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How to unclog higher education

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The South African higher education system is congested, with students taking too long to pass qualifications.
There are currently 1-million higher education students in the system, 400 000 of which are causing a bottleneck in the system, making it difficult for new students to enter due to a cap of the number of students who can be accommodated.
Audited data from six institutions shows that between 11% and 31% of students completed their selected three-year qualification in the minimum allocated time of three years. This increases to between 38% and 57% after a further two years.
According to Professor Thea de Wet, director at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Academic Technologies, this is not just a South African problem, but a global one.
But South African universities lose millions when students drop out. For example, 1 650 first year students dropping out in 2015 would have cost a university more than R75-million in lost revenue.
Dolf Jordaan, deputy director: e-learning at the University of Pretoria, says the effective use of educational technologies to facilitate teaching and learning has shown to improve throughput as evident in international and national case studies.
Previously disadvantaged students can’t get through the system for reasons that are not only related to academics, but also related to socio-economic issues such as finance and food.
“Expensive accommodation near campuses or expensive transport needed for living further afield is one example. A student from Diepsloot, Johannesburg can pay over R50 a day for transport,” de Wet adds.
A number of institutions identify students at risk, reach out to them and enable improvement to keep them on track to achieve the highest possible grades.
The national average at universities for students completing a three-year degree in the minimum time of three years is 21%.
“Blackboard Predict is a tool which identifies the students that need additional help in particular modules. UJ will be using its existing tutor system and refocusing existing support services more efficiently because we would be able to identify students needing support in real time,” says De Wet.
“The total view of the student is integrated to provide the most meaningful and effective interventions.
“UJ will focus on first year students. We are currently working on a pilot with Blackboard, and by 2019, we plan to implement it for all undergraduate students”
Academic readiness, customised modeling and the use of UJ’s current extensive tutor system are all components of the programme.