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Turned away from university? Here are your options

"The future of our youth does not only lie in going to university, or in going to university the first time you finish matric." - Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande
Worrying statistics have recently made the rounds regarding nationwide university admission after the release of the 2014-2015 South African Survey by the Institute of Race Relations. What was alarming about this report was not so much the fact that university admission numbers seemed low, but rather that the majority of university applicants were turned away - denied the chance to further their education on tertiary level, even if they qualified to do so. However, while this might be a problem that needs to be addressed on an institutional level, the most pertinent question to ask at the moment is:

What happens to these rejected university applicants now, and what can they still do to secure a future for themselves?

Turned away from university? Here are your options

The statistics

Of the over 680,000 learners who wrote their National Senior Certificate exams in 2014, 28.3% qualified for admission to university. But as stated on the Wits University website:

"meeting the likely admissions levels of acceptance does not guarantee you a place."

After passing Matric, even the brightest pupils have to fight for one of the highly coveted first-year positions at South Africa's 24 universities (the fatal registration stampede at the University of Johannesburg in 2012 is still a vivid memory).

The 2014-2015 report by the Institute of Race Relations contained the following statistics:
  • At the University of KwaZulu-Natal, only 1 in 10 first-year applicants were accepted
  • At Rhodes University, only 1 in 5 first-year applicants were accepted
  • At the University of the Western Cape, only 1 in 6 first-year applicants were accepted
  • At Stellenbosch University, only 1 in 5 first-year applicants were accepted
  • At University of Witwatersrand, only 1 in 8 first-year applicants were accepted
These figures might not seem all that shocking, but convert these ratios to actual numbers and the statistics become somewhat more alarming:
  • The University of Pretoria only accepted 10,500 out of 42,000 applicants
  • The University of Witwatersrand only accepted 6,255 out of 51,000 applicants
  • The University of the Western Cape only accepted 4,000 out of 25,000 applicants
So what about the rest?

The sad truth is that all these applicants actually want to study, and want to do something with their lives. But there just isn't room enough for them in South Africa's universities. However lamentable this might be, first-round rejection from a university is not an insurmountable obstacle. There are options out there for those hopeful students who still want to achieve something in their lives:

Start planning for next year

If your heart is set on university, there are many things you can do in the space of a year to not only enhance your chances of acceptance to university, but also to build your skill set and start your career:
  1. Take a 'gap year'

    Find a way to enhance your chances of getting accepted to university, while doing something meaningful with your time. There are countless volunteer and internship programmes that will look good on your next university application.

  2. Start your career early

    Working for a year can be an immense learning experience and can help you raise money for your university studies. You will then also have a year's work experience under your belt after graduating.

    More importantly, however, getting a job or internship in a field related to your university programme of choice will give you an immense advantage when applying for university the following year.

  3. Take a college bridging course

    Taking a college course relevant to your intended degree programme is a great way to get additional training and qualifications, and to enhance your chances of acceptance to the university degree programme of your choice. Doing a college course in business management might help you get into your BCom course of choice.

    Taking a short course is also a good option for aspiring university students, as these courses are quick and affordable, and they look great on your application forms.

    "[The] Department of Higher Education is saying a lot of Matriculants who don't quite make it into university need to look at other places to study... if your marks aren't good enough they say 'rather do a bridging course and reapply next year'." - Matthew Savides, Sunday Times
A year off can be a blessing in disguise. With the flexibility provided by distance learning colleges, students can even work and study part-time during their gap years. Doing so provides them with the following benefits:
  • Actual work experience and/or vocational training that will set them apart in the labour market from those with only academic knowledge of university subjects.
  • The college course and/or work experience will always be part of their CVs.
  • They will have the opportunity to test out their preferred career choices, before enrolling for expensive and lengthy degree programmes. This might save them a lot of money in the future.
Succeed on your own

Of course, there is no rule that states that you need to go to university in order to be successful. There are countless examples of go-getters who became billionaires after choosing to drop out of their studies:
  • Steve Jobs started the Apple computer company after dropping out of college.
  • Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook and subsequently decided to stop studying.
  • Richard Branson never even finished high school, but went on to become one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time.
However, to follow this path, you must be an individual with exceptional insight, ambition, and a mind for innovation. Unfortunately, the reality for most people is a little bit different:
  • The employment rate for people with Matric is only 66%, while the employment rate for those with tertiary education is 86% (StatsSA, 2014).
  • Those with only Matric (or lower) generally end up in unskilled or semi-skilled labour. This results in limited career development opportunities, low job security, and minimum wages.
That being said, it is very much possible to build a lucrative career without a tertiary qualification - it might just take a little longer, and you might also need to get additional training and education somewhere along the way.

Choose an alternative to university

Turned away from university? Here are your options
Rejection from university does not mean you can't study. Even Wits University vice-chancellor and Principal, Adam Habib, stated in an interview with IOL News that:

"The discussion on the number of places available at universities is part of a broader question around access to further education. It is crucial for the profile of FET colleges to be raised as they play a significant role in allowing students options for further study."

There is a strongly embedded bias towards universities in South Africa when talking about post-Matric education. The importance of vocational training and qualifications, as offered by private and TVET colleges, is often overlooked, yet this form of education has an important role to play in the South African economy, where skills shortages are highly prevalent across many industries.

Moreover, many of these vocational college courses offer distinguished qualifications. Oxbridge Academy, for example, offers the following accredited (and highly-regarded) courses: To see Oxbridge Academy's full course list, click here.

Accessibility to post-Matric education and training is important to the social development and economic growth of our country, and should be addressed at the highest institutional levels. Yet, despite this formal obstacle presented to many hopeful South Africans, rejection from university does not mean your future has been cut off. There are alternatives, whether it is taking a gap year, or choosing a vocational college course instead. As the old adage goes: "where there is a will, there is a way."

2 Mar 2015 14:13


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