A host of problems

Once the poster child for the provision of nearly free university education, Cida City Campus is under business rescue. Rescue practitioner Rob Devereux of Sturns took control of the non-profit private university in December 2012.

"Cida had management problems, student problems and governance issues combined with an inability to raise scholarships," says Devereux.

Based in Lyndhurst, Johannesburg, Cida has assets of R60m and debts of about R20m. Its creditors include the SA Revenue Service, the City of Johannesburg and Rand Aid. Cida offers a bachelor of business administration degree and is funded through private scholarships and donations.

Since its establishment in 2000, Cida has received funding from high-profile donors such as Dell, JPMorgan, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and many local companies. Cida cofounder and CEO Taddy Blecher left in 2007 after a donor raised questions about the then compulsory practice of transcendental meditation by students.

Some students say they are unhappy that the business rescue process has "financially excluded" 171 students from studying. A student who did not want to be named says Sturns is "profit-thirsty" and "running the institution like a corporate entity".

But Devereux paints a different picture. He says 50 students graduated at the end of last year and should have left the campus but were still enjoying the free facilities, including food and transport. Another 60 final-year students failed their exams last year but had since rewritten them and passed, so they had to leave.

Another 236 had fallen foul of Cida's rule that a scholarship is awarded on condition a student completes the degree within three years and passes at least 75% of courses in the last year. This leaves around 400 students who qualify to stay. The ex-students must all leave the campus by May 24.

"The free ride is over," says Devereux. Eric Levenstein of Werksmans Attorneys, representing the student representative council in the matter, did not wish to comment. But Devereux says the SRC is arguing students are creditors as they have to pay an administration fee of R164/year. Devereux aims to improve relationships with donors, giving them more feedback and getting them more involved in the students' futures.