The Department of Higher Education and Training says the number of first year students taking up studies in sciences and engineering at universities is on the rise.
A total of 179 793 students are expected to study in these fields in 2012, up by 6.8 percent from last year’s projection of 175 072 students. In 2010, the actual enrolment was 168 408 students. This was revealed by the Director General in the department, Gwebinkundla Qonde, when he addressed Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education on university registrations and enrolment for 2012.
While the figures for 2012 were estimates as universities make their final enrolment numbers public in October of each year after they have been audited, Qonde noted a rise in the number of veterinarian first year students, saying that a total of 184 students were expected to enroll this year – up by 145.3 percent from last year’s projection of 95 students.
Plans were on the cards to take up more students in this area. He said that in 2010, 75 students enrolled for the programme, adding that universities had the capacity to meet the growing number vet students but more should be done to help them.
He said they were in talks with Tshwane University of Technology, University of Pretoria (UP) and North West University in order for these institutions to improve on the uptake of vet students. Qonde said they were also in negotiations with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to facilitate the acquisition of a farm which would be used by UP and the University of South Africa, among others, for vet studies.
He highlighted that all universities offering medicine were looking at increasing enrolments but needed money for such expansions. “Institutions have enrolled to a point of suffocation,” he told MPs when asked on whether universities were doing enough. Deputy Minister of Higher Education Hlengiwe Mkhize added that “if we increase numbers, we need to ensure quality”. She also said that a viable staff-student ratio would have to be maintained.
MPs wanted Qonde to explain the long and chaotic queues for registration at universities that recently resulted in a stampede and fatality at the University of Johannesburg. Qonde said the chaos was caused by institutions which failed to plan their registrations properly. There were some universities that would be overwhelmed by numbers because of students’ preferences to study there.
He said universities were self-governing and the role of the department was to advise on anomalies. Meanwhile, 270 000 students nationwide have enrolled at various Further Education Training (FET) colleges for the 2012 academic year, an increase of 60 percent compared to 2011.
Last week, these colleges opened up more space to absorb a further 17 145 students which had initially not been accommodated due to programmes being full. FET colleges director Steven Mommen revealed this in his presentation to the committee. His presentation showed that 46 272 students had enrolled for the engineering National Certificate (Vocational) and 38 116 had registered for N1-N3 engineering certificate.
It also reflected that 85 236 students had registered for the National Certificate (Vocational) in business and general studies, while 73 276 had registered for N4 – N6 business studies. Mommen said the demand for engineering studies had gone up by 70 percent when compared to last year.
He said some of the challenges they experienced during the registration period included students who did not have the required marks in four subjects and colleges which did not plan effectively in order to support “financially needy students”. He said that other colleges were still experiencing late enrolments due to the Department of Higher Education’s closing date in late January.