With the application deadline for most universities are only weeks away, and for some professional programmes already closed, another crop of matrics are once again set for disappointment.
Perhaps because they waited too late to submit their applications, didn’t realise the extent of competition for the limited space in the public higher education sector, or failed to take into consideration the fact that quality post-school opportunities are not only available within the public sector.
“We expect the headlines to show little change from previous years, as thousands upon thousands of students vie for relatively few available spaces in the public sector, and too many uninformed prospective students enter the new year without a viable study option,” said Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education institution.
“This can happen for a number of reasons, but often the underlying problems included waiting too late to apply, not understanding the application criteria, not qualifying for application, or not rating sufficiently compared to other candidates where there was limited course space.”
“Perhaps the key reason that is insufficiently explored, is failure on the part of students to apply to more than one institution and to apply within different parts of the sector – public and private,” she said.
Coughlan said that there are on-going laudable efforts to increase the number of places within public sector universities and FET Colleges, but that these are unlikely to ever be able to meet the demand for spaces. Furthermore, they should not be expected to do so.
“A vibrant, well regulated private sector is a strong ally in the national process of offering meaningful post school education opportunities for students.”
The government’s plan to create a central processing house for students – to minimise the cost and complexity of multiple applications – is commendable. However this is not yet in place, will not reduce competition for sought after places and unless registered private institutions are included, will not necessarily contribute sufficiently to resolving the problems.
“Until there is a comprehensive solution in place, students need to ensure that they are keeping their own options open.”
South Africa’s existing unitary quality assurance and accreditation system means that public and private higher education qualifications are formally held to the same standard.
“This creates an enabling environment for students to consider real options outside of the public sector and they should be encouraged to do so. Prospective students are often not aware of the additional choices available to them beyond approaching a public university, or that there are numerous accredited private institutions whose degrees and qualifications are widely recognised and respected – locally and abroad.”
“While there is still a little bit of time left, prospective students must be urged to visit institutions in both the public and private sector. Visit campuses and speak to existing students, read through the prospectus and speak to an enrolment counsellor. Determine what it is that you want to do, where you want to do it, and very importantly, what you need to qualify and when your application needs to be in.”
Coughlan said that while school-leavers have traditionally focused on gaining entry into a public sector university, it has become imperative that a bigger awareness was created around alternative avenues of education.