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

 ·18 Sep 2022

The latest PwC Vice-Chancellor Survey for 2022 showed that universities are rapidly transforming to become more digitally aligned – making a big shift to virtual schooling- but access remains the biggest hurdle.

The survey questioned vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors from 26 of South Africa’s universities. PwC also conducted benchmarking analysis across public universities based on their 2021 audited annual financial statements.

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

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

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

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

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

South Africa is not alone in this phenomenon, higher education institutions across the globe have been forced – over the past two years – to take a closer look at many different aspects of their operations, including how technology is disrupting their traditional business models.

According to a Global Market Insights report, the number of students taking online courses has expanded rapidly, with the e-learning market capping $250 billion in revenue in 2020.

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

Many respondents believed that in-person learning should be the preferred method – university stakeholders remain positive about the shift towards virtual classrooms as complementary.

PwC expects even more students to prefer virtual learning, especially when virtual learning experiences improve, advances in digitisation are made, and access to technology becomes more affordable.

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