Students have lost confidence in the quality of universities in South Africa: survey

 ·9 Jun 2022

The Professional Provident Society (PPS) has warned that government needs to do more to improve the standard of education in South Africa, saying that students themselves have largely lost faith in the quality of learning they receive at universities.

A recent survey conducted by the financial services group found that as many as 25% of studying professionals felt they were insufficiently prepared for higher education, while 43% of the students said that they had been moderately prepared. The survey included responses from 3,304 students with a focus on professional degrees.

The majority of students said they had no confidence in the standard of higher education offered by South African universities when compared internationally. Only 20% of the students surveyed believe that local universities offer competitive education, on par with their international counterparts.

“One sure way to reduce socio-economic inequity is through quality education that meets the economy’s needs,” said Motshabi Nomvethe, head of technical marketing at PPS.

“Good quality education at school and undergraduate levels will be required to support the government’s 2030 vision. World Bank-sponsored research supports this view noting that raising education and skills levels are crucial not only for increasing workforce productivity but also for enhancing the innovative capacity of the economy and facilitating the absorption and diffusion of new technology.”

The NDP plan 

Despite the concerns, the government says it is well on track to meet its education goals.

In 2011, the government released the National Development Plan (NDP) for 2030, a blueprint to guide the future development of South Africa. The NDP set ambitious targets for higher education and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in particular:

  • Increase university science and maths entrants to 450,000;
  • Increase graduation rates to more than 25% by 2030 – this involves a significant increase of graduates in STEM fields; and
  • Produce more than 100 doctoral graduates per million per year by 2030 – most of these should be in STEM.

Responding in a recent written parliamentary Q&A, higher education minister Blade Nzimande said the country was on track to meet these goals.

“It should be noted that the achievement of the 2030 targets is directly linked to the availability of funding from the fiscus. Whilst positive progress has been made despite funding challenges, the Post-School Education and Training service delivery environment has recently been impacted by the effects of the Covid-19 global health pandemic,” he said.

Nzimande added that access to universities has grown substantially over the past 10 years, indicating that the country is on track to reach the NDP target of 1.6 million enrolments by 2030.

He noted that over 1.3 million students enrolled at public and private universities during the 2020 academic year, while graduation rates have also grown significantly.

“Student completions show that 237,882 (107%) students completed a university qualification. Doctoral graduates constitute 3,552 (107%), 12,652 (86%) engineering graduates, 9,642 (91%) life and physical sciences graduates, 9,646 (88%) human health sciences graduates, 12,922 (92%) masters graduates (all masters graduates), 1,075 animal and veterinary sciences graduates, and 30,809 (108%) initial teacher education.

“Progress made on the quality of teaching provided at universities demonstrates that the country is on track to meet the 75% NDP target by 2030. To date, 49.3% of university academic staff hold PhD degrees.”

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