Just 1901 out of 100000 South Africans are at tertiary education institutions, raising concerns about the country's competitiveness, according to a report released by the Department of Higher Education.
The figure is more than double in Russia, which has 4582 out 100000 citizens enrolled at higher education institutions.
Brazil has 4023 of 100000 in tertiary institutions. The figure in China is 3104 and India stands at 2453.
These statistics are based on data reported by the Unesco Institute for Statistics.
Minister Naledi Pandor said participation rates were not good enough.
Says the report: “South Africa lags behind its BRICS peers on this measure and, at 1901, has lower enrolment per 100000 than the average of lower- middle income countries, though South Africa's enrolment per 100000 significantly exceeds the average of the sub-Saharan Africa region.”
“There are backlogs in improving access for poor students to tertiary education, and participation rates still show large racial differentials,” the report states.
Half of white and Indian youth completing matric enrol at universities but only 15.6% blacks are likely to proceed to university. “This racial gap is closing quite slowly,” says the report.
Mampho Khuluvhe, an official dealing with statistics in the department, has decried that South Africa has the lowest number of citizens accessing higher education compared to its BRICS partners.
She adds that the discrepancy indicated that the competitiveness of South Africa's economy was compromised because it was not producing the necessary number of tertiary graduates.
“When compared to the other BRICS countries, we're really lagging behind, which indicated that our competitiveness is compromised,” Khuluvhe notes.
The number of students enrolled at the country's 26 universities increased by 83000 between 2010 and 2016, the report showed.
This was a growth rate of just 1.6%, which is “lower than required to realise the National Development Plan goal of a 1.6 million headcount by 2030”, the report states.
The total number of students at the country's universities is about a million. There are 705400 students at the country's 50 technical and vocational education and training colleges.
“Though we've improved our participation rates, we're still lagging behind. We're lower than all of our BRICS peers,” Khuluvhe says.