Millions of rands of taxpayer's money is being ploughed into the South African education system, yet students not completing their courses have reached worrying proportions.
In some cases only 15% of students starting a course actually complete it, an alarming number that has prompted universities such as TsiBA in the Western Cape to investigate the reasons for students leaving and possible solutions to increase the numbers of students completing their studies.
According to a recent study of about 34 000 students by the Human Sciences Research Council, 20,000 of them dropped out of their courses, with 14 000 graduating.
The study clearly shows that socio-economic circumstances play a significant role in students dropping out, irrespective of the burden of study fees.
The research states that the low socio-economic status family background was more pronounced among leavers in previously disadvantaged universities ranging between 74% and 82%.
"While we run an institution for students at no cost to them, our drop-out rates are similar to the national norm. A reason that is often given by our students is that they should rather be getting a job and earning an income for their families instead of studying for four years", says Leigh Meinert, MD of TSiBA
According to the survey most leavers left at the end of their first year or midway through their second year. Lack of finance emerged from the data as the major impediment for the completion of studies, particularly amongst students where the household income ranges between R400.00 and R1600.00.
The study further finds that "financial difficulties compelled most of the leavers to take up full-time, part-time or odd jobs, earning between R1 601.00-R3 200.00 a month. While this was necessary in order to augment their meagre financial resources, there is no doubt that juggling study and work proved to be another reason for not focusing on studies".
"We have discussed this situation at length and whilst we do encourage our students to find work after studies, it is their friends who have left school and gone straight into employment that they are comparing themselves to. Their families are often coming to the same conclusions and inadvertently pressurise their children to find a better job and to leave their studies", adds Meinert, who urges that an equitable solution to the problem needs to be addressed at all levels.
"Part-time employment after studies and during semesters, though recommended is not compulsory and the reticence of some employers to pay students a living wage is perhaps shortsighted.
"Education is key to success, both to the individual and to the country as a whole. I believe that all of us have a responsibility to ensure that a student's path to success is unmarred by financial concerns. A continuation of the status quo will definitely prevail if action is not taken to remedy this problem", ends Meinert