Pandor raised the question academics have faced for years: Are matrixes emerging from the school system prepared for college?
The minister released a report on Tuesday detailing various trends and statistics in the higher education system.
The report found that less than a quarter of students completed their undergraduate studies on time. About 70% obtained their first diploma after seven years of study. The situation was even worse in distance education as only 18% graduated after seven years.
About 20% of students drop out of universities without completing their undergraduate degree. Pandor called the data worrying.
“The big question I ask myself when I look at these statistics is, is it okay to continue to believe that young people are ready for undergraduate studies by the end of grade 12, or should we consider another type of approaching?
“South Africa has refused to answer this question for several years. But the low exit rates, eight years to get an undergraduate degree, suggest that there is something around preparation that we need to pay attention to, ”the minister said.
A hard-hitting 250-page report prepared by a task force appointed by the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and released in 2013 blamed the low throughput rates on under-preparedness of students for college.
CHE, a statutory body that advises the Minister of Higher Education, has proposed extending undergraduate degrees by one year.
The first year would be used for core programs to prepare students for college.
But then minister Blade Nzimande rejected the proposal.
Nzimande expressed doubts that the task force, which was chaired by the former vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Njabulo Ndebele, based its conclusions and proposals on correct data.
Asking Pandor at the launch of the report on Monday, Professor Mokong Mapadimeng of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council said, “It is clear that there are many problems in terms of under-prepared students.”
The situation was so dire that Mapadimeng, who previously taught at the University of Limpopo, believed that sending all young people into the military after enrollment might be the solution.
“I think military conscription brings discipline to young people. In universities, we face violent and angry students, ”he said.
“Military conscription could greatly contribute to the training of our young people who come straight out of kindergarten. “
Pandor rejected the suggestion of military prescription.
One of the possible solutions she favored was the expansion of core programs in universities.
“Some institutions do, but not all,” said Pandor, who received his doctorate from the University of Pretoria on Tuesday.
“I really think it’s a brave step that we need to take to say that we want great graduates out of our system.”
The Star understands that CHE forwarded its report to Pandor shortly after his appointment to the Ministry of Higher Education in February last year.
Speaking to The Star, Pandor confirmed to be aware of the study.
“I am aware of this report. What has happened is that more funding has been given to foundation programs. But not all universities offer them in all fields of study, ”she said.
“But it is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“I think, based on the statistics we’ve seen, we need to look at which disciplines students are really struggling with,” the minister said.
“We need to determine if there is adequate support out there, or should we improve it.
“Once we use the statistics to dig deeper into the issues and then determine actions and policies from that deeper analysis, I think we’ll find answers to the issues we’ve identified,” Pandor said.