South Africa: As Universities Remodel As Businesses, They Need to Be Wary of Losing Core Mandates


As universities make the shift to operating more like businesses, we must be cautious that they do not lose their core mandates such as intellectual pursuit, knowledge discovery and transmission, enquiry and discourse. There is a real danger that if universities follow an entirely corporate mandate, they can lose focus on activities that extend beyond monetary value.

Recently, I read with keen interest about the acquisition of 10% of Dis-Chem's shares by a consortium led by the Royal Bafokeng in a black economic empowerment (BEE) transaction. These shares were acquired at a 17.5% discount. The consortium included GloCap Empowerment Private Equity Fund, Zungu Pharmaceuticals (part of Zungu Investments Company) and Temo Capital.

What is intriguing about this transaction, and in fact transactions of this nature, is the absence of universities. For some strange reason, universities in South Africa are not considered businesses and do not view themselves in this manner either. Yet, universities are effectively businesses with vice-chancellors serving as chief executive officers (CEOs).

As a 2003 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report asserted, "around the world, higher education is under pressure to change. It is growing fast and its contribution to economic success is seen as vital....

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