Posts Tagged ‘ higher education institutions ’

South Africa: Institutions of higher learning are in a quagmire

The big question faced by higher education institutions in our young democracy is how to increase Black student numbers and maintain higher pass and graduation rates, which currently seems like having a cake and eating too.

Student Participation in Higher Education

Participation by SA Black Students

On one hand, the participation of Black students in higher education has increased from 49% in 1994 to 64% in 2008. While this has been good progress, a 2005 study by HSRC indicated that 40% of  first year students drop out of university, with the bulk of them being Black. Clearly this shows that the legacy of apartheid continues to haunt the country’s education system.

The challenge faced by higher education institutions is illustrated by the following 2 cases:

  • About 3 weeks ago certain political parties and their formations, the national student body and interested civil organisations were up in arms when several universities indicated that they have raised admission requirements in a bid to attract cream of the crop and thereby stem the current high failure rate that is said to have the potential of adversely affecting the institutions’ global competitiveness.
  • This week the University of Cape town’s Medical Faculty was in the spotlight for its admissions policy which requires Black students to meet more modest admission requirements, while White students’ admission requirements are the most stringent. This policy, it is hoped, will naturally lead to more Black students being accepted into this faculty than would normally be the case. The university asserts that Black students come from an inferior educational background and thus deserve special dispensation. Interestingly, this policy is decried by both sides as discriminating. Voices representing Black students say it is demeaning to those it is trying to help, and White interest groups say it is disadvantaging to White students.

With education being at the core of SA government’s attempts to improve in the main living conditions of its poverty-stricken Black citizens, the Department of Education has been focusing on increasing participation of Black students at higher education institutions as guided by the country’s population strata. As a result, higher education institutions are being incentivised for achieving higher enrolment targets that will naturally benefit Black student intake through allocated government subsidies (included in the higher education budget of R15.3 billion for 2009).

The quagmire comes in when higher education institutions have to make a choice of chasing numbers (which favours Black students) versus attracting high calibre of students (who are mainly White). What tends to be the case here is that institutions that depend mainly on government funds for survival will do the former, while institutions that are able to source private funding or which are competing for global recognition tend to do the latter.

Whichever way one looks at it, the challenge of making higher education accessible to the majority of students and achieving the desired pass and qualification rates is still a long way for South Africa.

Mkhulu William Seyama is an avid marketer, digital strategist, infopreneur and founder and CEO of eNitiate Integrated Solutions, a digital marketing agency that uses a robust and holistic approach in ensuring that clients achieve their online objectives effectively, from developing comprehensive online strategies, to ensuring hassle-free online purchase of products.

Mkhulu is also currently working on an exciting project aimed at connecting the dots between choice of higher education studies and eventual employment opportunities. Check out http://nuffdotty.co.za for more on the project

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