Johannesburg - Just 6% of the South African population have university degrees, a new report by the Higher Education Department has revealed. A further 6% had diplomas and 3.4% held technical and vocational education and training (TVET) certificates.
The department’s Post-School Education and Training Monitor, published biennially, decries these low levels of tertiary education attainment in the country.
The report will inform policy, planning and resource allocation, the department maintained.
In real numbers, just over 1.7 million people in the country held degrees. These degrees include bachelor’s degrees, postgraduate diplomas, honours degrees, Master’s degrees and PhDs.
The country had seen an increase in the number of citizens with matric, which moved from 24.7% to 32.1% last year.
But this improvement was not being mirrored on the higher education front, showed the report, produced by researchers Mamphokhu Khuluvhe, Edzani Netshifhefhe, Elvis Ganyaupfu and Vusani Negogogo.
The low number of citizens with degrees compromised the country’s economic competitiveness, the report said.
“Although the education levels of the South African population have increased significantly over the past decade, only 6% of adults have a degree,” said the report.
“In this regard, South Africa fares very poorly in comparison to other middle-income countries, thereby compromising its international economic competitiveness.”
Females held most of the degrees. They held 52.3% of the degrees, while males held 47.7%.
“Predictably,” the report revealed, fewer Africans have degrees compared to other race groups.
“Although the proportion of black African adults who have a degree as their highest level of educational attainment has almost doubled over the past decade, only 4.1% had a degree in 2020, compared to 23.4% of white adults who had a degree in 2020 (up from 21% in 2010).”
Classified as a middle-income country, South Africa mostly fared better in tertiary education attainment than some African countries.
It did better than countries such as Burundi (with 0.9% of varsity graduates), Mozambique (1.8%), Senegal (2.8%) and Zimbabwe (3.3%).
Internationally, South Africa’s position was also higher than that of countries such as Sri Lanka (4.2%) and Fiji (5.2%).
But South Africa’s degree attainment lagged far behind when compared to several countries also classified as middle-income.
The percentage of the Brazilian population with degrees was 15.7% and Mexico’s was 15.4%.
“Even Bangladesh, which has a lower GDP than South Africa, has a higher proportion of adults with degrees,” said the department’s report.
“…France (18%), Finland (24.3%), Australia (31.4%), the United Kingdom (33.9%) and Belgium (34.7%) have much higher proportions of adults with degrees than South Africa.”
South Africa’s low number of degrees problem appeared to be related to the number of students who enrol at universities.
The dropout rate and students taking too long to complete their studies were also contributing factors.
The country’s 26 public universities registered about a million students a year and looked set to meet the National Development Plan enrolment target of 1.62 million students by 2030. But this seemed inadequate.
“Despite a significant growth in enrolment at universities, it remains disconcerting that participation rates at universities continue to fare very poorly in comparison to many other countries, thereby compromising South Africa’s international economic competitiveness,” said Gwebinkundla Qonde, the department’s director-general.
Said the report: “It still takes too long for a significant proportion of students to complete their degrees, and the percentage of students who drop out before the completion of their degrees remains fairly high.”