South Africa's drop-out rate from tertiary institutions is alarmingly high, with almost 50% of all students entering the tertiary education system not completing their studies. This costs the country billions in cash.
One reason cited by an HSRC study is that students are not equipped with the correct study tools in order to cope with the academic work load in the first years of their degrees.
An online study skills programme, designed to meet the needs of South African students, is one way to equip students with the tools needed to cope with a demanding study regime.
Named Masifunde, after the isiXhosa phrase "let us learn", the study skills programme is a response to the challenges that students face in South Africa, such as the lack of study know-how due to deficient preparation at high school level and high pressure to get a job whilst studying at the same time. In fact the HSRC Student Pathways Study, conducted from 2002-2004, found that "many of those who dropped out had worked to augment their meagre financial resources, no doubt adding to their stress levels".
Using a study skills programme developed by the Oxford University Department for Continued Education as a base for the South African version, TSiBA and Oxford University worked together to form Masifunde.
Tristram Wyatt of Oxford University has been involved in the development process for the programme in South Africa. "The programme is locally adaptable, concentrating on not-for-profit organisations to use with their students," he says.
"It's aim is to arm students with coping tools like good study skills in order to alleviate some of the challenges they are faced with in the quest to qualify with a tertiary education."
Oxford University and TSiBA Education, a non-profit, free-to-student university were a perfect match to launch this project. "TSiBA's strong ethos of helping others fitted well with our own intention of reaching out and helping students," adds Wyatt.
Like any university, TSiBA struggles to retain students because of the socio-economic circumstances in the country and therefore understands the importance of developing a course that will help its students to cope with the workload.
"By offering this course free to other institutions to use with their students, TSiBA's philosophy of, `pay it forward' is mirrored well in this programme" says Leigh Meinert., MD of TSiBA.
"We have been brainstorming a suitable structure for the programme since last year to ensure that it is accessible. By bringing in our own students to tell us what it is they need to get out of the study skills programme, we have been able to set a realistic programme that answers the needs of the students," says Meinert.