Limited spaces at Universities: Survival of the fittest (student edition)

Survival of the fittest
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Do you remember when Zozibini Tunzi, the current Miss Universe, said “take up space” in her winning speech? She was encouraging women to make their mark in a world where they’re often asked to be small, even subtly.

This kind of taking up space is crucially important for anyone who is disenfranchised or who wants to authentically make their mark on the world. It means speaking out about important issues, standing up for what’s right and building confidence in environments where your impact and ideas are needed.

But, for many South Africans, the idea of taking up space is two-fold. On one hand, it’s about the ideas I’ve just mentioned. On the other hand, people seem to think this means going to University, getting certified and representing themselves in traditional ways only.

The problem with "taking up space"

This narrow interpretation of taking up space has become quite literal as the portion of our youth (who can actually afford it) has started taking up lecture halls and admission centers, clogging up the system.

Now this might not seem like a bad thing. After all, who would have a problem with young minds trying to further their education and better themselves?

But truth be told, we are working with the limitations of a brick-walled institution. What does this mean?

Entry into Universities is extremely competitive and many bright and capable young minds are being left out, on numbers alone.

Let's take a quick look at the reality...

According to Sunday World (2020), Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshega said that 186,058 matriculants achieved a Bachelor Pass whilst 144,762 received a diploma pass with a further 78,984 receiving a higher certificate.

Wits received 68,752 applications for first-year studies but could only admit 4900 students. Its medical school received 14,000 applications yet they could only accommodate 220 students.

UCT attracted 73,000 undergraduates for the period of 2020 yet only 4,200 first-year students could be enrolled.

And then, the University of Pretoria received 37,000 first-year applications even though they could only cater for 9000 students thus far.

My point is, that realistically taking up space isn’t possible when you limit the locations to a few key universities. It’s not realistic, it’s not sustainable and it’s not achievable for most South Africans.

And, the demand is growing as the country faces more uncertainty

This situation is unlikely to change soon as the demand for university entrance grows, yearly. This often results in matriculants doing walk-ins in the first month of every new year in the hopes of getting a shot.

In fact, there’s a difficult and true story that has stayed with me over the years, which I can’t shake. I remember reading about Gloria Sekwena who went to the University of Johannesburg to help her 19-year-old son apply. She was killed in a stampede of hopefuls looking to do the same.

It was because of her tragedy that the Department of Higher Education and Training put a Central Application System (CAS) in place. This exists to make sure that applications in late January (just after matric results are released) are better managed and were created to stop walk-ins.

CAS also helps matrics who qualify for higher education but haven’t been accepted into an institution. It also tries to help place them in SETA-accredited training programmes, learnerships or internships at organizations. But, even with these measures in place, the problem isn’t solved.

Is all hope lost?

I’m here to tell you, in all honesty, that not all hope is lost – there are still many exciting options open to our youth today. if you won’t take my word for it, take the word of Dr. Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Education:

“Telling such a person, who has qualified for degree entry but not gained access to the public sector that they should consider a Technical and Vocational Training college, is a very confusing message and does not reflect at the options available, which may in fact still make degree study possible.” (As quoted in Student Brands, 2020).

Finding the answers in entrepreneurship

Vocational training can be a stepping stone to higher education for some – sure. But another hot topic, and arguably a more exciting one; is entrepreneurship.

Gone are the days when a university degree was the only kind of education society valued.

The idea that going straight to university is the smart choice is fake news – especially when South Africa needs entrepreneurial talent more than ever before. I’ll tell you why. A degree is always going to hold value and be a good way to get into niche jobs, especially when they work with theory and academics.

All I’m saying is that the current education system focuses too much on theory and certifications and too little on encouraging and upskilling tomorrow’s leaders.

Jennifer Spencer, CEO of Energent Media, Entrepreneur (2020) said “Having a degree proves you’re able to learn, that’s it. The typical college setting doesn’t teach several of the skills that graduates need after they leave campus. Real-Life experience has proved much more valuable than classroom education alone, yet so many students complete their degrees with no internships or hands-on work.” She added.

So, what are the options for our 8.2 million unemployed youth?

I want to know if the government is prepared to build an education system that caters to a fast-paced world. The current business landscape is constantly shifting towards a modern-day evolution of practical learning – and South Africans need to be prepared for this.

A country will only succeed once it takes the decision to put the needs of its youth first. And, in this case, we know they’re struggling to get into university. I believe that we need to make a place for young changemakers and give them the room to explore their options. Taking up space in the world with innovative ideas and exciting new businesses means investing in entrepreneurial talent.

We created the School of Entrepreneurship to help drive this change and support future business leaders as they carve out their place in society.

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Leon Lategan

Leon Lategan

Leon Lategan is The Entrepreneur Activist, a Coach & Creator of Entrepreneurs and the Founder & CEO of the School of Entrepreneurship.
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