With all that has developed around university fees in recent days it is probably appropriate to address the matter from the Academy’s perspective.
Study fees are a rather complex matter, fraught with all sorts of caveats as well as localised and historical issues that will take an independent Commission of Enquiry to do it justice. However, what is very clear is that while the notion of free public university education on a national level is a very attractive and even laudable proposition, it is unfortunately not realistic, nor achievable in the SA context. The state simply does not have the money and the government will have to draw the line somewhere regarding its ever increasing scope and level of social spending. It is a sad fact that the right sort of education can drive economic development, but while the economy has been shrinking for almost a decade and the currency is almost in freefall, it is near impossible to see where the funding for free public tertiary education would come from.
However, the issue I wish to address is neither free nor public tertiary education. The Academy does not find itself in the above situation. The Academy is a private higher education institution which is very clearly excluded from any state funding. To the contrary, the Academy functions exclusively on the basis of student fees. Given the context of no grants and handouts, yet having to meet stringent and costly regulatory requirements, the Academy has to ensure that its business model is absolutely sustainable.
As important as it is, cost is not the key factor in tertiary education as quality is clearly paramount, and for that reason our mission is to be the institution of choice for a formal tertiary learning path in facilities management in Africa. The point of intersection between quality education and affordability is fraught with difficulty and has to be managed by every institution. We believe the Academy has managed well in this regard over the past decade. Providing skilled and well-rounded FM practitioners to the industry who are recognised for adding value, must clearly be the focus.
It is common knowledge that the business model for face-to-face or residential institutions and distance learning institutions, like the Academy and UNISA is very different. The key cost factors in the provision of education are staff costs and the capital and maintenance expenditure required for facilities of residential institutions. But given its particular business model, how has the Academy performed on the tuition fee front over the last 10 years? Since its inception a decade ago the tuition fee of the Academy has on average increased by less than 2% per annum. This represents a third of the official inflation rate (CPIX ), which has averaged between 4% and 6% over the same period. This means that the Academy has actually achieved a real decrease in tuition fees, primarily been due to increased efficiency and maximising our business model.
Looking at tuition fees only will however be an incomplete picture as students also pay an annual registration fee as is the case at any university the world over. Over the past decade the Academy’s registration fee has also increased by the same margin as the tuition fee. In this regard it is important to note that students are in control of the number of years they spend at an institution. The more diligent students are registered for a shorter period of time and the shorter duration is undoubtedly preferable for all concerned as it impacts on academic and administrative cost and efficiency. In recent years we have noted a tendency by some students to become academically inactive, but remain registered. In order to combat this negative trend the Academy will as of 2016 institute an incremental re-registration fee, which simply tries to cover the additional administrative cost of those who do not complete their studies. This new measure simultaneously creates an incentive for those who achieve their qualifications over the shortest possible period of time.
Given the above, it is very important to note that the Academy’s business model and financial practices regarding student fees are quite different from what is considered common at most tertiary institutions the world over. Our tuition fees are charged once off and not annually, we offer students interest free payment plans, we offer a free maths bridging programme to all our students as that the poor school education they have been offered is not due to any fault of their own.. Furthermore, we have a student replacement policy which recognises the unused study credits of those who drop out and allow the balance of fees to be used by a colleague from the same employer. Fees are not simply forfeited as they would certainly be at most other institutions. The Academy also has a bursary program for a set number of new students every year (see website for details) and we reward student excellence with cash prizes and bursaries for further studies.
As a registered private higher education institution the Academy does not agree with the view that tertiary education is a right. We believe it has to be earned. However, for those who have earned the privilege to receive tertiary education we believe that fees have to be realistic and carefully balanced. The Academy for FM remains committed to the vision of being the institution of choice for a formal tertiary learning path in Facilities Management in Africa, and in this context study fees will always be a key consideration.