The University of the Free State’s (UFS) unique career preparation programme involves a partnership between the university and further education and training (FET) colleges and its curriculum marries academic skills development courses with two firstyear university subjects.
This means that successful students enter UFS, or another university, with credit towards their first year of study.
The programme began in 1993, with 73 students; last year 962 students enrolled and registrations for this year are set to exceed 1 000.
Students can elect to study in three programme directions –human and social sciences, natural and agricultural sciences and economic and management sciences.
The programme is now offered at education sites in Bethlehem, Kimberley, Welkom, Sasolburg, Oudtshoorn, Aliwal North as well as at the Qwaqwa Campus of the UFS.
Between 1996 and 2008 UFS awarded 1 111 degrees to students who began their studies in the programme — students who otherwise would have been excluded from higher education.
Of these, 113 were honours degrees, 16 master’s degrees and seven were MBChB (medical) qualifications. Several students moved on to the Central University of Technology (CUT) to continue their studies and more than 180 students have graduated from CUT since 1996.
The programme’s partnership with FET colleges means that students can enrol at an FET college with selected credits.
Classes in the programme have a maximum of 40 to 50 students and carefully developed resource-based learning materials.
A group of well-trained facilitators, under the close guidance of a module coordinator, facilitate learning.
Class attendance is compulsory and in the first week of the academic year students are provided with all their learning materials including textbooks, module guides, stationery and files.
The cost of these materials is included in the tuition fee, so students do not need to find additional finances to buy their books and study materials.
Because all students have everything they need to begin learning from day one, classes start in earnest right then.
A student counsellor at each delivery site provides additional support to students if needed.
Despite the relatively poor school leaving results of students entering the programme, a pass rate of between 50% and 55% has been maintained for the past six years.
For the 2009 cohort of students this increased to 74%.
The compulsory class attendance was even more strictly enforced last year, the counselling services were broadened and specific attention was given to the promotion of academic language skills across courses as part of the ongoing capacity building of facilitators.