Media Statements

Media Statement issued by Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement

For immediate release: Wednesday 21 May 2014

Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement has published a comprehensive new report on the key access and success challenges facing public higher education in South Africa. In-depth interviews were conducted at 18 of the country’s 23 public universities for the study, Student Access and Success: Issues and Interventions in South African Universities, which was funded by the U.S.-based Kresge Foundation.

Recent research shows that only 27 percent of South African undergraduate students complete their studies in the minimum time and only about half of those entering university ever graduate. Moreover, the legacy of apartheid in education appears to persist with only 10 percent of black students gaining access to university and less than 5 percent completing degrees.

Inyathelo Programme Director Gabrielle Ritchie says low participation and dismal student graduation rates are undoubtedly the biggest challenges facing the higher education sector. “We really wanted to understand why our throughput rates are only marginally better than under apartheid. Looking at the statistics, we are also clearly not successfully addressing issues of equity. Inyathelo and Kresge also wanted to know what interventions would have the greatest and most enduring impact on improving entrance and graduation rates in South Africa,” explains Ritchie. 

The report identifies a wide range of academic and non-academic factors influencing student access and success, including the "articulation gap" between school and university, as well as institutional and socio-cultural issues.

Thandi Lewin, the report’s lead researcher, says addressing poor student success rates in higher education has to include systemic rather than individual responses. “Many approaches still try to fix the weak academic literacy of students entering universities rather than looking also at systemic change to university curricula and teaching. The research shows that multi-dimensional approaches are necessary to bring about change, and on the positive side, there are finally some signs that shifts may be taking place in recognising the role of institutions in adapting their structures and approaches to respond to poor success rates. At the centre of this is recognising the importance of teaching in higher education," says Lewin.

In April 2012, the Kresge Foundation announced a new commitment to South African higher education that builds on the foundation’s efforts in the United States to improve access and help students succeed academically.

The Kresge Foundation is a $3 billion foundation based in the United States which works to expand opportunities in cities through grantmaking and investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health and human services, and through place-based efforts in the city of Detroit, where the foundation was founded in 1924. Kresge’s education programme works to promote post-secondary access and success for low-income, first-generation and under-represented students.

William F.L. Moses, who directs Kresge’s education programme, says enhancing the ability of South African universities to graduate the next generation of knowledge workers will make it possible for the country to compete more effectively in the global economy.

“The research shows that one of the ways we can contribute to systemic change is to help improve data-driven planning and decision-making in the area of student performance. This would enable institutions to propose and implement the kind of reforms needed to improve access and graduation rates,” says Moses.

The report also provides a snapshot of the interventions implemented by university academic development departments across the country over the past several years. Ritchie says most of the approximately 30 participants interviewed agree that fundamental changes are needed to resolve the crisis in higher education.

“The report suggests that universities should look at a more equitable balance between teaching and research. Subsidies could be linked not just to enrollment, but to throughput as well. Academic programmes could be restructured, and different kinds of qualifications warrant exploration. Finally, initiatives to better align various campus student support initiatives, services and processes would also improve student success rates,” says Ritchie. “That would ultimately benefit the nation as we expand the pool of high-quality, world-class graduates.”

Download the full report: Student Access and Success: Issues and Interventions in South African Universities.

For interview requests, please contact:

Gabrielle Ritchie

Inyathelo Programme Director
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: 082 453 9827


Thandi Lewin

Lead Researcher: Student Access and Success Report
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: 082 339 8077

For more information, please contact:

Sarah Nicklin

Inyathelo Media and Communications Manager
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: 073 150 9525
Tel: 021-465 6981/2