Behind the first-year flood

Universities that offer substantial numbers of diplomas as well as degrees appear to be the first choice of students who have been flooding universities with late applications since matric results were released on January 6.

The University of Johannesburg and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) have been receiving many more late applications than others the Mail & Guardian contacted in a snap survey this week. They also told the M&G the number of late applications to them this year far exceeded those in provious years.

The Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) said it noticed a similar trend, with a notable increase in the number of late applications. These came on top of the 32 500 applications CPUT received for the 9 500 first-year places available.

Education experts suggest three factors explain the pattern of uneven numbers of late applicannts across universities: the wider variety of courses at some universities, differing fees and varying entry requirements.

The University of Cape Town (UCT), Stellenbosch University, University of Venda and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University told the M&G they had not noticed any major increases in the number of late applications compared to previous years.

Nan Yeld, dean of the Centre for Higher Education Development at UCT attributed the rise in late applications to the improved pass rate. “I suspect the majority of those learners who made up the increase in university entrance passes were at the lower end of the scale,” she said.

“So it stands to reason that most of these learners didn’t expect to go to university before and are now trying to get in to institutions with lower entry requirement. UJ and TUT both offer diploma and certificate courses so this could be a motivating factor for the high number of late applications they have seen.”

The urban settings of these institutions and their lower fees could also be factors, she said.

In the 2010 matric results, 23.5% of matriculants achieved university-entrance passes (up from 19% in 2009) — one of the many increases the figures showed within a steep 7,2% hike in the overall pass rate (67,8% — up from 60,6% in 2009).

Last week about about 45 000 students turned up at the University of Johannesburg — 30 000 at the Kingsway Campus and another 15 000 at other UJ campuses, including Soweto.

TUT spokesperson Gilbert Mokwatedi told the M&G that the university also saw a noticeable increase in the number of late applications. “There definitely were more compared to previous years and it’s obviously related to the increased number of matric learners who passed with university entrance marks in 2010,” he said.

Mokwatedi said TUT had received 2 145 late applications since last week, but had already accepted 11 000 first-years.

Other universities canvassed by the M&G said they had not noticed an unusual spike in the number of late applications or enquires, but put it down to having strict admission policies. UCT spokesperson Pat Lucas said that the university had accepted 4 000 first-year students for 2011 and would not be considering any late applications.

University of the Witwatersrand spokesperson Shirona Patel said the university had places for 5 500 first-year students and had only accepted 300 late applications based on outstanding results. The University of Venda reported a similar trend, adding that it would accept 2 100 first-year students and no late applicants.

Meanwhile, the South African Students Congress last week warned that UJ and Wits could face protests if they do not admit the late applicants. “We are extremely disgusted by the irresponsible behaviour of turning away students by the University of Johannesburg and Wits University in particular,” read the statement.

Sasco secretary general Lazola Ndamase told the M&G this week that institutions must find innovative ways to increase access. “The universities must do everything in their power to accommodate these students even if it means renting extra buildings and establishing mini-campuses,” said Ndamase.

“It is our duty to ensure that students are not turned away. We will resort to protest action if we are not successful.”

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