FILE : Students queue to register for enrolement at the University of Johannesburg Kingway Campus in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. 120110 - Picture: Jennifer Bruce

With increasing numbers of matrics qualifying to study at universities, finding spaces there is a daunting task because institutions of higher learning have limited capacity.

“Only one in seven learners will go on to study at a higher education institution and Wits chooses the cream of the crop,” Wits University vice-chancellor and principal Professor Adam Habib said in a statement prepared by the university.

He added that Wits would not increase its undergraduate student numbers because it wanted to increase the number of post-graduates instead.

A total of 10 166 pupils passed the 2013 Independent Examination Board matric exams with marks that would qualify them for tertiary education study.

Another 707 136 matriculants from public schools who sat the national senior certificate matric exams are waiting for their results, which will be published on Tuesday.

Wits University turned away about 30 000 first-year applicants every year because of limited space, the communications department said. Wits offered space to approximately 5 500 first-time first-year students, while it received approximately 35 000 first-year applications, it said.

Jeannette Phiri, the head of student enrolment at Wits, noted that over the past five years the university had seen a marked increase in applications. But Wits could accommodate only about 30 000 undergraduate and post-graduate students a year.

UCT said it aimed to admit a little over 4 000 new undergraduate students. This compared with about 23 600 first-time undergraduate applicants in the 2013/14 cycle.

“The number of applicants in recent years, compared [with] available places, has steadily grown. The reasons are several and complex – some include the greater awareness of post-secondary study opportunities and greater awareness of access to funding,” the university said.

The National Development Plan’s directive on higher learning is that South Africa should increase post-school opportunities to 1.62 million tertiary enrolments by 2030.

Habib pointed out that the 25 universities operating in South Africa were not enough to meet such goals.

“The US has between 5 000 and 6 000 universities. In Dubai there are more than 600. In South Africa we need universities that are more diverse and not all the same, as that is an old colonial model,” he said.

“There has to be post-secondary education such as technikons and artisan training colleges, and colleges that focus on vocational training for teachers and nurses.”

The Department of Higher Education and Training was not able to comment.

But according to its 2012/13 annual report published in May, regardless of limited spaces in tertiary institutions, it has made it a priority to ensure that no academically capable student be denied access to education after school.

But it acknowledged that more students would have to be channelled to the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges as there could never be enough universities to accommodate all school leavers.

In the 2012 academic year, the department achieved the enrolment of 657 690 students in FET colleges against its target of 550 000.

In its 2012/13 annual report it said that plans to build 12 new FET college campuses in rural areas had been completed.

Also, this year the new universities in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape were expected to begin offering their start-up programmes, taking in a combined 270 students.

In its effort to increase tertiary education institutions’ intake of new students in existing institutions, the department has approved R6 billion of infrastructure projects to add capacity in all 23 of the country’s tertiary education institutions for the 2012/13 to 2014/15 financial years.

In its 2012/13 financial report, the department stated that universities had committed a further R2bn to co-fund these projects.