........Studying in South Africa
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Eastern Cape University of Technology (Eastern cape Technikon)

South Africa is emerging as one of the world's most exciting study destinations. This is demonstrated by the rapidly increasing number of international students, now exceeding 47 000. A large proportion of these students come from Africa and they are here to take advantage of the best tertiary opportunities that the continent has to offer, but many others come from much further afield. Because of international exchange rates, South Africa offers real educational value for money.

At the postgraduate level, many international students are here simply because the most exciting research in their particular field is being done in South Africa. The country's rich natural and ecological resources, its multi-cultural population, its inspiring history and dynamic political milieu, and the vigour with which South African academics are approaching the world's most pressing problems, are some of the reasons why international students and academics are attracted to this country.

South African scholars, often in collaboration with international partners, are involved in crucial research into the HIV/Aids pandemic, the epidemiology of tropical diseases, urban renewal and area-based development, capacity-building and entrepreneurial skills development, outcomes-based education and the appropriate application of convergent technologies to developing economies, agricultural and seed research and many other important research areas. In all of these fields, academics have the opportunity to become directly involved with the social impact of their research, and often make a real difference to the lives of the people they are working with.

Academic research opportunities aside, there are many other reasons for choosing South Africa as a study destination. Some worth mentioning are the long, hot summers and balmy winters with an average of eight hours of sunshine per day, the nearly 3 000 kilometres of coastline with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the large areas of pristine wilderness with more animal species than Europe and Asia combined, and the fascinating mix of African, European and Asian cultures.

South Africa is cheap, easy and fun, especially for those international students who come from countries with stronger currencies. The international backpacker scene is highly developed, the roads are generally good and the financial infrastructure is excellent, with automatic teller machines (ATMs) everywhere. The suburban shopping malls in the larger cities are breathtakingly modern and one could be forgiven for imagining oneself in New York or Paris.

Once out of the cities, the real South Africa, with its wide-open spaces – and widespread poverty – becomes apparent. Here, at the local level, the kinds of inequalities that exist between rich and poor nations, and the problems facing Africa and the Third World generally, are thrown into sharp relief. South Africans are at the forefront of global awareness of the need for a more equitable and sustainable world order, and the experiences of the struggle against apartheid informs the work of academics, non-governmental agencies and state institutions involved in these issues. The choice of Johannesburg as the site for the 2002 World Conference on Sustainable Development is evidence of the importance attached to the South African experience by the rest of the world. Similarly, the launch of the African Union in Durban indicates the leading role played by South Africa in formulating responses to the challenges facing the continent.

South Africa's entire educational system, from primary schools to tertiary institutions, is in the process of being redesigned for the post-apartheid future. The result of this process will be a better, more efficient educational infrastructure. South Africa is a nation at the cutting edge of change. This is why it is one of the world's most exciting places to be a student.



South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki casts
his vote in the country’s third democratic
election held on 14 April 2004.
Study South Africa – A Decade of Democracy

South Africa celebrated 10 years of democracy on 27 April 2004, the anniversary of the 1994 liberation election that ended apartheid and delivered majority rule. It has been a momentous decade in which South Africans have enjoyed new freedoms, transformed socially, grown economically, made development strides and re-entered, after long isolation, a world that has itself profoundly changed. There is no going back, as former president Nelson Mandela said on his release from 27 years in prison on 11 February 1990:

“ Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. Universal suffrage on a common voters’ role in a united democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.”

South Africans are proud to be people who, after a lifetime of brutal oppression, were able to secure peace through negotiation and reconciliation through forgiveness; to attain what the world called a ‘miracle’, and what leading Afrikaner writer Antjie Krog believes is ‘one of the biggest moral contributions of the 20th century’; and proud to live today in a vibrant, free and progressive multicultural society with a rich history, spectacular natural beauty and areas of excellence – including higher education – that can compete with the best in the world.

These are interesting times. Change has swept through every facet of South African life, inspiring people to believe that they can make a positive difference to their lives and country. Africa’s southernmost country has by far its biggest and most sophisticated economy, and since the fall of apartheid South African companies have driven north and invested billions of Rand, the local currency, in other African countries. President Thabo Mbeki is leading the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), a pan-African development initiative, and South Africa has been involved in peace talks and peace-keeping across the continent.

South Africa is at crossroads between the developed and developing worlds, and brings its diverse economy and strong institutions to bear on challenges of poor health, poverty and lingering inequalities that are at the root of crime. Traditional rural African life coexists with rich natural diversity in nearby national parks, while the cities are cultural melting pots of African, European, Asian and ‘coloured’ (mixed race) influences.

This is a fascinating country to study, and to study in. It is also an easy place to be, with all the conveniences of modern society spiced with varied opportunities for cultural experience and nightlife, sport, travel and adventure. Despite the marked strengthening of the Rand on international markets, the country remains an affordable destination for foreign students, with relatively low living costs and university fees.

Indeed, South Africa has become a highly sought-after destination for students from Africa and around the world. After long years of international isolation, by 2000 there were 31 100 foreign students here, or 5% of the total student intake. The number has risen steadily since then, nearing 47 000 or 7% of all students, placing South Africa between the United States’s 4% and the United Kingdom’s 11% shares of international students. Four in five foreign students are from other African countries. As former Education Minister Kader Asmal1 stated:

“ South Africa has become a major training ground for countries to the north of the Limpopo River and is more than fulfilling its obligations under the terms of the Southern African Development Community Protocol on education and training.”

During the first decade of democracy, intellectuals and activists who had led the liberation struggle set about constructing a stable, free and fair society founded on a progressive Constitution, the multiple institutions of democracy and a social democratic government led by the African National Congress, with its trade union and communist partners. The priorities of new policy were to break with the past, and to encourage democracy and equity in what had been one of the most unequal societies on earth.


South Africa’s higher education system is increasingly geared to respond to the high level
learning and research needs of South Africa, Southern Africa and the African continent.

Higher education
As generators of knowledge and producers of leaders, higher education institutions played a key role during apartheid, some in supporting and others in vigorously opposing the white regime, while students were on the frontline of resistance to minority rule. The new democracy inherited a large but inefficient and starkly uneven sector that was seriously skewed along race lines, in favour of whites.

Post-apartheid, universities and technikons (now universities of technology) have a different, less overtly political but critical role in providing the intellectual foundation for new processes and policies, seeking solutions to developing world challenges and themselves transforming into non-racial institutions that provide equal opportunities, redress past disadvantages and produce the high-level skills needed in a competitive technological world.

Institutions have become more accessible and user-friendly for students and have opened their doors to the world, forging international links and attracting foreign students and staff. The higher education sector has expanded and the government’s target is to further grow the participation rate – the percentage of 20 to 24-year-olds enrolled – from 15 to 20 percent in the coming decade, requiring another 200 000 students to enter a system that currently has some 700 000 students.

Higher education has transformed radically in the past decade, mirroring changes in broader society and aimed at building a stronger, more equitable and efficient system that provides quality courses across a full range of fields, both undergraduate and postgraduate. Dr Nasima Badsha, head of Higher Education for the Department of Education, explains further:

“ Higher education in South Africa has seen extensive change in the past 10 years, in response to two main challenges – first, the need to address the inequalities that are our apartheid legacy and, second, to ensure that the higher education system is able to meet the challenges of the 21st century in the context of a globalizing world.

“ Change was thus geared to meet both equity and development imperatives. The government’s vision is for a higher education system made up of diverse institutions that are able to respond to the high-level learning and research needs of the country, region and continent.”

The government set four main goals for higher education post-apartheid: growing access to higher education and producing graduates who meet South Africa’s human resource needs; promoting equity of access and outcomes and redressing past disadvantage by ensuring that staff and student profiles reflect the demographic profile of society; promoting institutional diversity to meet skills and knowledge needs; and strengthening research and ensuring that it contributes to development.


Above: Changing profiles: The proportion of African and coloured as well as female students at South Africa’s universities and universities of technology has increased significantly.

Left: Post-apartheid tertiary education institutions play a crucial role in seeking solutions to developing world challenges.

Positive change
Many more South Africans are completing higher education than during the apartheid era. In this developing country of 45 million, the proportion of people with tertiary qualifications rose from 6% in 1996 to 8% in 2001. The proportion of black people with tertiary qualifications grew from 3% to 5%: among coloured people the rise was from 4% to 5%, among Indians from 10% to 15% and among whites from 24% to 30%2. Major strides were also been made towards other tertiary goals during the first decade of democracy:

Changing profiles
There has been rapid expansion of public and private higher education, and the racial and gender composition of the student and staff body in the public sector has changed markedly, in line with the government’s equity goals. Research by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET, March 2004), a Cape Town-based think tank, shows that:

  • Student numbers at public institutions rose from 480 000 in 1993 to nearly 700 000 in 2002. Universities enrol two-thirds and technikons a third of public sector students.
  • The proportion of African and coloured students grew from 46% in 1993 to 66% in 2002. The proportion of white students in public institutions fell from 47% to 27%.
  • The proportion of female students increased from 43% in 1993 to 54% in 2002.
  • The proportion of black (African, coloured and Indian) academics increased from 21% in 1998 to 34% in 2002. Black professional staff grew from 21% to 39%. The proportion of female academics remained steady at 39%.

Indeed, CHET director Dr Nico Cloete writes that South Africa has experienced a ‘revolution’ in terms of the increase in black students in higher education3:

“ By 2000, there was a majority of African students both in universities (60%) and technikons (72%). At some institutions the composition of the student population changed dramatically: for example, the University of Port Elizabeth changed from being 62% white in 1995 to being 87% black in 1999. These demographic changes must be some of the most remarkable in the world during the 1990s.”

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is one of the government’s most successful means of promoting equity and redress in higher education, through the provision of loans and bursaries to poor students. The number of awards made by the NSFAS grew from 7 240 grants worth R22 million in 1991, to 93 500 awards worth nearly R600 million in 2001. Today, nearly one in five South African students receive NSFAS grants, turning dreams of higher education into reality for the poor.

Changes in further education and training echo those in higher education, with 152 technical colleges restructured into 50 stronger institutions that government intends to fill the gap between schooling and higher education for many disadvantaged students, and to open up opportunities for the 85% of school leavers not accommodated in universities. Restructuring and change in the college sector has already yielded positive results, with the sector growing by 17% between 1998 and 2001, to enrol 350 000 students – half of the number in higher education. The government’s target is for a million students in a further education sector offering 400 courses by 2010, and 750 000 students in universities.


The uneven school system in South Africa remains a problem even ten years
after the end of apartheid. Here, a young scholar from the Northern Province has
successfully passed her matric for the second time and met the necessary entrance
requirements which will enable her to attend university.

Success rates and courses
South Africa’s uneven school system, another legacy of apartheid, means that many bright but disadvantaged students – mostly from poor African families – are ill-prepared for university. This leads to high drop out and repeat rates, which are a personal disappointment and place a financial burden on the system. The country also has a pressing high-level skills shortage and needs more graduates, especially from science, engineering and technology (SET) and from masters and doctoral courses. Public higher education has responded to these demands in the past 10 years, according to CHET:

  • Student success rates improved between 1998 and 2002, with the ratio of degree credits to enrolments increasing from 66% to 69%.
  • The average success rates of African students rose from 57% in 1999 to 64% in 2002, closing in on the 75% rate for coloureds and Indians and 80% for whites.
  • The share of SET students grew from 19% in 1993 to 30% in 2002.
  • Graduate numbers grew by 10% in the five years to 2002, from 89 000 to 98 000.
  • The number of qualified postgraduates grew by 40% in that period. Masters and doctoral enrolments rose by 52% from 31 000 to 47 000 students.

Restructuring
The apartheid regime created different universities for different race groups, often in close proximity and offering the same courses, but neglected the development of historically black institutions. In a country with scarce resources, with institutions of uneven capacity, there was an urgent need to cut down on costly duplication and improve quality across the sector.

After several years of investigation and consultation, the government announced plans to radically restructure higher education through mergers and incorporations that would be completed by January 2005 and would create 22 institutions out of an existing 36 universities and technikons. Out of the 36 institutions 22 were selected for mergers, four for major incorporations (or loss of facilities), one was being dismantled and its multi-sites slotted into other institutions, and there are 10 new university names.

Dr Badsha stresses:
“ No site of learning in South Africa has been closed. The idea of restructuring has been to build a stronger higher education system with new institutions that are better able to meet demands of the future, such as sustaining student growth, creating new programme areas and increasing research capacity. Students will benefit from the improved capacity and very different histories of each of the merging partners. We hope to give rise to truly South African institutions that can draw on the strengths of their partners and create new identities that are neither black nor white.”

Restructuring, supported by a Merger Unit in the Department of Education, will create two additional institutions in Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces, which currently have no provision. It also introduces a new type of “comprehensive” university out of existing or merging institutions, which will differ from “research” and “technology” universities by offering a mix of programmes. “Comprhensive” universities, said Dr Asmal, were a ‘creative contribution’ to higher education, whose transformation and restructuring:… herald the way for a system that is equitable in its distribution of resources and opportunities, academically and financially sustainable and productive so that it can more effectively meet the teaching, skills development and research needs of our country. Far-reaching changes will contribute to the development of new institutional cultures able to nurture the future generations of black intellectuals and leaders.”


The Durban Institute of Technology (DIT) was established when the former Technikon Natal and ML Sultan Technikon merged.

Stellenbosch University is being retained as it is.

Quality assurance
South Africa’s Council on Higher Education, established to help develop policy for the sector, has created a Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) charged with promoting and auditing quality assurance across higher education and accrediting its courses. Among the committee’s criteria are whether courses are: in line with national priorities and targets; contribute towards differentiation and diversity; offer value for money; and enhance personal development as well as social development and economic and employment growth.

The HEQC began conducting audits of public and private institutions in 2004. All institutions, strong and weak, will come under scrutiny in the coming five years to ensure that they are achieving quality in teaching, learning, research and community service. The audits will set a framework and criteria that in future will be used as benchmarks to measure quality. Institutions will be held accountable for improving quality, where it is lacking.

In a country that has until now had no agreed means of quality assurance, the HEQC’s activities will be key to improving the performance of institutions, to assuring students of the quality of their courses and in responding to the globalization of higher education, which has opened doors to an army of international institutions to set up shop in South Africa and elsewhere. Quality will be assessed in accordance with institutions’ mission statements and national policy goals, says Council on Higher Education CEO Saleem Badat4:

" If an institution claims to be a world class African institution, it must prove that it has the internal quality management systems to validate the claim. The audits are fundamentally about higher education institutions becoming powerhouses of the production of highly knowledgeable, skilled and socially committed graduates, and of knowledge and research for reconstruction and development."


University of Kwa-Zulu Natal
Planning and funding
Higher education is one area of massive, positive post-apartheid change, and these are but a few examples of how the sector has changed. There have been many other developments, among them:
The introduction in 2002 of a first national higher education management information system, HEMIS, that enables benchmarks for the sector to be constructed and institutional performance to be measured through comparisons and over time.

The government has adopted a Language Policy Framework for Higher Education, which supports the widespread use of English in universities but is an attempt to nurture South Africa’s rich linguistic diversity, expressed in 11 official languages.

In 2003 government announced new financial reporting regulations that compel institutions to comply with strict accounting and corporate governance standards. The regulations will hold institutions accountable for the effective and efficient usage of public funds, and will help identify issues that need urgent
attention.

Plans are afoot for a National Higher Education Information and Applications Service, which will for the first time supply would-be students with guidance and information about opportunities across the sector, and enable progress in equity to be monitored.

Planning and funding are key mechanisms for steering higher education towards transformation goals. A new funding system was introduced in 2004, involving a cyclical process in which state funding depends on three-year rolling plans developed by universities, their graduation rates, research outputs, equity and other targets.

Education consumes the biggest slice of South Africa’s social services budget, drawing 23% or R76 billion during the 2004-05 financial year. Education spending will grow to R81 billion in 2005 and R86 billion in 2006. Nearly R10 billion was set aside for tertiary education in 2004-05, with an extra R3 billion allocated for restructuring and recapitalization over the coming years and R280 million to replenish the student aid scheme. Resources are scarce but South Africa’s commitment to education is deep. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his 1994 book, Long Walk to Freedom:

“ Education is the great engine to personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of a mine, that the child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."

 
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