"It is likely that there will be a greater number of pupils who qualify for entry to degree study." File picture: Leon Lestrade/INLSA
Up until March this year, the minimum requirement for admission to degree studies at a higher education institution was subject to a list of 20-credit subjects known as the “designated subject list”.

In order to gain entry into degree studies, pupils had to obtain a National Senior Certificate (NSC) with a minimum of a 50% achievement rating in four designated subjects.

However, on March 2 the designated list was revoked through a Government Gazette from the Department of Higher Education and the minimum admission requirements for degree study are expected to be changed as to require an achievement of 50% or more in any four subjects from the recognised 20-credit subject list.

(The only NSC subject that does not have 20 credits is Life Orientation.)

In addition, pupils need a 40% pass in an official home language, plus a minimum of 30% in two subjects and meet the language requirement for entry to degree studies.

The removal of the designated list of subjects from the requirements for the achievement of a NSC pass that allows entry to bachelor degree study is a significant move and has some major implications. The change is applicable to the current Grade 12 pupils that will write the NSC during the October/November examination session.

This new development does pose challenges for pupils and those who advise them on subject choices.

There has always been a need to know the entry requirements of both the universities and the faculties at which learners might want to study.

It’s important to understand that this change does not mean that any three electives will be acceptable for entrance into a course of study at a university, as each university and each faculty within an institution may set its own entrance criteria.

Does the new development mean standards have dropped? No. It will not mean a pass for anyone who would have failed the NSC. The relaxation that increases the number of subjects in which a 50% pass will contribute to meeting the minimum admissions requirements for entry into degree studies will lead to an increase in the number and percentage of NSC candidates qualifying for admission to degree studies (and a corresponding drop in the number who qualify for admission to diploma studies).

There is bound to be an (uninformed) public outcry that standards have dropped. The change has no impact on the standards which are being assessed in each subject.

The actual examination papers, which embody the standards of the qualification and the specific subjects, still go through the stringent processes of moderation to ensure that they are of the standard required to assess competence expected of pupils who have completed 12 years of study at school and a minimum of three years of study in a specific subject in the Further Education and Training Phase.

The standard of the NSC has not been modified in any way.

What is the impact on the current Grade 12 cohort? The change follows long-standing criticism of the “designated subject list”. The key criticism was that it excluded subjects that should probably have been included in the list and skewed subject selection.

It is likely that there will be a greater number of pupils who qualify for entry to degree study. But it is crucial that all pupils realise that meeting the statutory minimum for entry to study a degree does not mean that they will be admitted automatically into an institution or into their chosen course of study. The pressure on institutions to accept first-year students is enormous and it is reasonable to expect that admission will still be reserved for the higher NSC achievers.

The more testing courses, such as medicine, engineering and actuarial sciences, have very stringent entrance requirements and achievement of the minimum requirements will never open the doors to these programmes of study. This does not mean that there are no other options.

In fact, in many cases, following the university pathway is actually not in the best interests of the pupil. It is crucial that schools and parents provide sound career guidance and appropriate opportunities for Grade 12 pupils to explore alternate pathways.

* Anne Oberholzer is chief executive of the Independent Examinations Board.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media

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