Flood of first-years but many won’t make it
THOUSANDS of first-year students will flood tertiary institution lecture halls when the academic year resumes next month, but hundreds will also drop out before the end of the year.
This was the trend over recent years, four Gauteng higher education institutions said in response to The Star’s queries.
Although the institutions refrained from providing statistics, they all agreed that firstyear students in the engineering faculty were the most likely to call it quits.
Vaal University of Technology spokesperson Mike Khuboni said the institution was experiencing a big number of firstyear dropouts. His sentiments were echoed by Wits University, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT).
The engineering faculty, Khuboni said, had the most casualties, but that could not be attributed to one factor.
Khuboni said factors that contributed significantly to students calling it quits included:
The standard of preparedness by first-year students for university education;
Issues related to socioeconomic factors; The university environment; Peer pressure. UJ and SA National Resource Centre acting director Andre van Zyl concurred, saying many students struggled to adjust to university life – socially and academically – while others dropped out due to financial constraints.
However, he said figures at UJ suggested that students on government grants were outperforming the “missing middle” and self-funded students.
Van Zyl added there was no doubt that 40 to 60 percent of dropouts were in the first year.
Wits University spokesperson Buhle Zuma said the university did not release dropout rate figures as these could “easily be misinterpreted”.
“Figures alone do not take into account the myriad reasons that lead to students not successfully completing their studies,” she said.
Factors, Zuma said, ranged broadly.
“These could range from change of career interest to illhealth or lack of motivation. There are other social and family circumstances that could lead to students not pursuing their studies to the end.
“Some students de-register mid-year because they do not meet the requirements to continue with a particular programme due to academic requirements,” she said.
The institutions said they all offered programmes designed to ease the transition from high school to university.
Cohort studies were notoriously difficult and it was often hard to track actual dropout rates, said TUT spokesperson Willa de Ruyter.
The institution’s statistics indicate that 19 percent of students admitted in 2014 dropped out at the end of their first year.
“Based on early observations and evidence from literature, it is clear that the reasons for students to drop out are complicated and varied. Because of the differences in teaching and learning at school level and at university, first-time students are often inadequately prepared for the transition into higher education,” she said.
De Ruyter added that at school, pupils were prepared to pass exams, with a lot of emphasis being placed on the final Grade 12 exams, while “when they arrive at institutions of higher learning they are expected to be independent thinkers who can effectively engage with the content and curriculum and critique what they are learning”.
TUT, she added, had introduced TUT 101, a compulsory programme for all first-year students that was aimed at bridging the gap between school and university.