Laureate ‘buys’ Australian campus in South Africa

Monash South Africa and Laureate Education have unveiled a partnership agreement that will enable the local higher education provider operated by Australia’s Monash University to expand its student enrolment and academic offerings.

The move forms part of a broader Laureate initiative to expand its base across developing nations.

The Laureate International Universities network currently includes more than 72 accredited campus-based and online universities across 30 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The deal was made possible by a US$150 million grant from the International Finance Corporation, an arm of the World Bank that among other areas finances investment in higher education in developing nations.

In a statement issued locally, Monash Vice-chancellor Ed Byrne said the partnership would grow Monash South Africa, expanding its regional and Sub-Saharan African presence. There are currently students from more than 50 countries earning degrees in business and economics, information technology, social sciences and health sciences.

Monash was the first foreign university to gain registration as a private higher education institution in South Africa, and opened to students in 2001 at its 100-hectare campus north-west of Johannesburg. Since then it has grown from 400 to 4,000 students.

Byrne said Monash South Africa had “consistently demonstrated its commitment to South African higher education transformation objectives”, evident in the rapid growth of the campus and the quality of academic offerings.

“This partnership will enable Monash South Africa to further address the key challenges facing higher education,” he said.

The deal

According to a recent article in The Australian, Laureate will take over and run the Monash South Africa campus. The deal includes purchasing the freehold land and buildings and will see Laureate's stake in the joint company increase to over 50% in the next few years.

Monash would continue responsibility for academic matters in a model that, it said, closely replicated its successful campus in Malaysia with the private Sunway group.

Byrne told The Australian that the deal was “an excellent step forward” because it kept Monash in South Africa; reduced the risks of the enterprise; and meant the university could get back the money it had invested and could turn a subsidy into an income stream.

He added that it was hard to justify that cost from the main campus when the university was under "such tight financial restraints".

“Monash South Africa has been brilliant academically,” Byrne was quoted as saying. But while enrolment had grown to 4,000 students, “South Africa needs more professionals and the campus needs investment in new buildings and disciplines”.

Laureate Education Chairman and CEO Douglas Becker echoed those sentiments, saying the institution was "committed to South Africa and to working with Monash to advance shared goals to increase access to quality higher education for the country”.

Monash globally

Byrne said in the statement that Monash University had taken another step towards its overarching ambition of becoming a globally networked university.

The success of the university's joint campuses and graduate schools in China, India and Malaysia had shown that working with carefully chosen partners was "the most effective way" to approach an offshore presence.

The partnership supported the university's global strategy of delivering a truly international experience for students. “Students need to be prepared for careers that can lead them anywhere in the world [and] only a globally networked university can offer a truly international dimension to their education," Byrne said.

However, a University World News article published in November 2011 showed that the ambitious goal of establishing a profitable Johannesburg campus had still to be achieved and that Monash South Africa had shifted its approach from ‘for profit’ to ‘public purpose’.

A decade after launching locally, Australia's largest university had invested an estimated A$140 million (US$156 million) in creating a higher education showpiece. But aims to double the then enrolment figure of 3,200 by 2014 and clear the loan from the Melbourne parent university appeared optimistic.