A STRIKE by National Education,  Health and Allied Workers Union  members over wages at the University of SA spread to other provinces. PICTURE: SUNDAY TIMES
University of South Africa. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

SA MAY soon have one of the world's few self-funded universities.

Education pioneer Taddy Blecher last week said he was aiming to make his Maharishi Institute fully self-funded "within one to two years".

The Maharishi Institute, which is part of the Cida Foundation, is situated in the Johannesburg central business district. The institution is part of a group of schools throughout the world named after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of transcendental meditation (TM). The schools promote his brand through TM, a mantra-based meditation technique, in their teaching styles.

Cida, an acronym for the Community and Individual Development Association, was formed in 2000, and offers students an almost free university education.

In SA, the Maharishi Institute was created under the Cida brand. The institute's educational offering is similar to that of Cida, but offers a different education experience in terms of subjects covered and other areas, for slightly more fees per person. The institute aims to give the previously disadvantaged an "accelerated holistic education" that involves students working at an in-house call centre and in other roles at the university, while they study.

Speaking at the institute's monthly breakfast on Thursday, attended by other education entrepreneurs, Dr Blecher said that self-funding could be achieved because of the input of the institute's call-centre business.

"Our students are working in the centre and looking after much of their own campus's needs such as basic maintenance," he said. "They help fix lights and so on. This is while they study and learn to function as excellent individuals ."

He said the institute always intended to differentiate itself from other schools by being self-funded, low cost and easy to access. Most students at the institute are on financial aid programmes, under which up to 100% of their fees can be covered by noncollateral-based student loans. Through working at the call centre, those students are able to repay the loans over time while they study.

A private university model where students learn while they earn may become more popular in SA as youths struggle to afford education. Tertiary education is considered to be expensive in many countries. South Africans pay R20000 a year or more at local universities. Fees are unlikely to fall as academic institutions struggle to fund themselves, regardless of government and private grants, while operating in an uncertain global economy.

SA's green paper on post-matric education released this year advocates a 44% increase in university attendance rates and a large boost in attendance at further education and training colleges.