope alive for the youth of this country who, for various reasons, cannot access our 23 public universities and more than 100 private, for-profit universities in South Africa. 

The violence and aggression seen in raised voices and razed public property at our universities, is evidence that stakeholders feel that they have not been heard.  The multiplicity of stakeholders in this crisis means that while the arguments range in focus, they reveal the same chasm with no bridge-builder in sight.  This chasm is created by each side truly believing in their own stance, rejecting ‘the other’ out of hand. 
I am struck by the complexity of circumstance that gave rise to this crisis. I am also struck by how it has become decidedly politically incorrect to call for peace.  When did that happen?  I can only wonder how Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and all the great peace-makers of our time would respond to being accused of being naïve because they advocate for peaceful resolution to conflict. 
With great empathy for our university and student leadership and all who are caught in-between; I run the risk yet again of being labeled as the critical parent addressing a child, with my closing words.  I have such great pride when I remember the humble teaching of my daughter as she attempts to find out what happened to make her toddler cry and babble incoherently.  Her gentle advice to the child resounds in my ears: “I am so sorry that you are upset baby…but we need to use our words so that we can talk and make it better.

From one very concerned university leader, mother, grandmother and human being to another: Right now, all sides sound like they are babbling incoherently so could we all please create a space to use our words and talk so that we can make South Africa better? “

Pearl Pugin
Tertiary School in Business Administration