Of the 18% of matrics registered at universities, half drop out

Van Zyl, the director of the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Academic Development Centre and head of the South African National Resource Centre for the first-year experience and students in transition, told journalists at a press briefing on Tuesday half of the 18% of matrics that register across the country’s institutions drop out.    

“We have space in the higher education sector for approximately 18% of matrics, then the system is full,” said Van Zyl, adding that it was envisaged this would be expanded to 25% when the two new universities in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape started enrolling an increased number of students.    

“That means of the top 18% of young South African people who enter higher education, which we have to presume are the ones who did best in grade 12 because the universities would not have taken them [otherwise], of those approximately just under half will never graduate.”   

Van Zyl said between 50% and 60% of students drop out during their first year of study. “And that’s why the focus in the first year is important.”   

“If they don’t make that hurdle in the South African context most of them will not come back to the system. They will leave the system and they will not attain a higher education qualification.   


“So that’s the gravity of the problem, and I think as a system we’re all aware of it and we take it very seriously, and you’ll find that a lot of good work is going on around the system. Part of what we have to ask ourselves is who is to blame for this? Whose fault is this?”  

Extending the curriculum
A study conducted by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) and published in 2013 said students performed poorly at university because they aren’t properly prepared by schools.

Read: Dropout rate points to lack of support

The CHE has since recommended that universities extend by a year their curriculum to address the underpreparation, but Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande is yet to announce whether he is in favour of this.   

Universities are generally in favour of the recommendations of the CHE, said Van Zyl.   “Although we could say there are things that are problematic in the schools – and I think there are – the fact is these are the schools we’re serving as higher education institutions.

“We have to work with the students we’re getting – there aren’t any other students out there and we need to teach the ones we’re actually getting. I think for us to take that seriously is very important.”   

Van Zyl added that universities should go out of their way to assist struggling students. Students should also seek help from their lecturers, he said.   

He said for a long time the approach of universities has been “something which I would typify as [academic] Darwinism”.   

“By that I mean survival of the fittest. If you’re good enough you make it … I think in the South African context that’s an untenable situation. We can’t have 18% entering the system; half of them never graduate and take that approach. I think it’s an approach that’s becoming more and more rare in the system.”

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Wits in a climate hot spot

The university says it provides a platform for multiple voices to be heard on any issue, including that of a climate denialist

Mantashe is pumping gas

The minister believes liquified petroleum gas is needed in the energy mix, but some experts are not convinced of its merits

More top stories

‘I’m no climate-change denier’

The presentation by Lars Schernikau, who works in the commodity and coal business, has provoked an outcry

Mlambo invites commentary on claims of judicial capture, again

A candidate for the Northern Cape bench lucidly explained in reply to the Gauteng Judge President that bribing a judge is a lottery you are bound to lose

Funding bombshell leaves law students in limbo

Wits sent students notices stating that they were liable for tuition, allowance and accommodation costs for 2020. The bombshell was dropped on the students in the last week of March.

Alcohol lobby’s data is wobbly

A recent report by the alcohol industry contradicting established research and should be thoroughly questioned
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…