Who are those who participate in Higher Education?

The participation profile in the South African higher education system has changed drastically over the last 20 years, in terms of race, gender and size of the system. This section will show those who entered and exited the public higher education institutions up to 2012.  Below are some navigational links to the areas we will be looking at.

Student racial profile

During apartheid, the government was more focused on educating the white population and higher education opportunities for those from other race groups were limited. This also influenced the quality and programme offerings of the various institutions, which were also segregated by race. This situation led to low participation rates for black South Africans and, more crucially, generally low completion rates among these students.

Post-apartheid, the sector underwent great change, including a sharp increase in black student participation in public higher education within South Africa. All public higher education institutions are now open to all South Africans, irrespective of their race. 

Table 1 Headcount enrolments in public higher education by race, 2007 to 2012

Table 1 Headcount enrollments in public higher education by race, 2007 to 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

The African student compliment increased from 476 768 in 2007 to 662 123 in 2012. This constitutes an increase of 39% over 6 years. African enrollments increased from 49% of all enrolments in 1995 to 69% in 2012, this is 11% less than the proportion of Africans in the South African population. The graph below shows the proportional representation of students of different races in public higher education and compares it with the racial composition of the population. The proportion of African students enrolled is still increasing and is becoming more a reflection of the national population every year. However, the same cannot be said for Coloured students.

Figure 1 Headcount student enrolments in public higher education by race, 2007 to 2012

Figure 1 Headcount student enrolments in public higher education by race, 2007 to 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

The racial composition of the South African student population is even more pronounced when participation rates are considered.  South Africa’s participation rates or gross enrolment rates are low in general. The participation rate is calculated as the total headcount enrolments as a percentage of the total population between the ages of 20 – 24 years. For 2012, the participation rates by race are reflected in the graph below. Overall for 2012, South Africa has a participation rate of 19%, which is up from 2011 where the participation rate was 17%. It must be remembered that accurate participation rates are highly dependent on the accuracy of the population figures.

The National Plan for Higher Education in 2001 set the target of a 20% participation rate within 10 to 15 years. This has not been achieved. 

Figure 2 Participation rates (in public higher education) by race, 2012

Figure 2 Participation rates (in public higher education) by race, 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

The participation rates for Whites and Indians are considerably higher than for Africans and Coloureds. The participation rates for Africans and Coloureds have increased in recent years but are still relatively low. The difference in participation by race is particularly pronounced at the postgraduate level. More White and Indian students continue to postgraduate study. 

Figure 3 Proportional enrolments in public higher education by race and level of study, 2012

Figure 3 Proportional enrolments in public higher education by race and level of study, 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

Student gender profile

Figure 4 Headcount student enrolments in public higher education by gender, 2002, 2007 and 2012

Figure 3 Proportional enrolments in public higher education by race and level of study, 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

During the eleven years from 2002 to 2012 the gender profile in South African higher education has changed significantly. In 2012 there were 554 840 women enrolled in the public higher education sector, which constituted 58% of the total headcount enrolment for that year. In the South African population in 2012, women constituted approximately 51% of the population and 50% for the 20-24 old year age group of the population. The imbalance in enrolments in higher education has definitely shifted to favour women, especially compared to the population statistics.

However, when qualification level is taken into account the picture shifts. At the undergraduate and honours levels, many more women are enrolled than men, but at the masters and doctoral levels there are more men than women, although the proportion of women has increased slightly over the same period. The number of masters and doctoral students is small and it does not really affect the general gender profile.

Figure 5 Proportion of men and women enrolling in public higher education by qualification level, 2012

Figure 5 Proportion of men and women enrolling in public higher education by qualification level, 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

 

Participation by nationality

Ninety-four percent of students enrolled in South African public higher education in 2012 were South African. The overall proportion of foreign students in public higher education has averaged 7% from 2002 to 2012, while the number of foreign students increased from 46 687 in 2002 to 72 859 in 2012.

The proportion of foreign students enrolled in postgraduate programmes (14%) is higher than those in undergraduate programmes (6%).

Figure 6 Enrolments in public institutions by nationality and qualification level, 2012

Figure 6 Enrolments in public institutions by nationality and qualification level, 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

 

There has been significant change in the proportion of postgraduate foreign students to local students over the last eleven years. The foreign postgraduate students increased from 10% in 2002 to 14% in 2012.

Figure 7 Enrolments of foreign students by qualification level, 2002 and 2012

Figure 7 Enrolments of foreign students by qualification level, 2002 and 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

Most foreign students come from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region (73%). South Africa also attracts a small number of students from the rest of Africa and from other parts of the world. However the proportions of these students remained basically unchanged through the years.

The distribution of foreign students by region is as follows:

Figure 8 Foreign students enrolling in public institutions by region, 2012

Figure 8 Foreign students enrolling in public institutions by region, 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

Age profile of enrolled students

We expect most of the student body to be within the post-school age group of 18-20 years old. Given the fact that degrees are at least three years long and most students take longer to complete, the gross enrolment rate takes in account 5 years, in particular those 20 to 24 years old.

The graph below looks at the age profile of the South African public higher education system.

Figure 9 Headcount enrolments by age grouping for 2012

Figure 9 Headcount enrolments by age grouping for 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

 

This graph suggests that rather than considering the age group 20-24 year olds, we should consider all those 22 years old and below in order to get a better indication of participation rate. The graph below isolates only the enrolment numbers of those who are 22 years old and below and those who are 20-24 years old so as to provide a comparison between the age groupings.

Figure 10 Headcount enrolments of only those 24 years old and younger in 2012

Figure 10 Headcount enrolments of only those 24 years old and younger in 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

 

The graph shows that the 20-24 years old age group is not the gross enrolment age grouping of the South African public higher education system. This influences the calculation of the national higher education participation rate. For the sake of maintaining a comparative measure to the target set in the National Plan for Higher Education, we maintain the age group as 20-24 years old when calculating the participation rate. 

Field of study

The graph shows that the 20-24 years old age group is not the gross enrolment age grouping of the South African public higher education system. This influences the calculation of the national higher education participation rate. For the sake of maintaining a comparative measure to the target set in the National Plan for Higher Education, we maintain the age group as 20-24 years old when calculating the participation rate. 

Figure 11 Headcount enrolments by major field of study from 2007 to 2012

Figure 11 Headcount enrolments by major field of study from 2007 to 2012

Source: HEMIS 2012

 

The graph shows that there has been a decrease in the proportion of humanities enrolments to other fields. All fields have seen growth in terms of absolute numbers enrolled.

The table below shows headcount enrolments by the 20 Classification of Subject Matter (CESM) categories, disaggregated to the fields of study, from 2010 to 2012.

Table 2 Headcount enrolments by the 20 main fields of study from 2010 to 2012

Table 2 Headcount enrolments by the 20 main fields of study from 2010 to 2012

 Source: HEMIS 2012

Although the overall number of humanities enrolments has increased from 2010 to 2012, there are a few fields of study within the humanities that have decreased significantly. Decreases in enrolments are evident in languages, linguistics and literature (27%) and psychology (13%), while significant increases have been seen in social sciences (30%), law (10%) and public management and services fields (10%). (Please note that percentage increase is calculated slightly differently from percentage decrease.)

Overall, between 2010 and 2012 education enrolments increased by 16%, humanities by 5%, SET by 7% and B&C by 1%.

Further resources on participation

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

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