Desperate matrics swamp universities
Desperate matriculants spent last night sleeping in a queue outside the University of Johannesburg, determined to be accepted for a degree course.
About 63400 hopefuls have applied to study at the university - which can offer only 13000 first-year places.
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of aspirant students battled for fewer than 50000 places at seven sought-after universities, including:
- The University of KwaZulu-Natal, which received more than 59800 applications for first-year studies but can only accommodate 40000 students in all years;
- The University of the Western Cape, where about 30000 matrics applied for 4300 first-year places;
- Johannesburg's Wits University, where 32000 matriculants applied for 5500 first-year places;
- The University of Pretoria, which attracted 34000 undergraduate applicants but has space for only 13000;
- The University of Cape Town, to which 18000 students applied for 4000 first-year places;
- The University of the Free State, which has 4500 first-year places and an estimated 12000 applications; and
- Stellenbosch University, which has 4700 first-year places but 11000 applicants.
Doron Isaacs, co-ordinator of the non-government organisation Equal Education, said: "There's an understanding in the minds of young people that the door to success, or lifting yourself out of poverty, or entering the career you choose, is the door of a university."
Nembahe Lavhelesa, 19, and his friend Mukhonwa Khathutshelo, 17, are desperate to study engineering and law respectively at the University of Johannesburg. They are now beginning their third day in the applicants' queue.
Lavhelesa said: "We plan to sleep here tonight so that we'll be at the front of the queue tomorrow.''
The two, from Tembisa, on the East Rand, said they obtained university exemptions "against all odds" at Lwamondo High School.
"We had strikes and the 2010 World Cup - so many disruptions that we didn't get enough time to be at school. I can only thank God that I made it," Lavhelesa said.
His joy was replaced by frustration as he stood in a 5km queue that University of Johannesburg registrar Marie Muller said she had personally measured.
Muller said the university had received far more applications than last year because it offers degree, diploma and certificate courses.
In addition, many pupils who failed to be admitted on the strength of their Grade 11 matric marks when they applied a year ago were now able to reapply. Some pupils, she said, had improved their matric marks by as much as 40%.
And the university's marketing drive had been more successful than expected, Muller said.
She said many university applicants were driven by the belief that a university education was the key to securing a good job.
"There is a perception that, if I finished matric, I can go to university and that, if I finished matric, you have to accommodate me," she said.
"People are absolutely desperate. And the parents come with them and they are devastated [if their child cannot be admitted]."
Carol Crosley, head of Wits University's student enrolment centre, said competition for first-year places was "unbelievably fierce".
"We certainly had to turn a lot of people away and we're dealing with the best pool of applicants," said Crosley.
Isaacs said "young people understand that to change your circumstances you have to get an education".
Moloantoa Molaba, spokesman for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, said there was a "bad culture" of students flooding institutions at the beginning of the academic year.
"Some people, for some reason or another, believe that universities have a higher level of prestige," he said.
Molaba reiterated comments made by Nzimande earlier this week that matrics should consider alternatives to university, including further education and training colleges and the defence force.
"Family and role models should go to the nearest colleges to see what is available," said Molaba.
Duma Malaza, CEO of Higher Education SA, an association of universities and technikons, said: "The problem is that there are too few post-school education opportunities in our country."
He said there were too few further education and training colleges, which placed a greater demand on the university system "which has limited capacity".
"The plan of the Department of Higher Education is to expand the further education and training college system considerably to reduce the pressure on the universities."
Malaza said his association was concerned about the high number of unsuccessful university applicants.
"The solution lies in the restructuring of the post-school system so that there is greater participation in further education and training. This is the pattern internationally. This will also reduce the cost of post-school education," he said.
Banks are experiencing a wave of applications for student loans. FNB spokesman Pieter du Toit said demand for student loans had more than doubled year-on-year.