Getting a degree in South Africa: The slim chances of succeeding against the odds

Stellenbosch Policy Brief No. 01/2017

Author(s): Junior Tariro Chiweza, Hendrik van Broekhuizen

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For many young South Africans, getting a university degree provides an opportunity to escape the cycle of poverty and pervasive youth unemployment. University graduates have by far the lowest rates of unemployment and also tend to have the highest levels of job security and remuneration of any education group in the country. 

Sadly, weak schooling outcomes and limited post-schooling education and training opportunities mean that the vast majority of South African youths are effectively excluded from the benefits of higher education. Few secondary school leavers ever acquire degrees. In this context, it is of particular interest to understand how many and which secondary school leavers manage to obtain degrees, despite weak academic achievement in secondary school or low socio-economic status.

Using integrated data from the 2008 NSC and 2009–2014 HEMIS databases, this policy brief focusses on those learners from the 2008 national matric cohort who, often against expectations, managed to enrol in and complete undergraduate degree studies within six years of writing the matric exams.