The IFP has been under a strong impression
that it was a long-term government priority to increase student
numbers in the South African tertiary institutions. Now it seems
that the government intends to reduce the student population at
universities by implementing stringent criteria for admission.
Those admitted will be obliged to pass their first year or face
"The IFP is shocked. The policy of
reducing student numbers runs against everything the government
has been promising people from disadvantaged backgrounds for
years," said Sibusiso Ngidi, IFP MPP in the KwaZulu-Natal
Provincial Parliament and provincial spokesperson on education.
The department of education will urge
university principals to limit entry-level students and decline
admission to those who fail their first year. The proposal is
contained in a document titled "Student Enrolment Planning
in Higher Education", which calls for a five-year decrease
of student enrolment figures at institutions of higher learning
to cut costs. This is in a bid to reduce the huge financial
losses caused by the high dropout rates that tertiary
institutions have to contend with.
The proposal has identified repeat
learners, who fail their first year of study, as among the major
drain on financial expenditure by institutions of higher
learning. It calls on universities not to "automatically
enrol" repeaters. The discussion document, which has been
circulated to all vice-chancellors, proposes "growth
constraints" and "admission capping" to be
"This would involve institutions
ensuring that failing students are not permitted to renew their
registrations in any automatic way, but more importantly
ensuring that larger proportions of their students complete
their qualifications in the shortest possible time," the
document says. It says the increase in numbers of admissions,
due to higher enrolment rates of black students, has coincided
with high failure rates and dropouts, raising concerns that some
universities increased admission to get government funding.
"The government must not only
increase funding, but allocate the existing money more
efficiently. Considerably more resources should be directed at
providing support structure for students most likely to drop out
in the first year of study. In other words, the government
should attempt to cure the underlying disease, not the
symptoms," said Ngidi.
The IFP contends that the students most
likely to drop out of universities do invariably come from the
previously disadvantaged backgrounds. "A large majority of
these young people lack cultural capital to cope with the
pressures and demands of academic life. If granted appropriate
support structures, most of these students would pass,"
The IFP maintains that the government's
role is to ensure equal access to educational opportunities by
establishing an enabling environment in terms of skills and
resources. "In the current dilemma, this means investing
into support structures, not denying thousands of failing
students a second chance," concludes Ngidi.