New data of challenges in tertiary education presented at LMIP conference

Hendrik van Broekhuizen, Servaas van der Berg and Heleen Hofmeyr recently published a report on higher education access and outcomes for the 2008 national matric cohort. The study makes use of a unique dataset that combines data at the school and university level in order to track the transition of the 2008 matric cohort from school to university. This enables analysis of the relationship between school-level factors such as matric performance and university outcomes such as access, completion and dropout. Servaas van der Berg presented the main findings of the report at the Research Colloquium on Skills Planning on the 29th of September in Johannesburg. The colloquium was hosted by the Labour Market Intelligence Partnership and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

The main findings of the report are as follows:

• Approximately one-third of learners who write the matric examinations and obtain Bachelor’s passes never go to university.

• Amongst matriculants that obtained Bachelor’s passes, university access is not skewed against black students or students from poorer schools.

• A large proportion of matriculants who do go to university do not enter in the year following matric, but only one or more years later.

• Matric marks are a good indicator of university access, but only weakly related to eventual university completion rates.

• There are large differences across universities in the average matric performance of students who attend these universities.

• It takes a long time for many students to successfully obtain university qualifications.

• Dropout rates at university, although high, are not as high as often reported, because many students that are considered “drop-outs” from university in official statistics did not leave the university system, but changed their degree programme, switched from a degree to a diploma or certificate programme, or enrolled in a different university.

Prof Van der Berg’s presentation highlighted the extremely small proportion (14%) of learners who start school who end up with a Bachelor’s matric pass. 12% achieve Diploma passes. This implies only 26% of learners who start school will be eligible for enrolment in university. Delayed entry to university and low completion rates result in only 6% of the original group who started school obtaining some kind of undergraduate qualification within six years of completing matric. Prof Van der Berg also pointed out the importance of matric performance in ‘gateway subjects’ such as Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Mathematical Literacy in university completion rates.

These findings suggest that many patterns of university access and success are influenced strongly by school results. The weak school system has a major influence on who reaches matric and how they perform in matric. This, and particularly the achievement of Bachelor’s passes, explains much of the racial differences in access to university.

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