Education in South Africa is in a state of crisis, with matric pass rates plummeting, tertiary institutions in turmoil and serious teaching skills shortages thick on the ground. Findings on a recent report by the Global Campaign for Education ranked the quality of South African schools at 50 out of 156 developing economies. Unless the quality and shortfalls in South Africa’s tertiary education system are properly addressed, skills shortages will continue to place a serious strain on economic growth and South Africa will be left behind by other developing economies. Students seem to be fighting a never-ending battle in their quest for knowledge: with universities unable to distribute enough funding, partial bursaries proving insufficient and lack of pertinent advice and guidance regarding courses and subjects, it’s no wonder that many students give up and drop out in their first year of study.
According to recent information released by Higher Education SA (HESA), a Section 21 company representing all 23 public universities and technikons in South Africa, the dropout rate has escalated alarmingly in recent years, and is hitting highs of up of up to 35% at some universities, with the bulk of those leaving being first-year students. The Human Sciences Research Council’s recent study of about 34 000 students showed that of this amount, only 14 000 students graduated, with some 20 000 dropping out of their courses, most of them being either in their first year or midway through their second year of study.
There are many factors that contribute to this phenomenon, with two major factors topping the list:
Lack of information
It has been found that in the final year of high-school students are not provided with the advice, information and guidance required in order for them to make conscious and holistic choices of possible areas and subjects of study and concrete pathways to these – this can become a very costly mistake, both in terms of ‘wasting’ time and finances, as well as students then losing interest in their tertiary studies and dropping out. Says Ronen Aires, CEO of Student Village, a social networking and information portal: “Yes, teachers first need to be educated as to what options are available to their students, and how to guide students with an aptitude for a particular area of study into the correct course, tertiary institution and career options. BUT – it’s also up to students to start being more proactive, and more assertive about what they enjoy doing, what they envision themselves doing, and how they would like to see their future careers unfold.
Lack of finance
There’s no doubt that tertiary education is a costly business – students can expect to pay between R15 000 and R25 000 per year for most undergraduate degrees and even more for specialised or professional degrees such as law and medicine. South Africa’s current state of economic turmoil, interest rate hikes and skyrocketing inflation all contribute to the sad fact that many potentially successful students will never, by virtue of socio-economic factors, be able to see their educational dreams come to fruition and the desired letters behind their names.
A recent study by The Human Sciences Research Council revealed that many students enrolled at South African tertiary institutions are from extremely poor homes – with a paltry combined household income of between R400 and R1 600 per month – and so land up taking on part-time jobs to try and meet both their educational and daily survival obligations, with their studies invariably being affected and them ultimately dropping out altogether. It stands to reason that, without proper education, these people will then not be able to contribute positively to the future growth of the economy and – in all likelihood, they will become a liability, rather than an asset, to South Africa. One of the run-off effects of potential students not obtaining comprehensive enough information regarding their study options is that many of them are also misinformed, or uninformed, of the financial side of their study commitments. Says Zivana Jenkinson, general marketing manager of Eduloan, a financial services provider: “Some students apply for partial bursaries and then find themselves stuck with additional costs they can’t afford, such as textbook, accommodation and food costs – that’s when they drop out. In fact, even those students who are aware of bursary providers are unaware of the processes and requirements involved in order to satisfy the criteria for a bursary, and many eligible students slip through the administrative cracks and miss out on starting or completing their studies.”
Another factor is that some students, who are unable to finance their studies and are unaware of the bursary and subsidy schemes available, then try to work fulltime and study concurrently, which places huge stress on them and detracts from proper focus on their education. It’s clear that students also need to be educated about finances and financial management.
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