Council on Higher Education releases damning report on higher Education in SA

Council on Higher Education South Africa


The Council on Higher Education (CHE) has published a damning report on the state of university graduates in the country. The report reveals that less than 5% of all black and coloured students are capable of succeeding at university, and more than 50% of university students do not complete their degrees and graduate.

The report outlines that the leading cause for the atrocious student performance at university level is primarily due to the inadequate academic performance at school. Furthermore, the report states that given the current schooling curriculum and systems, there is little hope that the South African schooling system will be adequately be able to prepare matriculants to levels required by higher education institutions in the near future.

The CHE is the statutory body that assist and advises the minister of higher education. The team tasked with this report and investigation includes former University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Njabulo Ndebele, , renowned scientist Wieland Gevers, former Unisa vice-chancellor Barney Pityana and UCT educationist Professor Ian Scott.

THe CHE report has highlighted a number of facts and reasons for higher education institutions to change undergraduate degrees. The primary change suggested by the report is to extend all undergraduate degrees by 1 year. Extending all undergraduate degrees by a year is crucial if our education system has any hope of producing quality students required for social and economic development in the country.

Earlier in the year, the task team stated that the dropout, failure and graduation rates have simply not changed ever since the the most reliable means of measuring these facts and trend were employed 13 years ago.

The CHE task team left no stone unturned when formulating the case of radical reform in our education system and the way we go about preparing high school student for university and other higher education institutions. The distressing future of higher education in the country include major shortcoming for the overall graduate numbers in equity as well in the percentage of students that succeed.

Despite the fact that there is a small percentage of students who possess excellent academic potential and performance at university levels, this is marred by the high dropout levels and failing students.

  • Approximately 1 in 4 students attending full time institutions complete their degrees in regulation time
  • Only 35% of the total students who enroll for degrees and and 48% of full time students complete their degrees within 5 years
  • After allowances are made for students to take longer than 5 years to complete their degrees or return to study after dropping out, it is estimated that approximately 55% of these students will never qualify and graduate
  • Access, success and completion rates continue to be racially skewed. The white community, generally, has a 50% higher chance of completing their degrees as compared to African rates
  • Given the disparities in access and success, the net result is that less than 5% of African and Coloured students are able to succeed at higher level education institutions.


Incompetent schooling system

I order for the country to achieve its development goals and objectives, higher education would require at least 2 to 3 times more students that are being produced by pre-tertiary educational institutions. This equates to roughly 100 000 additional students according toe the CHE report. The report points to the fact that currently neither the schooling or further education and training (FET) college systems will be able to achieve these numbers.

The report states that the education department must continue to address the dysfunctional schooling system, however, the overwhelming evidence coming out of the analyses of schools and current education system points to the fact that there is effectively little or zero hope that the country will be able to produce sufficient numbers of matriculantsĀ  required by higher educational institutions.

There is also a lot of skepticism with regard to FET colleges being able to produce the required number of good quality students that is required by higher level education institutions.

Given these facts and analyses, the country and higher education sector will have to make a choice between continuing on the current path andĀ  maintaining the status quo or electing to choose and act on the factors that are well within their control in order to address systemic conditions hampering student success.


Duration and flexibility of higher education degrees

The task team is without a doubt in favor of the second option and introduce a newly “flexible curriculum structure”.

Duration – in order to accomplish and achieve the needs of the vast majority of students, the length of all 3 year degrees and diplomas, along with 4 year bachelor degrees, would need to be increase by one year.

Flexibility – The new curriculum structure and format should be more flexible in order to allow students to complete their degrees or programs in less that formal time if they able to so so.

The CHE report includes an exhaustive financial report indicating that the cost increases associated with longer course lengths would without a doubt be outweighed by the improved rates of graduation.

The overall conclusion of the task team is that by implementing the new structure would be financially viable for the country and “would constitute the most resource-efficient way of achieving substantial graduate growth” in the country.

The CHE report is open to public comment until November 29.

To view and comment on the report , please go to the CHE website –




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