A waste of potential
In this extract from his new book As by Fire, Jonathan Jansen examines the limitations of the university enrolment system
never have been admitted to university, given his matriculation certificate; or Sipho will never pass at a university level even if his original school certificate qualified him for tertiary studies.
Few university leaders understand that difficult transition from school to university better than Sizwe Mabizela, the vice-chancellor of Rhodes University. A kind-hearted man with boundless empathy for students, he once headed the quality assurance body that sets the standards for schoolleaving certificates.
Says Mabizela: “What is actually happening, and has been happening for a long time, is that universities are receiving more and more students who are unprepared for higher education.
“And if you look at the performance of our public higher education system, the dropout rates are frightening. In fact, almost half of the young people who enrol at our public higher education institutions leave the system without a qualification of one kind or another.
“That, of course, is a colossal waste of human potential, and the reason why they’re in that predicament is that there aren’t any viable, attractive post-school education and training opportunities except university.
“I’ve argued on a number of occasions that this country does not need more people with university degrees. What this country desperately needs, at its level of development, are more young people with artisanal skills. One can pour in money to deal with the funding of higher education.
“But that, in and of itself, will not make the significant difference, because you have young people in a public higher education system who should not have been there in the first place, who would have benefited by going to a technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college.
“Unfortunately, those colleges are not institutions of choice at the moment. And so, as part of resolving the challenges of higher education, we need to pay greater attention to our TVET colleges. Make them institutions of choice.”