KwaZulu-Natal - Matrics wanting a place at universities or universities of technology are facing near impossible odds as tens of thousands apply for a limited number of spots at tertiary institutions in KwaZulu-Natal.
The situation is mirrored in the rest of the country, as young people jostle for first-year undergraduate spots.
Applications for most fields of study next year have either already closed, or close at the end of this month.
Figures from four of the province’s tertiary institutions reveal that they have received at least three times as many applications as there are places available.
Two weeks before the September 30 deadline, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) had already received more than 48 000 applications, vying for between 9 500 and 10 000 places, and the Durban University of Technology (DUT) 40 000 applications for 6 473 places.
The University of Zululand (Unizulu) has received submissions from more than 37 000 prospective students, but can accept only 4 200.
The Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) has upped its 2013 intake, to 3 179 from 3 000.
It has thus far received more than 17 000 applications.
For study in 2013, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) has so far received 48 000 first-year undergraduate applications, for 10 800 places – and the process has not yet been concluded.
The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has 28 000 first year undergraduate applications and they had not finished capturing applications. They expect it to be 32 000 applications by the end of the year. They have about 5 500 first year places,” she said.
The University of Cape Town (UCT) only has 4 200 places for first-year students across all faculties.
Last year UCT received more than 26 000 applications.
With further education and training (FET) colleges unable to pick up the slack, educationists fear a significant number of youngsters will fall by the wayside, consigned to the category “not in education, employment or training”.
Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande commented in a speech last month that there were currently 3 million people between 18 and 24 who were “not in employment, education or training”.
The two new universities in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape, will do little to ease the burden on the existing 23 universities in the country.
The government’s target is to have a participation rate of 23 percent in universities and 60 percent in other post-school institutions by 2030.
The SA Institute of Race Relations’s 2010/11 survey reveals that first-year enrolments have increased by 16 percent between 2004 and 2010; that total enrolment at universities has rocketed by 209 percent; and that UKZN was the second largest of the country’s contact universities in terms of both staff and student population.
It also awarded more degrees than UCT and Wits.
Institute researcher Jonathan Snyman called the application figures “startling” and that in the short term, the situation would remain “bleak”.
“It may not be a guarantee, but you’re more likely to get a job with a degree behind your name,” Snyman said.
He pointed out that the government’s green paper on post-school education and training, released earlier this year, had conceded the FET college sector was “small and weak”.
“The government should have acted a decade ago. It’s too late (referring to the new universities).
“It comes down to a lack of foresight.”
Graeme Bloch, adjunct professor at Wits, said that it would take another six universities to meet the demand.
Bloch believed some of those trying to access universities, should in fact be enrolled in training colleges, and said many prospective students applied to three universities.
Bloch said that for the country’s 50 FET colleges to be developed to a standard where they could compete with universities, would take 20 years.
The acting chief executive of Higher Education SA, Jeffrey Mabelebele, said Nzimande’s plans to expand the post-school education and training system with a range of institutions had his organisation’s support.
It would include FET, teacher training, nursing and agricultural colleges.
“Until this range of institutions is established to lessen the burden of enrolment on universities, we are bound to have thousands of students meeting minimum entry requirements for university studies, outside education, training and employment, precisely because universities have a finite number of places for students.” - The Mercury