By focusing on employability, ADvTECH’s education institutions are improving students’ prospects in South Africa. © ADvTECH

Saarah Saint had almost everything a young South African needs to be successful: a strong work ethic, professional ambition, and creativity. But the one thing she didn’t yet have—a higher education degree—threatened to derail her plans for a career in advertising.

Johannesburg’s Vega School, which prepares its students for careers through “Work-Integrated Learning” and emphasizes job placement, offered a path forward. Vega’s curriculum develops students’ hard and soft skills in projects that simulate situations they would encounter in the workplace, giving them a competitive advantage. Its marketable degrees position students to secure meaningful employment and improve their quality of life.

Saint experienced this first-hand when she was offered a place in a special program offered by Ogilvy and Mather, one of the largest advertising companies in the world. She was invited with about 40 other candidates to work on a group assignment. “I was prepared to do it,” she says, “but the other participants did not know how to work that way. Vega equipped me with the right skills.”

After concluding her studies, Saarah Saint got a job at an advertising company.

Other Vega graduates have similar stories. The institution is part of ADvTECH, a publicly traded holding group of 16 independent educational brands that offers 165 accredited qualifications.  Three of ADvTECH’s higher-education institutions, including Vega, comprise The Independent Institute of Education (“The IIE”). It is the largest private educational provider in South Africa, serving about one quarter of privately educated students in the country.

ADvTECH also has a presence in Botswana, Kenya, and Zambia, and it is actively exploring partnerships in other countries across sub-Saharan Africa. To help ADvTECH expand further across the continent and prepare the next generation of Africans for market-focused careers, IFC acquired a 4-percent equity stake valued at R320 million (approximately $22 million) in 2016.

Educating the Next Generation of Africans

ADvTECH Group’s diversity of institutions and academic offerings meet the educational needs of South Africans from different backgrounds. This is especially important in South Africa, where the majority of the black population was deliberately denied higher education during apartheid. Although access has increased dramatically since then, disparities in degree-granting programs persist.

ADvTECH’s academic offerings meet the educational needs of South Africans from different backgrounds.

At “The IIE,” more than 80 percent of the students enrolled in full qualifications are black and 55 percent are female. Nearly 30,000 students are pursuing Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) skills development courses and short-learning programs, while more than 35,000 students are pursuing higher-education certificates, Master’s degrees, and doctorates. In 2017, more than 4,000 students graduated from “The IIE.”

ADvTECH institutions attract students from across the socio-economic spectrum. It is also reaching students in secondary cities and rural areas with campuses that take advantage of online platforms to offer more affordable tuition combined with face-to-face support, as well as distance-learning programs.

Across ADvTECH and “The IIE” institutions, class sizes are significantly smaller than at public universities in South Africa. This facilitates greater interaction between students and faculty in ways that help prepare students for the job market. In many cases, students can recoup their tuition investment in under two years of working.

The “Demographic Dividend” in African Higher Education

The potential of higher education to improve young South Africans’ prospects is especially relevant in the context of the country’s economic situation. World Bank statistics show that four out of five South Africans experienced poverty between 2008 and 2015. Unemployment reached a 14-year peak of nearly 28 percent in 2017—but unemployment among graduates was about 7 percent.

ADvTECH’s focus on quality and employability, and its interest in expanding into the rest of Africa, aligns with IFC’s goals on the continent. Since a large percentage of Africa’s population is under age 25, leveraging the demographic dividend by training younger citizens for jobs and broader economic growth is critical.

The project fits well with IFC’s strategy in the education sector, which prioritizes financing highly scalable education service providers that focus on skills and employability. IFC is also committed to supporting models that help expand access, improve quality, and reduce costs.

Since IFC’s investment, ADvTECH has continued to expand its offerings. It has partially acquired the University of Africa for distance learning in Zambia, and launched a Pan-African PhD Program. It has also reinforced a partnership with the Open University in the United Kingdom to develop distance-learning programs.

As for Saarah Saint, when her program ended, she was offered a one-year position with Ogilvy and Mather, the agency she’d long dreamed of working for.

Read more about IFC’s work in education at

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Published in May 2018.

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