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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Higher education: limiting enrolments to curb drop out rates

Just a 4,8% increase in business and management sciences degrees awarded between 1992 and 2001.

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Minister seeks to curb varsity enrolments

Institution heads' believe that limiting student enrolment will not improve the pass rate

Sue Blaine

Education Correspondent

EDUCATION Minister Naledi Pandor wants to know by next year how to slow down the enormous growth in student numbers at tertiary institutions and how to curb the 50% dropout rate.

It is already agreed that this will be done by limiting enrolment numbers at universities and universities of technology (technikons). What is not agreed is how this will happen.

Bringing down enrolment will have an impact on institutions' cash flow as government gives the lion's share of its funding to enrolled students. Its funding formula also weights subject choice according to how costly it is to teach - and Pandor wants to limit subject intake as well.

This month Pandor delayed a decision on student enrolment planning initially set for implementation next year, saying that more research was necessary.

Former education minister Kader Asmal initially mooted a limit on student growth from next year. The education department made several changes to his plan and sent it to vice-chancellors last year.

In May, Higher Education SA (Hesa), representing SA's 11 universities, six universities of technology and six comprehensive institutions, replied, admitting that limiting growth in student numbers is necessary but that the proposal presented a "one-dimensional" view of a complex problem.

"The process has been a lesson. You can't just pronounce on policy, you need to look carefully," Pandor says.

As more matriculants leave school with passes qualifying them for tertiary education, academics are concerned about the quality of the passes. They plan to introduce a nationally standardised test to determine the educational standards of prospective students in 2007.

Between 2003 and last year, the number of matriculants with university -grade passes increased from 82010 to 85117.

Education department statistics show that in 2000, about 36000 (30%) of 120000 first-year university and technikon students dropped out, and 24000 dropped out during their second or third year.

Only 26500 (22%) of 2000's intake graduated by the end of their third or fourth years of study. The remaining 33500 students were studying in 2003 but did not graduate.


is looking at the results of a joint treasury-education department study on higher education funding, a first draft of which is due in November, to give pointers on how to improve things.

Hesa believes the department's proposals put too much weight on concerns that the growth in student  numbers was rapidly depleting government's higher education subsidies. Hesa says limiting student  enrolment will not improve the pass rate.

The organisation says, in particular, the quality of education at secondary school level is one of the reasons for the poor pass rate at tertiary level. Others include financial means, lack of career guidance, the impact of HIV/AIDS on students and "other social circumstances".

Pandor agrees, and the education department recently issued high school teachers with directives demanding an increased emphasis on essay writing and reading. "I feel very embarrassed that a national department has had to do this," she says.

However, she will not let higher education institutions off the hook. "If you have a 50% dropout rate, clearly there is a problem."

The proportion of university qualifications awarded to African, coloured and Indian students increased from 37,1% in 1992 to 53,7% in 2001, and at universities of technology from 24,7% in 1992 to 74,8% in 2001, says the South African Qualifications Authority.

Black students, including Indians and coloureds, now make up more than 72% of higher education enrolments, though this dips to 64% when the distance-learning institutions are excluded.

But though more than half the degrees awarded to black students were in the disciplines of health and social sciences and humanities, SA needs more graduates with technical and scientific qualifications.

Government wants 40% of graduates to have social science and humanities degrees, 30% to have scientific qualifications, and 30% to have degrees in engineering and technology.

The authority measured a 4,8% increase in business and management sciences degrees awarded between 1992 and 2001.

There has also been a 3,7% increase in engineering and technology degrees and diplomas, and an annual 2,4% rise in qualifications in the natural sciences.

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