People 'n' Issues

#feescanfall – if we embrace tech

October 13th, 2016
The time has come for all parties involved in the #feesmustfall debacle to take a step back, take a deep breath and consider the fact that the answer is staring them right in the face, writes EUGENE BEETGE, MD of Tuit.

I’m not saying that they haven’t considered the role technology-assisted distance education can play in making tertiary education more affordable, but I’ve heard no mention of it in recent reporting on the situation.  The focus is clearly on how Government is expected to subsidise tertiary education and how Universities are going to make a subsidised budget work with no or little tuition income being generated.

I’ve been a technology entrepreneur for many years, with a major focus on technology supported education, and as a spectator to the #feesmustfall situation, I believe it’s time for like-minded individuals and entrepreneurs to say #feescanfall, by shifting the focus from traditional brick and mortar institutions to virtual classrooms, libraries and student-lecturer interactions.

TUIT has been working with various universities, students, lecturers and entrepreneurial suppliers to the education sector for a couple of years, and we have developed, implemented and tested a solution that can play a major role in the reduction of the cost of tertiary education in South Africa.

One of the biggest hurdles I face on a daily basis is convincing the relevant role-players that their biggest assets are not buildings, sports facilities or residences.  Their biggest assets are knowledge, content, lecturers and most importantly its brand!

Through capitalising on the opportunity that is technology-supported education, tertiary institutions can significantly increase their teaching capacity, which increases revenue.  It will also reduce overheads linked to running and maintaining physical campuses.  The equation is simple and the reduction in tuition costs substantial.

So why has this model not been rolled out on a much larger scale?  Mainly due to the natural resistance of an older generation to embrace technology.  Thinking out of the box or being open to the disruptive practices of technology is just too far out of their comfort zone.

Having spent most of 2016 engaging with various universities, colleges and lecturers, as well as presenting many workshops on technology-assisted learning, the overwhelming obstacle remains the traditional doctrine that lecture rooms are the only way to educate.

TUIT has demonstrated that existing educational content can be repurposed and that students can be engaged in an interactive enrolment journey without the dependence on a physical campus.  And this is where technology-supported education would have enabled students who are desperate to complete their academic year, to prepare for their final exams without the threat #feesmustfall is posing.

This is not a “let’s shut down campuses and put all our courses online” solution either.  Universities will still need to maintain its brand and reputation through the quality of the content and the lecturer that presents it.  Student interaction and support will remain key to the success of any model, and campuses will probably continue to operate in a traditional manor on some level for many more years.  But physical campuses are limited in its capacity and is expensive to run.

The concept of disintermediation is a subject very close to my heart, and is reflected in every aspect of our business and the solutions we provide.  In short, it addresses the role of the middleman between the supplier and the consumer.  It is not the replacement of the middleman in the supply chain, but rather the upgrading of the middleman to shorten the supply chain, leading to a more streamlined process and an improved end-user experience.

If universities and even government can envisage the impact of disintermediation brought about by technology, creating a roadmap to affordable tertiary education, should not be such a challenge.  Through digitisation, business automation, location independence and the real-world application of disintermediation, online learning content can be available worldwide, creating student enrolment journeys, lecturer involvement and significant savings for students.

University brand recognition will be key in the future, not geographical placement or infrastructure.  Who will be first to take real steps towards embracing innovation, not just testing the waters with a few short courses, but really putting technology-supported education front and centre in their strategy for the future?

If there are a few trailblazers amongst the powers that be, that is willing to challenge the status quo, #feescanfall!

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