RESEARCH | The state of higher institution learning in South Africa - Youth Capital
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RESEARCH | The state of higher institution learning in South Africa

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The latest annual report from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) covers in detail and at length all aspects of higher institutions of learning in South Africa for the year 2021/22. In this blog post, we unpack the participation and completion rates of students  through the various institutions.

A total of 237 882 graduates have been produced at public universities during 2020. The good news is that the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college sector has increased completion rates for N3 qualifications to 90.8% and for the National Certificate (Vocational) (NC(V)) Level 4 to 56.2%. However, the N6 completion rate has decreased to 24.5% – this means that only 1 in 4 students who registered to write the exam actually wrote and passed successfully. This is a critical red flag that cannot be ignored.

Read more: Pathways from school to work for young South Africans 

What gives hope is that the 80% attendance requirement for admission into examinations was revised during the 2020 academic year, and this may have contributed to lower class attendance by N6 students and therefore, reflects poorer performance. On the whole, more female students were registered, wrote and subsequently completed national qualifications across the TVET college sector when compared to their male counterparts. However, Stats SA confirmed that the unemployment rate for women is still higher than the one for males.

The annual under-graduate cohort report shows that while there has been a general improvement in the throughput rates at university when comparing the 2000 cohort to the 2011  (where ten years of data is available) and the 2014 cohort (where only seven years of data is available), the overall throughput remains low with 61.0% of the 2011 cohort graduating after ten years and 67.3% of the 2014 cohort graduating after seven years. This means that we’re wasting the potential of young people and valuable resources in the university sector, with roughly 3 in 10 who start not completing a degree.

In our recent conversations with young people at various TVET colleges across the country, we understood that many are studying in the field of Business Administration. This is confirmed by this report, with enrolment in the fields of Business, Commerce and Management Studies accounting for almost half of the total number of students in Public Higher Education Institutions  during the period- this is  a trend that  has persisted over the past nine years. But are these the skills that are sought after in the market? If we look at the expertise listed on the 2022 Critical Skills  list for South Africa, the majority are related to the field of Physical, Mathematical, Computer and Life Sciences I.t is encouraging to note that enrollments in these programmes have increased by 12% annually, with nearly 1 in 5 students enrolled participating in this field of study. However, more work needs to be done to consistently signal scarce skills with people choosing their subjects and future careers.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns deeply affected students pursuing their TVET qualifications. Both the target for the numbers of students placed in work based-placed learning (WBL) and those entering artisanal programmes were not achieved. Annually, the number of TVET students participating in work-based learning has been decreasing- largely due to COVID, 182 852 in 2019, to 158 651 in 2020 and 103 750 in 2021.

What are the key takeaways?


·       One in 5 students enrolled in the field of Physical, Mathematical, Computer and Life Sciences

·       237 882 graduates have been produced at public universities

·       61.0% of the 2011 cohort graduated after ten years

·       The completion rates for N3 qualifications sits at 90.8%; but it drastically goes for NC (V) 4 (56.2%) and N6 at 24.5%;

·       WBL programmes reached 75% of their annual target  for the number of students placed in practical experiences  – this means that 78 317 students received placements.

Providing relevant support is key for young people’s journey.

The relaxation of COVID-10 restrictions gives hope that the outcomes for the 2022/23 academic year will be more favourable, particularly for those pursuing vocational training. While completion rates continue to improve, Youth Capital will call on DHET to track throughput rates for vocational training qualifications- i.e. to report on the full learning journey of young people through from N3 to N6. This will give a relevant indication on where young people are struggling, and enable the department to provide the necessary support.

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