Varsity is toughest for African males
Gender plays a role, but mainly poor facilities at schools
Thabang Mamushi faces the prospect of attending lectures on an empty stomach for the rest of the year because his annual meal allowance is nearly exhausted.
The University of Pretoria student, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in political science, matriculated at Kgahlanamorulana Secondary in Limpopo in 2016.
Unlike the facilities at former Model C schools, the 21-year-old’s school — a no-fee-paying school — did not have a library, laboratory or even flush toilets.
He believes that under-resourced schools are one of the reasons for the poor graduation rate of black African students.
Latest research by the department of higher education found that female students outperformed males in all diploma and degree qualifications.
More than half of white female students who enrolled for a four-year degree at university in 2008 graduated in the stipulated time compared with 27.4% of African males.
The study tracked the dropout and success rate of undergraduates from 2000 to 2016. It said further research needed to be undertaken “to understand why male students are not performing as well as female students”.
Mamushi, a second-year student from Kgaphamadi in Limpopo, receives a bursary from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). “There is no-one at home who has been to university, so the only support I get is the comment, ‘you must study’,” he said.
Fellow student Chanél de Wet, 19, had a middle-class upbringing and went to Middelburg High in Mpumalanga.
“I was very privileged to attend a former Model C school, which I think was a huge benefit,” she said.
Dr André van Zyl, director of the Academic Development Centre at the University of Johannesburg, said male students were performing “slightly poorer” than females.
He said that black African students faced a “cluster of issues” that made the chance of success at university more difficult. This included severe socioeconomic challenges, attending under-resourced schools and not speaking English as a first language.
Gasant Abarder, a spokesperson for the University of the Western Cape, said financial pressure was still a major issue for many students, even those on bursaries.
the state of tertiary education
141,850 First-time undergraduate students in 2016
68.9% of National Student Financial Aid Scheme students from the 2008 group graduated
34.6% of undergraduate students from the 2008 group dropped out after 10 years
“Money is needed for accommodation, transport, food, toiletries and other resources. Some students do receive funding which covers all these costs, but many do not.
“We track and monitor students at risk and have focused interventions on most failed modules as well as other discipline-specific initiatives such as the maths turnaround project,” said Abarder.
Nelson Mandela University spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said a large number of its first-time entering students came from the poorest schools.
She said that it was difficult for all new students to transition to university studies and “even more difficult for those who come from deep rural and under-resourced schools”.
Wits University, the University of Cape Town, the University of Pretoria and Unisa said that more females than males from their 2008 groups had graduated.
Wits deputy vice-chancellor for academics, Professor Andrew Crouch, said it had implemented a pre-university enrichment programme for academically talented grade 10 and 11 pupils.
The University of Pretoria said that its analysis found that females “outperformed” males.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said 83.9% of female and 75.9% of male students from the 2008 group had graduated by 2017. He said the fewest number of students to have graduated from the 2008 group were African male students.
Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said it was evident that overall, females achieved better success rates at school level and that this flowed into higher education.
Ishmael Mnisi, a spokesperson for the department of higher education, said: “Student success is improving in the system although it is not yet at the levels we would like it to be.”
Recent research by Nic Spaull and Nwabisa Makaluza from the University of Stellenbosch found that girls outperformed boys in all subjects and grades at school.