Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has unveiled his plan to better manage the admission of thousands of prospective students to universities.
Earlier this year, Nzimande promised that a central applications system (CAS) would be implemented for first time university applications but prospective students should only expect phase one next year.
The death of a parent and injury of several prospective students during a stampede at the University of Johannesburg in January this year, prompted Nzimande to take steps to avoid future incidents.
The CAS will help matric learners looking for placements in January as well as those not accepted by their initial choice of university and looking for other options. Phase one is referred to as "Clearing House" to emphasise the department's efforts in minimising the number of walk-in centres and better manage the number of people queuing for applications at universities.
KwaZulu-Natal's Central Applications Office (CAO) has been operating since 1999. Nzimande said the office would help with any technical and administrative needs for CAS implementation in other provinces.
Prospective students currently pay application fees to every university they apply to. Although this will still apply during phase one in January 2013, "once developed to its full application, the CAS service will facilitate better management of student enrolments within higher education and training institutions at a standardised cost," said Nzimande.
The exact cost of this application has not been determined.
Support and guidance will also be provided to prospective students who will be using a call centre and website to access information on availability at universities.
"The career advice call centre operates on a toll-free line (0860 111 673) and SMS line (0722045056). It will provide electronic information to channel applicants to places still available within higher education and training institutions, while at the same time informing institutions of possible applicants that fulfil those institutions' minimum admission requirements," Nzimande said.
While the system will operate to help find universities with space and direct students to them, it will also assist matric learners unsuccessful in their applications and those whose results are only receivable in January.
Nzimande said: "These groups of students will be redirected through the 'Clearing House' facility to a variety of educational spaces within the PSET [post-school education and training] system ranging from spaces still available at other universities, to FET [further education training] colleges and learnerships within the Seta's [sector education training authority]".
He also pointed out that "those [matrics] who don't make it must know that university is not the only option, there are other options available".
Nzimande said there was "buy-in" from all 23 universities, communities and learners on CAS. "This is because it will be simpler, they won't have to pay money to different institutions and hope to get a response from one of them".
Education analyst Graem Bloch said phase one of the CAS was a good start for the project. "I think it's a great thing that this system is information-centred instead of control-centred, because a lot more discussion with universities still needs to happen.
"As far as the standard cost that will apply to using the CAS, it's also a good thing. Universities shouldn't be making money out of students anyway by charging hefty fees for things like late applications," Bloch said.