May 11, 2005

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 expulsion.

"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 introduced.

"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," believes Ngidi.

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.

Contact: Sibusiso Ngidi, 082 966 7745