University dropouts outnumber graduates

22 August 2013 - 02:59 By Tebogo Monama

Only 5% of black and coloured students who enter higher education complete their studies.

This is the disturbing picture painted by the Council for Higher Education's task team report on the undergraduate curriculum structure.

The task team, chaired by Professor Njabulo Ndebele, was born out of concerns about the performance of undergraduates in higher education.

The council was mandated to make recommendations on improving the output and results of graduates.

"More than a third of the best-performing group - white students in contact institutions [mainly historically advantaged universities] - fail to graduate within five years.

"African and coloured five-year completion rates are under 50% in most programmes, and - with the exception of health sciences and education - are unacceptably low in the professional degree programmes."

When the statistics are broken down by population groups, white and Indian students outperform others, but by only small margins.

For a three-year Bachelor of Commerce degree at contact institutions, 49% of blacks and 44% of coloureds graduate within the first five years of study; Indians and whites are at 65% and 68% respectively.

"Within the generally poor performance patterns, there nevertheless continue to be substantial racial disparities. Very small proportions of African, coloured and Indian students graduate in regulation time.

"By the end of the regulation time in all three qualification types, more students have been lost to failure and dropout than have graduated - more than twice as many in the case of African and diploma students," the report says.

University of Cape Town senior lecturer Dr Alan Cliff said the low number of black and coloured students that graduate meant that "we can never develop as a country".

"We need to create conditions in higher education that make it easy for deserving students to enter the system," Cliff said. Part of the reason black and coloured students did not make it was related to the residual effects of inequality.