Johannesburg - As university application deadlines for first-year entrants start drawing to a close, the Department of Higher Education and Training is readying itself to provide alternatives for the hundreds of thousands of prospective students who’ll be left out in the cold.

The number of applications received by many of the major universities have already far exceeded the number of spaces available - despite the fact that there are still four weeks to go before deadline at the end of September.

In Gauteng, Wits University has received more than 34 000 first-year applications. The institution, however, can only accommodate 5 500 first-year students.

The University of Pretoria (UP) has received over 30 000 applications so far, but can only take 16 500 undergraduate students.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) has received about 40 000 applications and only has room for 10 800 first-year students.

In KwaZulu-Natal, first-year applications to the University of KZN (UKZN), University of Zululand, Durban University of Technology, and Mangosuthu University of Technology are all processed at the Central Applications Office (CAO) for a single fee of R175.

By late last month it was reported that the number of first-year applications the CAO had received far exceeded the places available.

Professor Jane Meyerowitz, the registrar at UKZN, said the institution could only accept 9 500 first-years for next year. By the end of the application process last year the university had received 65 000 applications and it’s likely that this year’s numbers will be in the same region.

In 2011 Gloria Sekwena went to UJ to help her son Kgositsile, 19, apply for a place at the university. She was killed during a stampede. Following the tragedy the Department of Higher Education and Training launched a Central Application System (CAS).

The first phase of the CAS, referred to as the Clearing House, was developed to ensure that applications, particularly those that come late in January after the matric results are released, are better managed and the number of walk-ins is limited.

CAS also assists matriculants who qualify for higher education but haven’t been accepted at any institution.

It also places students who weren’t accepted at higher education institutions in further training programmes such as Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) learnerships and internships in public and private sector organisations.

The Clearing House is supported by a website portal, the Career Advice toll-free call centre on 0860 111 673, and an SMS line, 072 204 5056, which will also accept Please Call Me requests.

The department is considering the introduction of a standard application fee with a single closing date for all the universities linked to CAS.

Seputu Mampane, the university education branch co-ordinator at the Department of Higher Education and Training, said the fee and the application closing date were yet to be finalised by the universities. She said the changes were intended to make the application process more affordable and timely.

Mampane said the department was also in the process of ironing out the second phase of the Clearing House by November.

The two new universities - in Northern Cape and Mpumalanga - whose construction will begin this month, are part of the attempt to increase the number of university students.

The institutions, however, will gradually admit students for the 2014 academic year - the Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape will accommodate about 135 students and the University of Mpumalanga about 140 students.

Those who won’t find a place at a university are likely to end up at Further Education and Training Colleges (FETs), which - in spite of the department’s attempts to rejuvenate them through hefty financial grants and human resource development initiatives - continue to be perceived as last resorts by many students.

A large group of the students who don’t manage to be placed in any tertiary institutions will probably head for the labour market and join the millions of youths who are looking for jobs.

During his budget speech in May this year the Minister for Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, said about a million young people left school every year looking to be absorbed either by the higher education sector or the labour market but were left out in the cold, adding to the ever-growing number of unemployed youth.

“As you know, 3.5 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the first quarter of 2013 were not absorbed into employment, education or training and many adults also find themselves in the same predicament,” Nzimande said.

“One of the highest priorities of my department is to ensure that the large numbers of these youth are given post-school education and training opportunities that will improve their employability,” he said.

University places by numbers:

University of Johannesburg (UJ)

* UJ has received about 40 000 applications for 10 800 first-year places. The closing date for first-year applications is September 27. No walk-ins will be accepted and students must make enquiries through the website or call centre for places available in January. The most popular programmes for first-years are the teacher education programmes, LLB (law), mining engineering, social work, and selected programmes in management, such as public relations/marketing.

Wits University

* By last week the university had 34 124 applications for 5 500 first-year places. The closing date for health sciences degrees was June 30, for other degrees, including financial aid and residence applications, the deadline is September 30. Medicine and surgery attract the most applicants, but the bachelor of commerce, bachelor of engineering and bachelor of science degrees are also popular.

Tshwane University of Technology (TUT)

* TUT has received 66 688 applications but can only accept 14 287 first-year students. The closing date was on August 15. Late applications will be processed via the university’s website as walk-ins aren’t allowed. The university is still finalising the applications and could not indicate which courses had received the most applications.

University of Pretoria (UP)

* UP has received over 30 000 applications so far and will accept no more that for 16 500 first-years.

The deadlines for most of the university’s selection programmes have already passed. Applications for non-selection courses will close on September 30. The most popular courses programmes are health sciences, engineering and natural and agricultural sciences.

University of Limpopo (UL)

*The university has received 11 249 applications for 5 513 places. Applications close on October 31 but if there’s space available, late applications may be considered. Popular courses include social work, pharmacy, LLB (law) and education.

University of Cape Town (UCT)

* UCT has received 19 360 applications for about 4 200 places. Applications closed on September 30. Courses in commerce, humanities, engineering and the built environment are the most popular, followed by courses in health sciences and science.

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