Flood of first-years but many won’t make it

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - SIHLE MANDA sihle.manda@inl.co.za

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.

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