CIDA City Campus in downtown Johannesburg is the first university in South Africa to offer students a free, 'open-access' education. It was founded five years ago by an amazing man, Taddy Blatcher, with no resources. He literally announced that the school was open for students without having a building, professors, a curriculum or anything else that might be useful in providing students with a four year business degree. By the time his first batch of students turned up he had most of those things in place (including a building donated by an investment bank which was unused due to crime in downtown Johannesburg).
CIDA is special for a number of reasons. It's a university run by its students (in the early days they even did the cleaning and cooking) - a number of whom never had the opportunity to finish high school - offering a business degree that costs $1,500 per grad. CIDA is now delivering a complex, innovative education to 1,600 students, while also aiming at being holistic (focusing on inner development) and replicable in other developing countries. To top it all off, every student is required to return to their rural schools and communities, during holidays, to teach what they have learnt.
"The education offered is designed to make students relevant, truly empowered, integrated citizens and leaders that are skilled and equipped to build the South African economy and society." - President Mbeki of South Africa, speaking about CIDA City Campus in Parliament
I've been to CIDA a few times, we've run a few programmes for their students and a number of my friends have taught there. The atmosphere is amazing, with the students, especially the ones who have been there a while, have this great energy and a calmness that gives it a very different feel to any other campus.
CIDA's offers us some great insights into what's possible in terms of delivering education. It's a far cry for the $100,000+ Ivy League models. If you're ever in SA, I recommend that you either spend some time teaching there or at least visit.