Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande. File photo: Masi Losi

Cape Town - Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has staunchly defended the 35 percent matric pass mark, warning that the country has become “dangerously elitist” by wanting to exclude pupils who perform poorly.

Nzimande said the country had no “dustbin where a living human being can be thrown” after failing to reach a certain benchmark.

Nzimande made the remarks on Thursday during a media briefing on opportunities for matriculants entering tertiary education this year.

Opposition parties slammed the pass mark this week, with AgangSA maintaining it was “ill-informed and disastrous”.

“Our philosophy as a country is that there is no dustbin where a living human being can be thrown… because you have failed.

“Let’s take advantage of this thing of 35 percent. We are becoming a country that is dangerously elitist, that (is) going to go away and throw away half of its young people that have not got 50 percent.

“As the Department of Higher Education and Training, we want to say officially that you, who has got 20 percent, we want you, to give you opportunities and (a) chance to have a living,” said Nzimande.

He said the matter of 35 percent had been explained sufficiently by his cabinet colleague, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

“But let me try and clarify it once more, especially to clarify it now from the standpoint of what it means for us as a department.

“Firstly, throughout the world, all exam systems and education systems are differentiated. And that’s good… because differentiation means different students will have reached certain minimum requirements in order to be able to pursue a particular code,” Nzimande said.

He said what 35 percent meant was that pupils had possibly acquired the minimum competence to be able to follow a higher certificate .

“A student can’t be taken in university with 35 percent. In fact, universities require 50 percent and more.

“But it helps us, because the danger of just focusing on 50 percent is what do we do with those who do not get 50 percent?” asked Nzimande.

He said Further Education and Training (FET) colleges also offered alternatives for poor performers.

Nzimande said the higher education sector was struggling to keep up with the numbers coming out of matric.

“We just want to say this up front, that the post-school or higher education sector does require significant expansion and diversification if it is going to adequately respond to the needs of the country, but specifically also to improve performance by our matriculants.”

He said the country had 396 449 higher education opportunities for matrics at 25 universities and 50 FET colleges.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme, which provides loans and bursaries to students, would be funding 205 000 students at universities and 215 000 at FET colleges in 2014, at a cost of R8.3 billion.

The Mercury