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Durban - South African university heads are “deeply worried” that a centralised one-stop-shop system to handle university and college applications from school leavers may get off to a rocky start.
Higher Education SA chief executive, Jeffrey Mabelebele said on Wednesday that it was critical to iron out details such as how much it would cost prospective students to be able to apply for a place at multiple institutions, and ensure the IT system could stand up to the huge volumes of information that needed to be managed.
Higher Education SA represents the leaders of all 23 of the country’s universities.
KwaZulu-Natal has had a central applications office for more than a decade, which has been credited with saving school leavers money and local universities time and stress.
Mabelebele was speaking at the annual meeting of the KZN applications office, which achieved a positive bank balance for the first time.
First-year undergraduates are able to apply to the University of KZN, University of Zululand, Durban University of Technology, and Mangosuthu University of Technology, as well as various colleges, via the central applications office, for a single fee of R175.
As the institutions make their selections, the applications office is informed, and then in turn notifies the applicants of the outcome.
Last year, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced that the system would be rolled out across the country, in an attempt to tackle the snaking queues which had become characteristic of many campuses at the start of the university year.
In October, Higher Education SA announced that, bar a few provisos, the system had their support.
Nzimande’s department is set to develop and test the IT system during this financial year, and intends piloting it from 2015.
On Wednesday, Mabelebele said that the proposal was to levy a R100 fee for applications, but Higher Education SA was concerned that it was too little to cover operational costs.
He urged the KZN office to work more closely with Nzimande’s department, and be intricately involved in the conceptualisation of the national system, given KZN’s experience and expertise.
“From our side (as Higher Education SA) we are deeply worried about some of the signals we are getting in relation to this central applications system. The first of our major concerns is around funding. What is needed in our view is a detailed modelling exercise to determine an appropriate application fee, which would be adequate to meet the costs of such a system before any form of commitment is made,” Mabelebele said.
The second concern was whether the IT system would be able to handle the huge volume of applications it was going to receive.
The third concern was meeting the 2015 deadline.
But Higher Education Department head Gwebs Qonde sought to allay fears on Wednesday, saying he was confident that, come 2015, the major concerns would have been addressed.