Council’s plan for tertiary success
Date Released: Wed, 28 August 2013 14:59 +0200
This year, 22% of the national budget, or R232.5bn, will go to education. That’s an awful lot of money, the lion’s share in fact.
We haven’t, unfortunately, got much bang for our bucks. There is almost universal dismay at the product of South Africa’s schools — too many teenagers have been failed by the education system, beginning in those vital, formative, first six years.
Now the Council on Higher Education, an independent statutory institution, has produced a proposal to reform the country’s undergraduate curricula.
Aside from a bombastic preface by the task team chairman, Njabulo Ndebele, this report deserves close attention, predicated as it is on the assumption that "there is effectively no prospect that (the schooling system) will be able, in the foreseeable future, to produce the numbers of well-prepared matriculants that higher education requires".
This is really worrying.
How are we to define "foreseeable future"? Is it five, 10 or 20 years? Are we being told, indirectly, that the vast sums devoted to education since 1994 have been spent fruitlessly? If account is taken of that disastrous, decade-long experiment with outcomes-based education, the answer must be yes, in many instances.
In stark terms, the council’s report lays out that only 25% of students graduate in regulation time (three years for a three-year degree); only 35% of the total intake by on-campus universities graduate within five years; about 55% of the intake will never graduate; and less than 5% of black and coloured students "are succeeding in any form of higher education".
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said he expected enrolment at higher institutions to reach 990,000 in this financial year. On the basis of the council’s statistics — if they continue to prevail — more than half-a-million of these young men and women will fail. This is untenable.
Faced with this, the council says action is imperative.
Applying a quaint phrase — the articulation gap, because a gap can be closed from either end — it argues that there is no alternative other than "to address the systemic conditions impeding student success".
It found two major structural problems. The first, obviously, is the disconnect between school and higher education.
The second is in key transitions for which students are differentially prepared. Engineering is a prime example in which the transition from basics to engineering sciences to complex problems, design and research expose many students as inadequately prepared because of their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. Another is the BCom degree, of which it says "the broad financial system … is incorrectly taken for granted in the students and hence is never taught".
The task team concluded that to meet the needs of students (presumably as well as those of the nation) it believes the solution is to increase the formal time of all three-year degrees (and four-year professional bachelor’s degrees) by one year.
It says this can be achieved without extending the formal time of core first degrees and diplomas.
Nor is it dogmatic about this.
It calls for flexibility and concedes that some students, which it measures precisely as 27%, currently graduate in regulation time.
Those students in the future who are able to graduate in less than the proposed new time period should be allowed to do so, or be granted exemption from some or all of the new first-level courses.
In case there is concern about the additional costs involved, which it calculates at R716m, it claims this can be funded by dipping into the foundation grant to the tune of R200m and drawing from the teaching development grant (which has goals similar to the proposed new structure).
This is a solidly based and encouraging report, although nothing will succeed as profoundly as getting the schooling system right in the first place.
BY DAVID GLEASON
Article Source: Business Day