Thousands of students who have just passed matric and are hoping to further their studies at institutions of higher learning could have their dreams shattered by the critical shortage of spaces at many institutions around the country.
Sobering statistics show that less than half of those who qualify for entry at university are likely to be placed.
The number of Grade 12 pupils who qualified for university entrance increased this year, with passes with distinction obtained by the class of 2023 being the highest in the history of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams.
While delivering the NSC results last week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said 282 894 candidates qualified for admission to Bachelor’s studies at universities, which represent 40.9% of the total number of candidates who wrote the NSC exams.
From the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) NSC exams, a total of 13470 candidates achieved entry to degree study, which was 88.59% of those who passed.
Figures released by universities on Thursday show that many of those looking to further their studies will struggle to find places.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) received 365 034 individual applications from 160 059 applicants for about 9 000 first-year places.
“The most popular courses are offered by the Medical School and the Health Sciences. Bachelor of Education received almost 15 000 applications. The other most popular courses applied for by prospective students include Bachelor of Nursing (13 000) and Bachelor of Social Science (9 439). Places in these programmes are highly contested, and admission numbers are generally very limited,” said UKZN in a statement.
Carol Crosley, registrar of Wits University, speaking on Radio 702, said the university received 146 000 applications and could only accommodate 6 200 applications.
UCT said it had received a total of 92 841 applications from prospective first-year students for admissions in 2024. UCT has capacity to enrol 4 500 first-year students.
“It is important to note that this refers to the number of applications and not the number of applicants (which is lower as prospective students apply for more than one programme),” said the institution in a statement.
Stellenbosch University (SU) said it had received 88 085 undergraduate first-year applications.
“The enrolment target determined by the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation for first-time undergraduate student entry applicants for 2024 is 5 716.
“The university received approximately 14 000 applications for SU residence spaces this year and can accommodate approximately 2 000 first-year students in SU residences on the Stellenbosch Campus and 280 first-year students at the Tygerberg Campus,” SU said.
The Durban University of Technology said it had received 196 096 applications for first-year admission. The available space for first-time entering students is 9 372.
These stark figures have sparked fears among education experts, who said the government should be actively creating new career paths for young people who will not make it to university.
Education expert Professor Labby Ramrathan from UKZN said of the thousands who achieved a university pass, less than half would actually be placed.
Ramrathan said the situation was not as stark as the numbers suggest as some students had applied to multiple universities.
However, he said there was generally a shortage of space. “The education system is geared towards encouraging people to strive for a matric pass to go to university, which then creates problems for the thousands of pupils who are not accepted because of the space issues.”
He said to combat this, the government should be branching out to create opportunities for learnerships or internships for the thousands of students to gain the experience by entering the world of work early.
“It is disheartening to see young people battle to find space and parents who are in pain and feel out of options as their children are unable to find space.
There are people calling me, asking for advice on what they can do,” he said.
Former UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng, speaking on her X (formerly Twitter) account, said all hope was not lost for those who did not get into the university of their choice.
She said there was the Central Application Clearing House (CACH) where matriculants can put in their results and it will match them with the universities that have space for their quality of pass.
She said the competition for space was tough and applicants should be willing to accept space at other universities.
@agnesrasesemola Thanks Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng for sharing this valuable information. #deputymother❤ #classof2023 #universityapplications ♬ original sound - Segaka
Delivering his statement on university enrolment a few days ago, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the CACH sign-up service would be made available for students to sign up from today until March 31.
Institutions will access the CACH system from January 30 until October 30.