Plan to pump up graduate numbers

Heading: 

Primarashni Gower

The education department plans to increase the university student population to 820 000 by 2010, 82 000 more students than in 2005.

It also plans to increase the number of graduates from 120 000 to 150 000 a year by 2010.

In a report to the portfolio committee for education Education Minister Naledi Pandor outlined the student enrolment and output plans for the period to 2010. "Individual universities have been set unique enrolment and output targets which include success rates, graduation rates and minimum number of graduates.'

The department will direct the intake and output of students with targeted outcomes, as opposed to allowing institutions to operate in a vacuum. All institutions are expected to operate within approved parameters. The enrolment plan is linked to a R3,9-billion department allocation to universities from 2007/08 to 2009/10. Funds will be used to increase enrolment and graduation in science, engineering and technology or to support the improvement of teaching and learning infrastructure.

It is, however, worrying that about 50% of undergraduate students drop out of university before completing their qualifications.

The report says enrolments in science, engineering and technology will increase from 29% to 30%; business and management from 29% to 33%; while intakes in the humanities will drop from 42% to 37% by 2010. The number of enrolments for and graduates with master’s and doctoral degrees will increase. Doctoral graduates will increase from 1 200 a year now to 1 700, a 42% increase by 2010.

University of Cape Town (UCT) deputy vice-chancellor Martin Hall says the institution received funds to improve graduation rates and the quality of students.

Duma Malaza, chief executive of the association of vice-chancellors, known as Higher Education South Africa (Hesa), says: "These figures are as result of the department’s planning to ensure both growth and stability within the system . Hesa is concerned with our throughput rate, which still remains below par internationally, and we are working with the department to ensure that we increase our throughput by means of additional resources invested in bringing under-prepared students up to speed.'

However, Brutus Malada, higher education researcher at the Centre for Education Policy Development, says: "It is disappointing to learn that there is no agreement between the national department of education and the department of science and technology [DST] targets. The DST draft Human Capital Development strategy talks about the production of 12 000 PhDs a year while the department of education talks about 1 700 a year. We need consensus on a national human capital development strategy and on what is achievable within the limits of resources and capacity of our higher education institutions.'