By Gabi Khumalo
Government is to increase the number of tertiary institutions to reach its target of 20 percent enrolment of young people aged between 18 and 25 in the higher education system by 2015.
Speaking at the Higher Education Working Group meeting chaired by President Thabo Mbeki, to discuss critical issues facing the sector, Education Minister Naledi Pandor said that the system would have to take on more than 100 000 extra students between 2010 and 2015 if government is to reach its target of 20 percent.
The minister highlighted the need to address the capacity in the higher education system as the current establishment cannot handle a planned increase in the number of students.
"It is clear that the current number of institutions would not be able to absorb 100 000 pupils into the system to counter skills shortages, which means we would have to address the resourcing of the system we have and the number of institutions,' said Ms Pandor.
She further said that at presently there are 740 000 students enrolled at tertiary institutions and targeted 820 000 by 2010.
Higher Education South Africa (HESA) Chairperson, Principal and vice Chancellor of the University of South Africa, Dr Barney Pityana said the academics made a proposal to the minister for the formation of a task team to explore the viability of a four-year undergraduate degree.
He said the proposal, which was accepted by government, would see the undergraduate degree being completed in four years instead of the current three.
"It may have a major impact on cost, but would improve the cost structure because more students would be able to complete their degrees in four-year time," said Dr Pityana.
It is estimated that over 70 percent of students do not complete their degrees within three years, some drop-out while others fail.
Early this month, the department and HESA formed a partnership that deals with the "crucial" link between schools and universities, and the consequences of policy and curriculum changes.
According to the two institutions, the higher education's success in producing quality graduates depends on the output of the schooling system.
They indicated that Grade 9 learners must choose school subjects that suit their intellectual interest and desired career paths, including the option of higher education.
"Strengthening this link is crucial; especially following the finalisation of the new schools curriculum for Grades 10 to 12 - National Curriculum Statement and the new exit qualification - the National Senior Certificate (NSC).
"We have intrinsic interest in developing an informed learner pipeline into the higher education system and therefore we need a flow of information that extends from choices made in grade nine to career choices made after one graduates with a degree or diploma," the two institutions said.