Success of Black Students in SA Higher Education Institutions Discussed at Seminar
“Understanding Black Students’ Access to and Success in South African Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)” was the topic of a seminar hosted at UKZN by the Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity (ccrri).
The seminar, funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training, was presented by post-doctoral Fellows on the Education and Emancipation Project, Dr Zamambo Mkhize and Dr Monica Otu.
The researchers said the success of Black students had been an area of major concern for the Higher Education sector since the demise of apartheid in 1994.
Said Mkhize: ‘Informed by the agenda of transformation and redress, post-apartheid Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have developed a number of strategies to enhance access, participation and success of African students. These strategies fall in line with constitutional and ministerial provisions (Soudien Report 2008) to establish a new political order in post-apartheid South Africa’s Higher Education.
‘In terms of access, there has been an extensive deracialisation of the overall student body at many HEIs, as the enrolment of Black students has increased in the past few years. Yet, studies have continued to report that while the numbers of Black students who have accessed HEIs have burgeoned, completion and success rates remain problematic among this racial group,’ she said.
The presentation focused on the findings from a systematic review of literature on the progress the sector has made, and the persisting bottlenecks in Black students’ access to and success in HEIs. Drawing on Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction, Bean’s model of student attrition and Tinto’s theory of student integration, their review critically analyses factors that influence student access to and success in South African HEIs.
The researchers used these theoretical frameworks to explain the complicated set of factors that interact to influence Black students’ access, participation and success in South African HEIs.
Said Otu: ‘While there have been consistent efforts within the policy framework to improve the access, participation and success of Black students both at the national and institutional levels, studies show that throughput rates remain low especially among African students.’
Their findings revealed that social and academic integration played a significant role to enhance or constrain student success and that the principal reason why many Black students failed to reach their full potential in South African HEIs was because they were not academically and socially integrated.
‘Affecting Black students’ academic and social integration are issues such as articulation gaps, pedagogic/curricular factors, staff attitude, institutional culture, socio-cultural factors, funding, peer interactions and experiences with diversity,’ said Otu.
The researchers note that while a lot has been said concerning Black students in relation to the discourse of access, participation and success, this has most often been presented in an uncritical manner.
Otu and Mkhize therefore suggest the need for further research that focuses on innovative methodological and theoretical frameworks that would provide a more critical, nuanced understanding of the factors that influence Black student success within the South African context.
In terms of informing policy, they made several recommendations that included ‘nurturing a culture of belonging that embraces both the academic and social communities of students. Student capacity to engage and belong needs to be encouraged through clear expectations, purpose and values’.
They further expressed the need for the development of skills to engage and provide opportunities for interaction, engagement, and collaborating with staff and students to review data and experience about student belonging and integration.