UKZN Extended Learning (UEL) was formed in 2010 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University at a time when universities were seeking vehicles to generate third-stream income.
Although UKZN already had an enterprise business, it needed a mechanism to focus on the commercialisation of high quality just-in-time short courses. Many individual academics, centres, and departments were already running short course programmes. However, an operational model was required to standardise the quality of programmes offered, more effectively manage logistics and operations, leverage off the UKZN brand, and build connections and linkages in the public and private sectors for high quality short course programmes.
Mr Mxolisi Miyahas been appointed the interim CEO of UEL
Whilst the business experienced considerable growth in the first five years after incorporation, performance in the past few years has been constrained by tough economic conditions, the high unemployment rate, COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns’ effect on many industries, and lower spending on training due to budget cuts. A change in strategic direction was taken around 2017 from a growth strategy to one of cost reduction, with significant cuts in the key growth areas of brand building, advertising, sales, and event management. Coupled with a containment strategy, this resulted in limited revenue growth, low delegate headcount growth, high costs, and low profitability. The long-term results were revenue and headcount stagnation, and more recently with the added economic impact of COVID-19, revenue, and headcount decline, together with a negative bottom line.
This has not distracted UEL from its work of providing life-changing programmes. The social auxiliary programme, one of many initiatives of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health (DoH), is a one-year programme designed to improve the quality of HIV and AIDS counselling and testing at facilities in 11 districts across the province. The course was designed to upskill DoH employees, support a formal promotion path, and provide access to the Bachelor of Social Work degree. More than 400 students have enrolled in the programme, with another 200 planned in 2022/3. In order to support the University’s remote-teaching model, each student was supplied with a laptop and monthly data top-up to support live Zoom lectures and tutorials, with many expressing gratitude for the care and support provided.
In addition, to the KwaZulu-Natal DoH, with whom UEL has had a relationship for more than 10 years, key accounts include Grindrod South Africa, Trade and Investment KZN, Richards Bay Titanium, Lafarge Industries SA, KZN Sports and Recreation, Transnet, MERSETA, and the Education, Training and Development Practices SETA. Exciting short courses offered in the past 12 months included the Certificate in Forensic Investigation Techniques, Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Skills Programme, Advanced Project Management, South African Sign Language (SASL), isiZulu Basic, and Safety, Health and Environment (SHE) Management Training. These complemented the core programmes such as Foundation Mathematics, the Certificate in Business Administration, Finance for Non-Financial Managers, Business Communication, and so on.
In order to turn the business around, an interim CEO, Mr Mxolisi Miya was appointed, together with an external strategy consultant to review the current business position, analyse UEL’s performance and provide a roadmap with milestones on financial and non-financial indicators. In addition to reconnecting with each of UKZN’s 19 Schools and rebuilding the business internally for a more effective and efficient business, the strategy is aimed at reconnecting with the public and private sectors through the development of more market-relevant programmes, greater visibility, and more active engagement. With the full backing of the shareholder, UEL, as a University asset, has the potential to become a household brand, growing support for the high-quality continuing education programmes offered by each of UKZN’s Schools.