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Cape Town - Just half of university students will graduate – and less than 5 percent of all African and coloured young people will succeed in tertiary education studies.
These shocking statistics were revealed in a Council for Higher Education report that looked at the reasons and possible solutions for poor university performance.
The report – “A proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa: The case for a flexible curriculum structure” – said there was a “pressing need” for quality graduates.
“South Africa’s graduate output has been found to have major shortcomings in terms of overall numbers, equity, and the proportion of the student body that succeeds,” it said.
While there was a small intake that had good academic potential, “performance in higher education is marked by high levels of failure and dropout”.
The report, which looked at first-time students entering in 2005 and 2006, highlighted these statistics:
* Only one in four contact university students graduated within the regulation period.
* Only 35 percent of all students
graduated within five years.
* With allowance made for more time or returning after dropping out, it was estimated 55 percent would not graduate.
* Access, success and completion were racially skewed in favour of white students.
* Less than 5 percent of African and coloured young people would succeed in any higher education study.
The report found that these figures were the norm.
“They have not changed significantly since the intake cohort of the year 2000, which was the first to be subject to sector-wide longitudinal analysis. It is evident that, given the conditions in the education system as a whole, they will not improve without decisive intervention.”
The report found the following percentages of students would pass their three- or four-year degrees, or three-year diplomas within the regulation period at a contact university:
* African: 20 percent
* Coloured: 24 percent
* Indian: 28 percent
* White: 44 percent
The number of students who were able to pass within five years at a contact university was substantially higher:
* African: 42 percent
* Coloured: 43 percent
* Indian: 51 percent
* White: 61 percent
Studying through Unisa made it far more difficult for students in all groups to complete their studies.
The task team appointed by the Council for Higher Education concluded that modifying the undergraduate curriculum structure was essential.
It proposed a flexible curriculum structure based on extending courses by a year, which would provide the academic and social foundation needed to succeed and address “effectiveness, efficiency, quality and responsiveness to diversity across the higher education sector”.
“The task team has concluded that implementing the proposal would be financially viable for the state, would reduce the cost for each graduate, and, in short, would be the most efficient, equitable and cost-effective of the available approaches to improving graduate output and outcomes.”
The new curriculum structure would be flexible in allowing students who could complete the course in less time to do so.
Academic and writer Njabulo Ndebele, chairman of the task team and former vice-chancellor of UCT, said while there had been “significant growth” in university access, graduate output had not kept pace.