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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 13:16 GMT
Branson backs African students
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education

Sir Richard Branson
Sir Richard Branson visits Alexandra Township, Johannesburg
A "school of entrepreneurship" has been opened at a unique South African university, which provides virtually free education for poor students.

The new department at the CIDA City Campus in Johannesburg is being funded by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin group.

The university aims to provide business degrees to disadvantaged black students unable to afford higher education.

Sir Richard said he wanted the school to help put young South Africans on the "golden highway to economic freedom".

The university - CIDA City Campus - was set up from scratch five years ago by a South African businessman, Taddy Blecher, who wanted to tackle the exclusion from higher education facing poor black families.

Foster ambition

Beginning with only a borrowed building and students learning to type on paper photocopies of keyboards, the university is currently teaching business degrees to 1,300 young people.

CIDA CITY CAMPUS

In exchange for their tuition, students are expected to help maintain the campus and to teach young people in their own communities during the holidays.

"The South African economy is dependent on entrepreneurial activity for creating future economic growth and jobs," said Sir Richard, who is giving his own name to a project for the first time.

The Branson School of Entrepreneurship is designed to foster the business ambitions of young black students.

"Currently the economic contribution to South Africa's entrepreneurial sector is below the emerging markets norm, I believe that increasing entrepreneurship in this country is the golden highway to economic freedom," said Sir Richard.

Dr Blecher said that he wants Branson's involvement to support students beyond those in Johannesburg, where the university occupies a disused bank building where Nelson Mandela once worked.

Outreach

The university is developing outreach projects for rural communities, where poor families have little prospect of getting access to higher education.

The CIDA City Campus
The CIDA City Campus requires students to teach in their own communities

A fund, called CIDA Seed, backed by the Virgin group and other UK businesses, will also provide start-up capital for micro-enterprises.

The university, which began when Dr Blecher started sending out faxes from his own workplace inviting applications from school students, wants to tackle the lack of opportunity facing millions of black youngsters.

"With wealthy families in South Africa there's no question that they're going to university and get a good job afterwards. But only 3% of the black population over the age of 20 has a degree," said Dr Blecher.

Black people remain under-represented in the professions, he says, quoting figures that there were less than 50 black dentists from a population of 35 million.

Dr Blecher approached the problem from a business perspective - and his university is designed to promote the idea of wealth creation and the sharing of that success. Students who attend the university are then expected to fund another student who will follow in their footsteps.

The university has tapped into the expertise of South Africa's business community, with financial services companies sending their staff to help train students.

"Our students, from squatter camps and townships, were learning from people who had done three billion rand business deals," said Dr Blecher.


SEE ALSO:
University for South Africa's poor
15 Jun 05 |  Education


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