STRENGTH TO STRENGTH: Second-year students during a lecture at the Johannesburg city campus of Cida, a university catering for severely disadvantaged students. Picture: THEMBINKOSI DWAYISA

Cida has signed an agreement with the UK's Bournemouth University (BU) to create a "school of excellence" in hospitality and tourism. And through the Cida Empowerment Fund, it has bought a 25,1% stake in Cambridge University Press (CUP).

Cida offers a fully accredited university-level Bachelor of Business Administration degree and has graduated more than 800 students, about 80% of whom have full-time employment, since its inception in 2000.

The dividends from the CUP investment would be used to fund Cida students, all of whom were unable to pay for tertiary education at a fee-charging university and all of whom were on scholarships, said spokesman Nesan Chetty.

CUP would vendor-finance the Cida transaction, enabling it to initiate bursary funding from the implementation date, said CUP CEO Colleen McCallum.

Introducing Cida as a black economic empowerment (BEE) partner "encapsulates the spirit of the entire broad-based BEE process, and is BEE you want to tell the world about. We are a perfect fit . CUP itself will look at sourcing future quality staff from Cida in skill-sharing and staff retention programmes," she said.

The BU agreement was still being ironed out and a Cida delegation would leave this week for the UK to meet BU counterparts and "consolidate an implementation strategy" for the new school, and develop curricula, said executive dean Prof Rukudzo Murapa.

The possibility of creating another "school of excellence", in media studies, would also be explored, Murapa said.

CUP, a unit of Cambridge University, is at 425 years the world's oldest publishing house .

While Cida was focusing on business education in order to perfect what it was already doing, the Cida model was not limited to business education and could be extended to "different settings and environments", said Murapa.

Cida's business model, aimed at ensuring student fees are kept to a minimum, has all its students on a scholarship - the cost to them is an annual R2000 in administration and registration fees, plus about R450 a month for those in residence. Sponsors sponsor the institution instead of individuals so that all students receive a scholarship.

The model was a way of addressing the problems Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande highlighted last week. SA's higher education institutions were places in which students were discriminated against in terms of race, gender and poverty, said Roman Catholic Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, who is the Cida board chairman.

"This new focus on higher education in a separate ministry was an answer to our prayers... We need to deal with discrimination in terms of poverty too," he said.

"Cida's niche is the poor. We look for students who would otherwise go by the wayside (because they do not have the money to pay for higher education , or that and matric marks not high enough for university entrance)."