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Graduates from Higher Education

Producing high quality graduates that can enter into the job market and contribute to the country’s economy positively is a high priority of the higher education sector. This section takes a glance at the graduates produced in South Africa in 2012.

The number and level of graduates

The headcount number of graduates produced in South Africa increases gradually every year, which is to be expected given the substantial increase in enrolment numbers. The South African higher education sector remains a largely undergraduate sector. When examining the period from 2002 to 2007, the growth in number of graduates was not parallel for undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Graduates produced at undergraduate level show annual increases, whereas the patterns observed at postgraduate level shows increases and decreases over the years. From 2008, the pattern changes, and the total number of graduates grows in parallel at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. This can be seen in the graph below.

Figure 1 Graduates produced at system level per qualification level, 2002 to 2012

Figure 1 Graduates produced at system level per qualification level, 2000 to 2012

Source: HEMIS

 

The graph below shows graduates disaggregated by qualification type for both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The greatest increase in graduate numbers is for doctoral graduates produced, which increased by 90% from 2002 to 2012. Graduates receiving undergraduate degrees increased by 76% (the largest in headcount numbers) followed by a 60% increase in graduates with a postgraduate qualification below that of a masters level qualification.

Figure 2 Graduates produced at system level per qualification type (grouped), 2002 to 2012
Figure 2 Graduates produced at system level per qualification type (grouped), 2000 to 2012
Source: HEMIS

Although doctoral graduates show the highest growth rates over the years, the number of doctoral graduates is still small compared to the overall graduates in the system. The graduates at postgraduate level constitute a little more than 25% of the total graduates produced in South African public higher education per year and doctoral graduates have remained almost consistent at 1%.

As can be seen from the graph below, there has been very little change in the pattern of overall graduates between 2002 and 2012. In 2002, 72% of all graduates were from undergraduate qualifications, while in 2012 this increased slightly to 73%. The most substantial change in the output pattern was at undergraduate level between the numbers graduating with degrees as opposed to diplomas/certificates. Changes in the pattern of postgraduate graduation have been small.

Figure 3 Graduates by level of study, 2002 and 2012
Figure 3 Graduates by level of study, 2000 and 2012
Source: HEMIS

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) catalogues courses at a high level as well as in more detail. The three high-level classifications are business, commerce and management (B&C), humanities and social sciences (Hum) 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 2002.

Figure 5 System level graduates by broad field of study for 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012
Figure 5 System level graduates by broad field of study for 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012
Source: HEMIS

When we examine the graduates by broad CESM category and the level of study, we find clear differences between undergraduate and postgraduate levels. At the undergraduate level, the highest proportion of graduates is in humanities and social sciences, but at masters and doctoral level, the highest proportion of graduates is in science, engineering and technology. Business, commerce and management do not focus on doctoral studies and this is reflected below. 

Figure 6 System level graduates per field of study by qualification level for 2012
Figure 6 System level graduates per field of study by qualification level for 2012
Source: HEMIS

Graduates in science, engineering and technology

The table below shows the graduates produced in specific CESM categories within the science, engineering and technology field for 2012. Most SET graduates are in the health professions and related clinical sciences, followed closely by those in the field of engineering. However, the differences are in the level of study, with many more graduates at postgraduate level in the health professions and related clinical sciences field. Where doctoral qualifications are concerned, there are more graduates in the life sciences and physical sciences.

Table 1 Graduates in Science, Engineering and Technology, 2012
Table 1 Graduates in Science, Engineering and Technology, 2012
Source: HEMIS

Graduates in Engineering

The table below shows the engineering graduates produced in 2012. About 85% of the engineering graduates are at undergraduate level of which 44% have completed degrees and 41% diplomas and certificates.

Most of the engineering graduates are in the field of electrical, electronics and communications engineering, closely followed by civil engineering and then mechanical and mechatronic engineering. About 46% percent of these have completed certificates or diplomas and 43% graduated at degree level.

Table 2 Graduates in Engineering, 2012
Source: HEMIS

Graduates in Humanities and Social Sciences

The table below shows that just about half (49.9%) of the humanities and social science graduates are in education. Social Sciences produced 10% of the humanities graduates in 2012 and both the psychology and public management and services fields each contributed 8% of the humanities graduates.

Table 3 Graduates in Humanities and Social Sciences, 2011
 Table 3 Graduates in Humanities and Social Sciences, 2011
Source: HEMIS

Graduates in Education

In 2008, higher education produced almost 30 000 graduates in education and in 2012 that number increased to 35 478. Many of these were 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, which has increased to 446 008 educators in 2012, for 12 804 772 learners spread across 30 231 basic education institutions (Education Statistics in South Africa 2012, January 2014). This table summarizes the number of graduates in education, showing their areas of specialisation. 

Table 4 Graduates in Education, 2012
Table 4 Graduates in Education, 2012
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 2012 are in accounting and related services, followed by business administration, management and operations. These add up to almost 60% of the B&C graduates.

Table 5 Graduates in Business, Commerce and Management, 2012
Table 5 Graduates in Business, Commerce and Management, 2012
Source: HEMIS

 

The table below shows the graduates by qualification type in business administration, management and operations and accounting and related services for 2012. The bulk of the graduates did first degrees and certificate and diploma programmes. Almost 18% of these graduates are at postgraduate level up to honours level and only about 5% of these graduates are at masters and doctoral level.

Table 6 Graduates in Business Administration, Management and Operations and Accounting and Related Services, 2012
Table 6 Graduates in Business Administration, Management and Operations and Accounting and Related Services, 2012
Source: HEMIS

 

Further resources on graduates

CHE, 2009. Higher Education Monitor No. 8: The State of Higher Education in South Africa

CHE, 2009. Higher Education Monitor: Postgraduate studies in South Africa - a statistical profile

CHE, 2013. A proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa: The case for a flexible curriculum structure

Department of Basic Education, 2010. Education Stats in South Africa 2009

Department of Basic Education, 2014. Education Statistics in South Africa 2012

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