Alma materialistic: How varsities short-change students

03 May 2018 - 08:01 By Jonathan Jansen
Image: 123rf

I remember the moment with great clarity. During a workshop at a certain university the senior lecturer said to me as facilitator: “Sometimes they struggle so much to write‚ I just write the thesis for them.”

This could not possibly be true so I stopped everything and asked my fellow academic: “I am sure I misheard you; could you please repeat what you said?”

My heart nearly stopped. I looked around the room to see whether the shock had registered among the 50 or so other participants attending. Nope. Dead quiet‚ and I could swear one or two of them nodded with understanding. That was the end of the workshop.

How do you know the worth of your child’s degree? Yes‚ of course there was graduation and a certificate was handed over. But what was it really worth? What knowledge and skills were really learnt?

This is the unspoken scandal of university education in South Africa today. The low standards of the school system have infiltrated universities. It was inevitable — students who have to scale a low passing hurdle (remember the 30% and 40% pass requirement?) obtain a so-called Bachelors pass that underwrites entry to university. It should not surprise therefore that more than half of the first-year enrolments fail or drop out and only a third of funded students graduate in five years.

The main reason for this state of affairs is the poor academic preparation of incoming students. Even if every student had full funding‚ as the promise of free higher education suggests‚ this will not change the outcome — most students will fail to pass.

So what do universities do? To put it bluntly‚ they try to make it easier for one simple reason — the more students fail‚ the less money universities make.