Easier access does not equal more opportunities
This week it was reported that universities will be flooded by applications due to the fact that it will be easier to achieve a national senior certificate bachelors pass. One expert was quoted as saying that South African universities already received five to nine times more applications than they can accommodate.
Compare this to a statement that was attributed to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga earlier this year – that there are 208 000 places for matriculants at universities compared with the 153 610 who qualified with a bachelor’s pass in 2017 – and it begs the question: how many places are there available for successful matriculants at university next year?
Using the University of Johannesburg’s 2017 annual report and the fact that it indicated in January this year that it had received 115 000 applications for 10 500 first-year spaces it is possible to extrapolate a more realistic number if read in conjunction with the education statistics as published on the South African Market Insights website.
• In 2016 a total of 975 837 students were enrolled at all South African Universities, but only about 560 000 of these were enrolled for undergraduate degrees.
• If 30% of these enrolments were reserved for new first years it would leave 168 000 available spaces.
• Consider that at least 5% of these will be taken up by foreign students, and you are left with only 159 600 spaces
At first glance it seems as if there are about 5500 additional spaces available, but it would be unrealistic to think that only the matriculants who attended government schools from the previous year are vying for the available spaces. There are Independent Examinations Board candidates with better marks, those who took a gap year, those who obtained a qualification that now enables them to go to university, those who now qualify for an age exemption and those who re-enter the system after earlier failures. Include these and the available places are quickly taken up.
It also makes sense to exclude Unisa from the calculation of available spaces because its spaces are quickly filled by working people who decide to study part-time or the 40+% of students who didn’t succeed at a traditional or comprehensive university the first time.
The majority of matriculants aspire to full-time, contact studies and only see Unisa as a back-up option. If we then exclude Unisa, the available first-year spaces drop to about 110 500. This would mean that more than 43 000 of the 2017 Grade 12s, who achieved a bachelor’s pass didn’t go to university this year.
If this situation continue, we would have 215 000 disgruntled pupils after 5 years, 430 000 after 10 years and 860 000 after 20 years. In reality these pupils simply fill the next tear of diploma spaces, and if that runs out, certificate spaces. It is not those with bachelor’s passes who have nowhere to go, it is those with lessor passes who will find themselves without a place to study at a public institution.
Making it easier to achieve a bachelor’s pass is clearly not the answer and the government must find ways to work more closely with the private education industry.
• Jacques de Villiers is chief executive of the Growth Institute, a private college offering a range of commercial, tourism and hotel management programmes