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Cape Town -Tens of thousands of school leavers have flooded the government’s new central applications clearing house, which fielded almost 67 000 calls in less than a month from matrics desperate to enter tertiary institutions.
Diane Parker, deputy director-general for universities in the Department of Higher Education and Training, said the clearing house had by January 31 transferred to universities the details of about 8 500 matrics who met the requirements.
The clearing house, co-ordinated and funded by the department, helps eligible matrics who missed last year’s application deadlines to find places in tertiary institutions.
A central applications service, through which all university applications are to be managed in future, is to be developed this year, piloted at some universities next year, and implemented in 2015.
Last year, long queues characterised a chaotic late-registration process at some universities, with a stampede at the University of Johannesburg resulting in the death of a parent seeking to register her child late in January.
This year, however, Parker said that with the exception of a few cases - including hiccups experienced “early on” at the Tshwane and Durban Universities of Technology, where student funding was a problem - admissions and registration had proceeded without event.
Parker said most universities did not allow late registrations and it would “take time” to change the mindset among school leavers, parents and teachers to get would-be students to apply in time.
There were also not enough places in universities for matriculants, especially for qualifications for professions such as engineering, medicine and veterinary studies, where skills shortages had been identified.
While audited figures for this year’s registered students are not yet out, the department is projecting an 8.4 percent increase in the number of engineering students - to 16 819, up from 15 521 in 2011.
Parker said “investments” by the Departments of Health and Higher Education had resulted in a projected 31 percent increase in the number of medical students - from 6 860 in 2011 to 8 978.
Last year, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande set as a target the enrolment of 179 793 first-time students. Provisional data shows this target has been exceeded this year.
Parker said while many tertiary institutions were extending registration to accommodate financial aid issues, there was insufficient funding for poor students and a severe shortage of affordable student accommodation, especially at previously black-only universities where the quality and number of spaces were “a problem”.
Prospective students may call the clearing house at 0860 111 673 or send a “please call me” to 0722 045 056. The call centre is open from 7am to 10pm and staff are able to speak all official languages. The centre can also divert calls to the SA Qualifications Authority’s career advice centre.