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Varsities in success row

Date Released: Tue, 18 June 2013 08:59 +0200

Department's report on graduation figures comes under fire.

Two of the Eastern Cape's four universities have criticised figures released by the Department of Higher Education and Training that show low graduation rates.

The figures are contained in the department's first annual statistical report released this year. According to the report — "Statistics on Post-School Education and Training in South Africa" — the average graduation rate among the four Eastern Cape universities for 2011 was 20%. Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and the University of Fort Hare (UFH) said the department had used a misleading formula.

According to the statistical report, with data collected in 2011: Only 19% of undergraduate students (both degrees and diplomas) received a qualification at NMMU; Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and UFH both scored an 18% graduation rate; and Rhodes University (RU) topped the log with 25%.

The graduation rate among undergraduate students in South Africa's 23 universities is 15%, says the report.

The department calculated the percentages by comparing the number of graduates in 2011 with the total enrolment for that year.

UFH director of planning and quality assurance Professor Rod Bally called the report's graduation rate "grossly misleading".

He said it would be more accurate to take a particular group of students and follow their progress. "On this basis, one can see how many really do graduate, within what period of time." If Bally's method had been used, UFH would have recorded a 36.7% graduation rate.

NMMU spokeswoman Roslyn Baatjies said the department's figures misrepresented the data used. She said the department's graduation rate included first and second year students but only students in their final year could graduate. She said the growth of universities was also not catered for. "If an institution grows fast, enrolments in the initial years will be higher than in the final year."

She said about 52% of NMMU students graduate from the university. Rhodes deputy vice-chancellor Dr Peter Clayton said the graduation rates contained in the report were representative as they were in line with the department's Higher Education Information Management System as "percentage of all those registered in that year for the particular degree level".

"[Saying only 25% of students graduate] suggests that one might expect 100% of students to graduate. This is not how the benchmark works. "Take the 25% of undergraduate students, for example.

At Rhodes, undergraduate students are made up of a mix of students registered for three-year and four-year qualifications. "This would not take into account different numbers of students in different years of study, the reality that some students have hiccup years and have to repeat them, so take longer, and so on.

As it turns out, 25% of undergraduate students in the mix of three and four-year degrees graduating at Rhodes is the highest graduation rate for this category of students in the country."

For masters and doctoral degrees, NMMU scored a 21% and 13% graduation rate, according to the statistical report. Rhodes figures stood at 26% and 14%, respectively. Only 11% of masters students graduated at WSU, while 21% did at Fort Hare. WSU and Fort Hare recorded 13% and 17% in their doctoral degrees respectively.

WSU was the only university not to dispute the department's figures. Spokeswoman Angela Church said the figures were not a misrepresentation but "the national formula used to gauge success at universities". "It just means out of WSU's student population that many graduated, leaving the rest still in the system," she said.

The Department of Higher Education's spokeswoman, Sibongiseni Dlamini, could not respond to questions, but said the department would hold a press briefing on the statistics later this week.

Photo Caption: PETER CLAYTON

By: Zandile Mbabela, Thulani Gqirana & Michael Kimberley

Source: HERALD (Morning Final)