The demand for quality private education is constantly on the rise in South Africa and the rest of Africa, as shown by the many new competitors entering the market and the growth in student enrolment at our various institutions. The need for quality education in South Africa is even greater than initially thought, as indicated by the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study which revealed that almost 80% of Grade 4 learners are unable to comprehend what they read.

In his State of the Nation speech, President Ramaphosa said that "We are building a country where a person's prospects are determined by their own initiative and hard work, and not by the colour of their skin, place of birth, gender, language or income of their parents." ADvTECH has always believed education to be the enabler of South Africa's prosperity and success because it equips our learners and society with the necessary skills required by the country to grow the economy. We are renowned for our commitment to quality education and we have become increasingly aware of our role in contributing meaningfully towards the attainment of inclusive growth in South Africa through education and human capital development. In our quest to enrich more people's lives and prospects, we continue to increase our more affordable offerings at school and tertiary level. This, combined with our strategy to increase our resourcing division's joint venture partnerships in the rest of Africa, means we remain well positioned as the leader in quality private education and resourcing services, and poised for continued growth into the future.

Although global economic activity strengthened, unfavourable local economic and political conditions dampened confidence, resulting in muted investment and growth during the financial period. Economic policy remained uncertain, with increasing calls for the introduction of populist policies to transform the economy as the majority of the population remains marginalised. This was not improved by the political disquiet centred around increasing corruption levels as seen in the state capture allegations and the #GuptaLeaks. The private sector was not spared in this regard as global and South African blue chip companies became embroiled in governance issues.

The appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new president of South Africa in February 2018, following his victory at the African National Congress election conference two months earlier, resulted in a marked improvement in investor and national sentiment. In his maiden State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa outlined a more consultative, "compacting" style of government, emphasising the need to build a better South Africa for all before calling on all stakeholders to "lend a hand".

We stand ready to play our part in transforming South Africa to ensure that youth actively participate in the economy. We welcome the government's commitment to prioritise economic growth, build a capable state and target corruption and state capture. Together, these developments have seen a rebound in national confidence as evidenced by market buoyancy, the Rand's strong performance and improved growth prospects. The prospects of a closer relationship between business, government, labour and civil society also holds out the possibility that the private education sector may in future be able to cooperate more closely with government.

Despite the tough operating environment in the period under review, we executed our strategy and maintained our upward trajectory as reflected in the market-related investment return to our shareholders.

ADvTECH's expansion into the rest of Africa has been fruitful following numerous acquisitions and partnerships. Diversifying across the continent reduces our reliance on the South African economy and broadens our opportunities. Notwithstanding our successes, we have not remained immune to the prevailing political and economic conditions, with the schools division being most affected by weak economic growth. The division recorded muted growth in the premium segment, largely due to unprecedented levels of emigration and "semigration" to the Western Cape. The consistent rise in the number of families emigrating and "semigrating" translates into the loss of students in higher grades, where it is hard to replace them. We have also seen withdrawals as a result of financial pressures.

As disclosed towards the end of last year, the schools division was the victim of fraud which was voluntarily disclosed to the market in the interests of transparency and good corporate governance. The fraud was identified as a direct result of the current restructuring of the finance and administrative functions within the schools division as part of the centralised shared services initiative. The fraudulent activity will not impact delivery or services at any of our schools and the matter will be pursued to the full extent of the law.

At the tertiary division, there is a new dynamic following the government's announcement of free higher education to the poor and working class, despite the Heher Commission not recommending this model. It is unclear at this stage whether this will result in an increase in the number of students entering public universities. As a private higher education provider, ADvTECH does not benefit from any government subsidy and our stakeholders appreciate the fact that we cannot provide free higher education.

We believe in the strength and quality of our offering and do not foresee any adverse impact on our business following this announcement. South Africa's precarious economic position resulted in record unemployment, affecting the resourcing division. The division pursued a successful growth and diversification strategy into the rest of Africa to counter South Africa's stagnant job market. This resulted in the more resilient performance of the division.

On behalf of the board of directors, I would like to thank the 6 941 employees of the group for their unwavering contribution and dedication in delivering the highest standards of excellence to all our stakeholders. Our people, who uphold the reputation of ADvTECH and our commitment to quality, are essential to our success. We would like to express our appreciation to the CEO and the executive committee for the essential role they play in ensuring that the strategy is successfully executed. We also acknowledge that none of our continued success would be possible without the foundations established by those who have come before us.

I wish to thank my colleagues on the board for their invaluable input, advice and support throughout the year. We are committed to remaining accountable to all our stakeholders through transparent lines of communication and informed decision making to achieve our common goal of ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of the ADvTECH group.

Finally, I wish to thank all our stakeholders for their continued support and engagement.


Chris Boulle