South Africa boasts of some of the best Universities in Africa. This fact attracts numerous students, yearly, from within and outside the continent into Higher Education Institutions in South Africa. There is, however, a question to be answered if this lead is to be maintained for years to come.
The question is, “What Really Matters for Students in Higher Education Institutions in South Africa?”
The answer to the above question will not only help the students by addressing their preferences, but it will, at the same time, assist the Higher Education Institutions in South Africa in addressing issues that will position them more prominently in the global map of reputable Higher Education Institutions. Analyzed below are some of the things that really matter for students in Higher Education Institutions in South Africa;
One of the most critical issues that matter to students in Higher Education Institutions is finance; in other words, general funding throughout their stay in the Institutions. The funds will be needed to cater for their living costs as well as their learning materials for the duration of their studies. Students from wealthy homes may not have much of a problem, but those whose parents or guardians are middle income or low-income earners will struggle considerably in this area. The struggle could affect their health and social life if their cost of living is inadequate. Similarly, it could affect their academic performance if learning materials are insufficient due to a lack of funds. In rare cases, some students could be affected by both lack of funds for their living costs and learning materials, thereby impacting their health, social and academic lives.
The solution to this funding issue is usually Bursary and Scholarship awards to the students affected. This means that there should be several of these awards both within and outside the Institutions linked to various study programs that should also be in different categories to cater for a more significant percentage of the students in need of them. In addition to this, students, particularly at the post-graduate level, could be appointed to teaching or research assistant positions in order to support themselves. The remaining small percentage who might not have been accommodated by these might need to get involved in part-time jobs to earn some stipends.
Quality of Education
Another important issue that matters to students in Higher Education Institutions is the Quality of Education they receive. This is dependent on the wealth of knowledge, years of experience and being up to date in the latest trends in the particular field of expertise of the faculty staff. Students tend to recognize and appreciate the quality of education by the authority and competence of the lecture delivery of each faculty staff. The responsibility of Quality of Education is both that of the employer and the employee of higher education institutions. The employees need to engage in qualitative research and also engage in regular update reviews in order to keep abreast of the latest trends in their fields.
The first thing the employers should do in this regard is to create an enabling environment for both the staff and students of higher education institutions. This involves providing state of the art classrooms, lecture theatres, laboratories, and workshops in order to enhance the quality of teaching and learning. The employers could initiate quality assurance schemes to assess and ascertain the quality of education delivery in higher education Institutions. This will help make sure the faculty staff are up and doing without neglecting various aspects of their lecture content delivery. The employers could also sponsor the faculty staff on a regular basis to conferences both locally and internationally so as to interact with colleagues from around the globe, update their knowledge base, and consequently impact positively on the quality of education offered to South African Students. At the same time, the employers could be involved in the sponsorship of faculty staff publications in high-quality professional journals in their various fields.
Success in the academic disciplines is another issue that matters to students in higher education institutions. Academic success is students’ ability to perform reasonably above average and maintain good standing in terms of passing enough courses to meet the minimum requisite credit that will enable them to register every subsequent academic year throughout their period of study in a higher institution. It is important to note that the first two points discussed above (Finance and Quality of Education) play critical roles in students’ academic success. It was emphasized above that when the standard of living of students is compromised due to lack of or insufficient funds, this could directly impact their health, which in turn affects their academic performance and hence their academic success rates. In a like manner, lack of or insufficient funds for learning materials implies that the students will be unable to grasp lectures’ concepts, particularly practical sessions being taught or conducted in their classrooms, lecture theatres, laboratories, and workshops. In the long run, this will also affect their academic success rates.
The quality of education also determines the academic success rates of students in higher education institutions. This is where the roles of the lecturers come into play. The lecturers should work very hard to have an effective and efficient lecture delivery method to their various categories or level of students. If this is not done, it won’t be easy even for the brightest students to understand and assimilate what is being taught to a considerable extent. In addition to these, the students need discipline, dedication, and hard work to excel with good academic performance. A student who is not disciplined will easily misplace his or her priorities, which could result in failure. Dedication will enable the students to devote more time and resources to their course of study, which could ultimately result in success. A hardworking student is one who goes the extra mile putting in everything required for a successful academic performance.
Earning a Degree
One more issue that matters to students in higher education institutions is earning a degree from the institutions. No student wants to gain admission into a higher institution without graduating with a degree. It will be a monumental waste of precious time and resources for students to spend a minimum of four years in any institution and yet not qualify for the award of a degree in their course of study. A degree is earned when a student is found worthy both in character and learning throughout his or her period of study in any institution. Therefore, it follows that the main reasons for this kind of situation to arise are students’ characters and academic performances. Every student’s character in higher education institutions is essential as it either enhances the corporate image of an institution or brings down its reputation. The flaws in students’ characters could either be due to social misconduct or academic misconduct. The flaws that result from social misconduct includes the involvement of students in protests, which could in turn, cause the students involved to kill, maim, rape terrorize, kidnap, assault, threaten, intimidate or otherwise interfere with the free movement of members of the institutions as well as those outside such higher education institutions. These unacceptable behaviors tend to disturb the peace of the community and alter the academic calendar of any institution where they exhibit their traits. This and many more are the reasons why any student found guilty will most certainly be expelled from the institution. In other words, such students are unable to earn a degree no matter how many years they have spent in the institutions. The flaws that result from academic misconduct have to do with various forms of examination malpractice. Higher education institutions frown at any examination malpractice and see it as gross misconduct because the results will not reflect the students’ capabilities. This automatically means they will be unable to defend any degree given to them, thereby discrediting such institutions to the point of probably calling them “glorified institutions.” The students involved are also expelled for this reason.
Every student’s academic performance determines whether or not they will be able to earn a degree or not. There is a minimum benchmark of credits required to enable a student to register for subsequent years. This minimum credit requirement is different for different programmes in every institution. If for any reason, a student fails to pass enough courses to meet the minimum credit requirements that will enable him or her to register for the next academic year, such a student will have an academic exclusion. This means the student is forced to drop out of the university because such a student has a poor academic performance. In this case, the student concerned does not earn a degree. Therefore, it is essential for students to be academically sound on a yearly basis to avoid having an academic exclusion. There is also a maximum duration of academic sessions a student is expected to spend on a particular programme. If, due to any circumstance, a student exceeds this number of years for a specific programme of study in any institution, the student is forced to drop out of the university.
Timely graduation is also on the list of issues that matter to students in higher education institutions in South Africa. Graduating in record time without undue delay is primarily dependent upon the time of completion of final year projects for the undergraduate students and completion of thesis or dissertation by postgraduate students. Suppose the supervisor has too many students to handle. In that case, the time of graduation could be affected since he or she has to ensure that qualitative original work is done irrespective of the prevailing circumstances. Likewise, the students could be responsible for their own delay if they fail to do what is expected of them at the appropriate time. A timely graduation can only be guaranteed if both the supervisors and students cooperate by working in synergy to achieve their already set goals.
Acquisition of Appropriate Skill Sets and Relevant Job Offer
Finally, on the list of issues that matter to students in higher education institutions in South Africa is getting a relevant job offer soon after graduation, either in South Africa or anywhere in the world. This is important, bearing in mind the length of time as well as the rigorous efforts put in by students during their period of study in the institutions in acquiring appropriate skill sets. It would also encourage others studying similar courses to know that their areas of study and expertise are relevant to different applications in society.
In conclusion, what really matters for students in higher education institutions in South Africa is certainly not to be underestimated regarding building future capacity – for themselves and for the nation. On the one hand, it enables the students to set their priorities and preferences right thereby focusing on the most important things that will help them finance their studies, have a good quality of education, succeed academically without academic exclusion among other setbacks but rather earn their desired degree and graduate in record time. On the other hand, it also assists higher institutions in South Africa to make adequate arrangement to complement students’ finances, encourage faculty staff development, update and set up quality assurance schemes to ensure compliance.
Dr. Lizzy Oluwatoyin Ofusori is a postdoctoral research fellow at the School of Management, IT and Public Governance, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban. She writes in her personal capacity.