As prospective students across the country gear up for the 2017 academic year, they will yet again be faced with an unfair dilemma: that is, to apply to the relatively small group of Universities that offer degrees of international standing, or to be confined to degrees, that while valuable, render them significantly less competitive in South Africa’s economy.
This is a dilemma which is not often spoken of, because, and rightfully so, the great difficulty in finding the funding necessary to access any institution at all trumps all else.
But we would be in denial to think this is not something which students across South Africa are concerned about.
According to the Department of Higher Education, there were 212000 available first year places in 2015. In 2016, 162374 students received Bachelor passes. Our system technically has enough places for the output, but students want better for themselves and for their futures and therefore apply to a much smaller pool of Universities.
That is why Universities such as Wits receive 70,000 applications for just 6000 or so places.
The situation is even worse when one considers all those students who did not receive a Bachelor pass, but are eligible to study at a TVET college.
The poor quality of TVET colleges should be a cause of great shame for our country, especially when 9 million people are unemployed and our economy is desperate for the skills needed to boost growth and job creation.
That is why we urgently need to add a new word to our higher education lexicon in 2017. While the fight for more funding for poor students and the missing middle must continue, and the DA pledges to continue to lead in doing so, we must also start demanding better quality from our higher education system.
Tomorrow, when the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, addresses the start of the 2017 Academic year, we should not accept a regurgitation of the number of places in our higher education system. We know the figures already. We need a clear and concise plan to ensure both access and quality for students.
Because the life of every person, no matter the circumstances of their birth, matters. And as a country that should be striving every day to reverse the legacy of Apartheid, we should demand the very best for every single student in South Africa.