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This week we are going to talk about a topic that is on many prospective students and parent’s minds. Precisely what is the difference and or similarities between public and private education in South Africa?

Parent 24 published an insightful article regarding the growing narrative of misinformation related to private higher education within the context of the crisis in the public higher education sector.

This article underlines the importance of acknowledging that a public university isn’t the only way of getting credible, affordable qualifications. According to Dr. Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, there is a rapid growth of private higher education in South Africa and prospective students now have a wealth of options when choosing not only what to study, but also where!

To help you in the process, let’s take a closer look at the differences and or similarities between the mentioned two options:

Same qualifications, same regulations 

Formally the difference and/or similarities between public higher and private higher education providers can be defined as follow by CHE (Council on Higher Education):

Public higher education providers are institutions that have been established and funded by the state through the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

Private higher education providers, on the other hand, are owned by private organisations or individuals. Although they offer the same qualifications as public providers, private provider institutions are mainly privately funded or sponsored and are generally not subsidised by the state.

It is clear from the above definition that both public and private higher education qualifications are accredited and registered in precisely the same way against the same criteria by the same regulatory authorities.

Dr Coughlan remarks that “Private institutions are legally not allowed to call themselves private universities, but people are beginning to understand that both public universities and private institutions are subject to the same oversight, regulation, and accreditation, which means you will be getting the same quality education, regardless of whether you opt for a state-funded university or a private higher education institution”.

According to Dr. Coughlan the main reason why more and more students are opting for the private institutions are as follows:

1. Smaller campuses and classes improve access to staff and offer more support:

“Success rates are generally much better in smaller environments because it is easier to access help and support timeously when needed,” says Coughlan, “which means that students usually complete their degrees within the prescribed period, and enter the workplace sooner than others who may have to repeat one or more years.”


The classes at Prestige Academy allow a maximum of 25 students and in exceptional circumstances classes that can accommodate 60 students. This however not the norm. Prestige Academy’s focus is on personal attention and assistance from the lecturers. This enables Prestige Academy’s lecturers to address any academic weaknesses proactively to aid the student in reaching academic success.

2. Real industry exposure

Coughlan mentioned that a “large percentage of lecturers are not only academics but actively working in their industries, students get up close and personal with the real world of work and opportunities while still studying”. Coughlan adds “that because employability is a key success factor for private higher education institutions, most qualifications offered are closely related to the requirements of the career in the real world of work, and an increasing number of career-focused postgraduate qualifications are becoming available”.

At Prestige Academy (part of STADIO) we pride ourselves on exposing students to a wide range of field trips and activities in their respective fields of studies as seen in the photos below.

woodstock brewery woodstock brewery

Our BCom (Business Marketing) and BCom (Business Management) students on their visit to Woodstock Brewery in Woodstock to learn more about the Production, Marketing, and Logistics Management at Woodstock Brewery.

photography wildlife

Our photography students on an outing to the Buffelsfontein Game and Nature Reserve to apply their practical photography skills up close and personal.

The Visual Communication, Design and Photography students visit  Colourtone Aries to learn more about the printing industry.


3. Because it’s private, students are customers

As mentioned previously, private higher education institutions receive no state subsidies; they are reliant on student fees, which means students are treated as customers and generally receive excellent customer service in their academic journey.


Our Academic Manager, Mrs. Liebenberg, handing out Easter goodies to students and staff.

4. Niche qualifications

Many private institutions offer niche qualifications that are not available elsewhere and equip students for emerging careers. At Prestige we offer many niche qualifications like the  Bachelor of Commerce in Project Management. We are striving to develop and provide qualifications to serve the need for emerging careers in South Africa.

Do your research and select wisely

Dr Coglan concluded that “it is naturally very important to still check on individual institutions and choose yours wisely, because just like the quality varies between universities, with some ranked top in Africa and even the world, while others are beset with serious challenges, in the same way, quality varies between the offering at different private institutions”. “Parents, schools and teachers should assist learners in their process of identifying everything offered on the higher educational buffet before making one of the most important decisions they will ever make.”

Prestige Academy, proudly part of STADIO, is celebrating 26 years of Excellence in the Private Higher Education and Training sector. One of our great accomplishments during 2019 was to be awarded the African Business Excellence Award for the Best Private Higher Education Institution in South Africa.