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Graduates from Higher Education

One of the key purposes of higher education is to produce qualified graduates. Here we look at the number and type of graduates produced.

The Number and Level of graduates

The increase in graduates produced from 2000 to 2009 has not been linear, but the number of graduates produced at undergraduate level and overall has shown continuous increase per year.

The charts below stands in support of the above statement showing the trends of graduates produced at undergraduate and postgraduate level from 2000 to 2009.

Figure 1 Graduates produced at system level per qualification level, 2000 to 2009 

Source: HEMIS

Figure 2 Graduates produced at system level per qualification type (grouped), 2000 to 2009

Source: HEMIS

As can be seen, public higher education has been producing an increasing number of graduates, but the increase is mostly at the undergraduate levels. The increases at postgraduate level below Masters were not consistent, but have been showing an upward curve from 2007. At Master's and Doctoral level the increases were small, yet from 2000 to 2009 Doctoral graduates increased by 67 percent.

South African higher education produces mostly undergraduate degrees, with postgraduates making up only 25% of graduates. The overall proportions of undergraduates to postgraduates remained unchanged from 2000 to 2009. The breakdown by level of study is shown below for 2000 and 2009.

Figure 3 Graduates by level of study, 2000 and 2009 

Source: HEMIS

Note: The data we have available for private higher education does not reflect all the graduates produced through private higher education for the years mentioned. Although most of the data has been collected, there is a small percentage left outstanding.

Private higher education graduated 14 335 students in 2008 and 14 462 in 2009. In 2008 the proportion of graduates produced by the private sector was almost 11 percent of the total amount of graduates produced in South Africa from that year and in 2009 it was 10 percent.

The figure below shows the graduates produced in private higher education in 2008 and 2009. These are disaggregated by qualification type. As can be seen, the larger proportion of graduates studied at certificate and undergraduate diploma level.

Figure 4 Graduates produced by private providers, 2008 & 2009 
Source: Private providers survey of 2010

The Fields of Knowledge in which people graduate

In order to understand the range of knowledge and skills that higher education is producing, graduates are classified in terms of the content of their programmes. The classification of education subject matter (CESM) classifies courses at a high level as well as in more detail. The three high level classifications are business, commerce and management (BCM), humanities and social sciences (HSS) and science, engineering and technology (SET).

The National Plan for Higher Education (2001) set overall targets for the proportion of graduates from each of these three high-level categories. The graph below shows how the higher education system has moved towards those targets since 2000.

Figure 5 System level graduates by broad field of study for 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009 

Source: HEMIS

When we examine the graduates by broad CESM category and the level of study, we find differences at each level of study. At the undergraduate level, the highest proportion of graduates is in humanities and social sciences, but at doctoral level, the highest proportion of graduates is in science, engineering and technology. At masters level the HSS graduates are basically equal to the SET graduates. There are very few graduates with research degrees in business, commerce and management, consistent with their historical lack of research focus.

Figure 6 System level graduates per field of study by qualification level for 2009

Source: HEMIS

Graduates in Science, Engineering and Technology

The table below shows the graduates produced in specific categories within the science, engineering and technology field. Engineering and engineering technology shows to be a popular category, only second to the health care and health sciences. More doctoral graduates are produced in the health care and health sciences. Although life sciences and physical sciences produced the third most graduates, proportionally this category produces the highest percentage of doctoral and masters graduates.

Table 1 Graduates in Science, Engineering and Technology, 2009

Source: HEMIS

Graduates in Engineering

The table below shows the engineering graduates produced in 2009. Electrical Engineering and Technology produced the most graduates, but almost 60 percent of these graduates are at diploma or certificate level.

Clearly the engineering field produced a high proportion of skills based qualifications. Overall 44 percent of the graduates produced have diplomas or certificates. Approximately 42 percent of the graduates possess first degrees.

Table 2 Graduates in Engineering, 2009 

Source: HEMIS

Graduates in Humanities and Social Sciences

The table below shows that more than half of the humanities and social science graduates are in education, followed by social sciences, public administration and law.

Table 3 Graduates in Humanities and Social Sciences, 2009 
Source: HEMIS

Graduates for the Teaching Profession

A very important task of higher education is training teachers for schools. In 2009, higher education produced around 35 500 education graduates. Many of these would have been teachers upgrading their qualifications, rather than new teachers entering the profession. According to the Department of Basic Education, there were 413 067 teachers in South Africa in 2009. This table summarises the number of graduates in education, showing their areas of specialisation.

Table 4 Graduates in Education, 2009

Source: HEMIS

Graduates in Business, Commerce and Management

The table below shows that most business, commerce and management graduates in the public higher education system in 2009 are in accounting followed by management. These make up about 70 percent of the BCM graduates.

Table 5 Graduates in business, commerce and management, 2009 

Source: HEMIS

The table below shows the graduates by qualification type in accounting and management for 2009. The bulk of the graduates did certificate and diplomas and first degree programmes. A significant proportion of these accounting and management graduates are at postgraduate up to honours level.

Less than 10 percent of the management graduates are at masters level.

Table 6 Graduates in accounting and management, 2009 

Further resources on graduates

CHE, 2009. Higher Education Monitor No. 8: The State of Higher Education in South Africa
CHE, 2009. Higher Education Monitor No. 7: Postgraduate studies in South Africa – a statistical profile
Department of Basic Edu, 2010. Edu Stats in South Africa, 2009.


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