Relebogile Manana
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Every year in January, the Department of Basic Education reveals statistics on the final results of the matriculants from the previous academic year. Of course, this is an extremely nerve-wracking time for the students who wait to find out their fate. The recently disclosed statistics for the matric class of 2023, although positive, revealed an unsettling trend: less than half of the candidates qualifying for university admission were likely to secure placements. 

In an article released on 26 January in The Mercury, it was revealed that the number of grade 12 students qualifying for university entrance had increased, reaching the highest number of distinctions in the history of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams. Angie Motshekga, the Minister of Basic Education, stated that 282 894 candidates who wrote the 2023 final examinations qualified for admission to Bachelor’s studies at universities. This represents 40,9% of the total number of NSC candidates who had written final exams. Furthermore, in the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) exams, a total of 13 470 candidates achieved entry to degree study, which represents 88,59% of those who passed.

Despite these positive outcomes, figures released by universities paint a different picture. The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) received 160 059 applications for only about 9 000 first-year spaces. Similarly, the University of Witwatersrand received 146 000 applications but could only accommodate 6 200 applicants. UCT, Stellenbosch University, and the Durban University of Technology encountered the same challenges, with high application numbers and limited available spaces.

The disparity between the number of qualified candidates and the available university spaces is a prevalent issue, one which Prof. Labby Ramrathan from UKZN highlighted in an interview with The Mercury. He emphasised that South Africa’s education system encourages students to strive for a matric pass to go to university. However, this creates significant problems for thousands of pupils who, despite meeting the requirements, face rejection due to space issues and the limited number of institutions available. 

The annual struggle for space, which seems to be becoming more prevalent, not only impacts students but also places a burden on parents who search for viable options for their children. The competition for limited space intensifies yearly, which leads students to reconsider their initial plans and look for alternative paths. The recent stories of waitlisted and rejected students shared on social media highlight the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to this ongoing problem.

Although the recent success of the class of 2023 is commendable, the growing disparity between demand and supply for higher education remains a pressing issue. This problem further elaborates that tertiary education is a constant stream of stress for students as they fight to get into university, fight to stay in, and fight to eventually graduate.