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How to choose the right place to study

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Matrics have to make numerous stressful decisions during their last year at school, and they are often neither equipped nor able to access concise and accurate information which will have an extended impact on their lives.

One of these decisions - whether to study at a college, university or private higher-education institution - can be particularly baffling. Especially when students continue to be confronted by myths that certain kinds of institutions are inherently "better' or guarantees employment upon completion of studies.

Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the Independent Institute of Education, says choosing where to study is a personal decision that must be taken with care, as the various institutions are not interchangeable and one size does not fit all.
"When you are making a decision about what to study and where, it is important to note that there is a wide range of different opportunities and that the decision is ultimately a personal one.

"You need to consider what you need, what you can afford and what you would prefer to get from a learning space, and then choose your institution accordingly.'
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande recently encouraged matriculants to not only think of universities when looking at furthering their studies, but to consider all the different opportunities available to them, within the post-school education and training system.

"Our youth must start realising that our post-school education and training system offers far more options than just what our universities have traditionally offered,' he told the class of 2011.

Dr Coughlan welcomed the increased focus on options outside the traditional offering. However she reiterated the minister?s words of caution that students must ensure they are signing up to a reputable institution - whether public or private - that meets their specific needs, to avoid losing precious time and money.

"Always ensure that the institution is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training, but also speak to students and investigate the reputation of an institution before committing money and time,' she says.

Faced with the baffling choice of post-matric institutions available, Coughlan says the following needs to be understood:

1) There are two key institutional types available to prospective students:

a) Public institutions(subsidised by the state)
b) Private institutions (no state subsidy)

2) Both the public and private sectors also host two different kinds of institutions:

a) Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges

? Qualifications are linked to a specific range of jobs or employment possibilities, for instance from beauty therapy through plumbing to IT and business studies
? Currently qualifications normally go no higher than NQF level 4, and are not part of an academic route leading to higher education

b) Higher education institutions
? Qualifications such as degrees, certificates and diplomas from NQF 5 to 10
? Only public institutions are allowed call themselves universitiesin South Africa - Private higher education institutions can offer the exact same range of qualifications up to doctoral degree level, but may not use the term "university'
? Private and public higher education institutions are subject to the same regulation and quality assurance

"Each institution - whether public or private, FET College or higher education institution - has a character and focus of its own,' says Coughlan.

"Several are generalist and you can follow a range of study options, while others are very niche and focused and offer a limited range of specialist qualifications.'
Prospective students, once they have decided what they want to study, must look at which institution best caters to their chosen field of interest, she says.

"Facilities differ based on a range of factors - there are less likely to be science laboratories in a business school and many private institutions are not able to afford large sport fields so work with sports clubs to offer students a work-social balance,' she says.

"Class sizes vary too from institution to institution and while classes in private institutions are normally smaller, this is not always the case.

"It is thus imperative that when you are making a decision about what to study and where, that you recognise that there is a matrix of opportunity available to you. The decision is ultimately a personal one, based on what you need, what you can afford and what you would prefer to get from a learning space.

'These are the considerations that should guide your decision on where to study - not myths and preconceived positions from people who have not fully explored the range of options and are advocating only what is already known to them.'

Use the charts below for ease of reference:

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