South African universities are making a shift – but there’s a catch


The latest PwC Vice-Chancellor Survey for 2022 showed that universities are rapidly transforming to align more digitally – a major shift to virtual education – but access remains the biggest hurdle.

The survey surveyed Vice Chancellors and Deputy Vice Chancellors of 26 South African universities. PwC also conducted benchmarking analyzes at public universities based on their 2021 audited financial statements.

PwC found that during the pandemic, many universities were forced to accelerate their implementation of digital learning faster than expected.

Despite this, due to the speed of acceleration to digital platforms, many learners had difficulties with accessibility, inclusion and engagement, PwC said.

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“We were reminded that the digital equity gap in Africa unfortunately persists. In addition, the initial response to virtual learning has left students divided on whether they prefer physical classes over online learning.”

According to another PwC report, the Voice of the Student Survey, nearly half of all students (49%) prefer virtual learning, 38% prefer hybrid learning and 13% prefer face-to-face classes.

Only 13% of students preferred in-person classes, with most preferring a hybrid or online medium for teaching and learning.

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South Africa is not alone in this phenomenon; Higher education institutions around the world have been forced to scrutinize many different aspects of their operations over the past two years, including how technology is disrupting their traditional business models.

According to a Global Market Insights report, the number of students taking online courses has grown rapidly, with revenue reaching $250 billion in 2020.

By 2027, this is expected to increase to a compound annual growth rate of 21%, PwC said. Vice chancellors added in response to the group’s survey that higher education lags significantly behind the corporate world when it comes to digitization.

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Many respondents believed that face-to-face learning should be the method of choice – university stakeholders remain positive about the shift to virtual classrooms as complementary.

PwC expects even more students to prefer virtual learning, especially as virtual learning experiences improve, digitization advances and access to technology becomes more affordable.

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