UFS: Leading successful strategies

Published Dec 13, 2023


There has been an important focus shift for South African higher education institutions over the past five years.

Since the introduction of fully subsidised higher education and training for students from poor and working-class families in 2018, the emphasis has moved from securing access to universities, to ensuring the success of enrolled students.

The University of the Free State (UFS) has risen to this challenge, responding with the development and refinement of some of the most innovative and comprehensive student support strategies in the country – for which they have earned global recognition.

These strategies have enabled the UFS to significantly improve student success and bridge racial achievement gaps, while ensuring the holistic development of students – and ultimately, the production of well-rounded and highly employable graduates.

Success reflected in numbers

The UFS has managed to notably improve its institutional success rate over the past 10 years – from 74% in 2012 to 81% in 2022.

During this period, the success rate of Indian/Asian students increased by 23%, African students by 15%, coloured students by 14%, and white students by 7%. The achievement gap between white and African students has halved – from 16% in 2012 to 8% in 2022.

The UFS difference

The UFS’ success can be attributed to various highly effective student support initiatives:

  • National leader in academic advising

Through its Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), the UFS plays a leading role in academic advising in South Africa, developing this vital field in 14 higher education institutions as part of a University Capacity Development collaborative grant from the Department of Higher Education and Training.

Specialist academic advisers in CTL provide a wide range of support to students – from subject and curriculum choices to study skills coaching – ensuring the critical alignment between academic journeys and career plans. Around a third of the total UFS student population benefit from various academic advising initiatives annually.

  • Unique first-year experience programmes

Advancing from school to higher education remains one of the most challenging transitions in a young person’s life. To help them cope, the UFS Success Skills (UFSS) module is offered to first-year students from all faculties, providing them with vital support, information, and strategies. In addition to providing students with academic success skills and digital competencies, the module also develops entrepreneurship and employability from early on.

  • Excellent tutorial programme

The highly effective Academic Student Excellence Tutorial Programme (A_STEP) offers regular peer-facilitated group tutorials, integrating content with learning skills and strategies. The UFS employs on average 400 tutors per year, providing support to around 13 000 students. Tutors not only get a chance to earn while they learn, but also develop critical employability and collaboration skills.

  • Peer mentoring initiatives

Further capitalising on the immense value contained in peer learning and teaching, the UFS has a sophisticated Peer Mentoring Programme, where senior students are equipped with competencies and knowledge to guide junior students through academic and life skills challenges.

  • Developing critical literacies

Many aspirant students arrive on higher education campuses with gaps in core writing and language skills. The UFS Critical Academic Literacies (CAL) module teaches specialised reading, writing, and critical thinking practices through the medium of English.

The Write Site academic writing consultation service meets students’ subject-specific writing needs in the form of online or face-to-face workshops and one-on-one feedback, covering all aspects of written assignment requirements.

  • Developing digital skills and competencies

Digital competency has become essential in the modern-day workplace. It is also a vital requirement for negotiating the higher education environment.

As part of the Digitally Enhanced Student Success and Employability Programme (DESSEP) – a collaboration with the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation – the UFS integrated 14 global digital skills frameworks into an innovative graduate attribute: Digital Skills and Competencies. This attribute helps students to develop information and communication technology proficiency, digital citizenship, digital creation skills, as well as information, data, and media literacy.

  • Utilising advanced data analytics for student support

The UFS is a beneficiary of the esteemed Kresge Foundation, sponsor of the Siyaphumelela project, which harnesses data analytics to promote student success. The university is progressively enhancing its ability to use advanced data analytics to keep track of student performance, enabling it to proactively reach out to those who need assistance.

  • Student counselling and development

In response to the prolific mental health challenges that confront our students, the UFS provides professional individual psychological counselling as well as group therapy and workshops.

  • Enhancing employability

The UFS has identified a set of graduate attributes – proven to adequately prepare students for local and global workplaces. These attributes have been mapped across more than 1 000 undergraduate modules, ensuring that young jobseekers are highly employable once they have obtained their UFS qualifications.

  • Progressive career focus

Enhanced investment and digital capabilities have enabled the UFS to increase the capacity of its Career Services eightfold. This has in turn led to the development of a Career Hub platform where thousands of job opportunities are advertised. The UFS regularly hosts successful corporate events, building a strong relationship with various employers.

  • Comprehensive support ecosystem

Ensuring that students make effective use of all these support initiatives, the UFS has built a comprehensive student support environment – Graduate Positioning Support (GPS) – which is unequalled in South Africa. GPS@UFS is an easily accessible one-stop destination that puts students in touch with a relevant support service.

  • Innovative food security projects

For students to excel academically, the university acknowledges that it is often necessary to take care of their very basic needs first. The No Student Hungry Bursary Programme ensures that the most vulnerable students are provided with healthy food options so that they can successfully complete their studies.

This initiative is complemented by a collaborative Community Gardens and Food Initiative, whereby 40 vegetable gardens have been established, feeding hundreds of students on a weekly basis.

Quality, impact, and care are not only reflected in the excellent standard of UFS qualifications, but also in the support provided to students to obtain them.

Contact us:

Bloemfontein Campus: +27 51 401 9111

Qwaqwa Campus: +27 58 718 5000

South Campus: +27 51 401 9111

Email: [email protected]