by Peter Ayuk

Invest in education

Are academic programmes regarded as value for money?

Invest in education
Are academic programmes regarded as value for money?

Higher education institutions have an obligation to ensure they provide the best value for money academic programmes that offer quality outcomes.

Value for money is recognised as one of several dimensions in the assessment of quality in education. Using value for money concepts in defining educational quality is rooted in the principle of accountability and its proponents argue that funders of education want, increasingly, to know what the return on their investment is. But this is probably where the simplicity of the concept of value for money in higher education ends.


Some of the key findings of recent research activities:

  • The returns to education decreases as the level of economic development increases. That is, as the South African economy advances, employers will progressively demand higher and more sophisticated levels of education and training at any given wage level.
  • Private returns to education are higher than social returns. In South Africa this is more so at higher levels of education, where the cost of education is more likely to be highly subsidised by the state. So the benefits of education accrue more to the individual and less to society. It is in every learner’s best interest then to take personal responsibility for their education, with a view to maximising the benefits achievable
  • The returns to education are higher in an environment where technology is progressive. The appropriate use of technology can profoundly change the way we address fundamental questions, such as what to produce and how to produce it. The question therefore is how do our educational systems nurture learners’ abilities and predispositions to seek, learn and use new technology to complement the development of their cognitive domains?


A glance at some statistics from the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) (Quarter 4, 2012) published by Statistics South Africa, in part, corroborates the above findings and suggests an intriguing situation for both providers and users of higher education services in South Africa:

  • 1.875 million out of 13. 577 million (13.8%) of the labour force are qualified managers or professionals
  • The total unemployed population has been on the rise since Quarter 1, 2008


Of the unemployed population:

  • 61.3% do not have a school leaving (matric) certificate;
  • 32.1% have a matric certificate;
  • 6.2% have a tertiary qualification


An alarming 3.3 million youths aged between 15 and 24 (32%) of the population in this category were found to have disengaged from both work and education. In combination, the value of education in general and higher education, in particular, is a vehicle of personal growth for millions of South Africans. It is a key ingredient to the realisation of South Africa’s strategic human resource development goals.

What is the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in all of this?

As custodians of knowledge development systems, all HEIs in South Africa, whether public or privately owned, have a moral obligation to ensure that their academic programmes are of the right quality and standard. Such quality and standard can be interpreted as the ability to make meaningful contributions, either to places of employment or to self-owned enterprises, as well as the potential to compete effectively in an increasingly globalised economy.

Higher education institutions have to look beyond meeting the requirements for institutional or programme accreditation and target quality outcomes.This includes empowerment and transformation to substantively benefit the most important member of their value chain, namely the student and ultimately the graduate.

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This edition

Issue 58