Teaching and Learning Report shows healthy growth in postgraduate sector

07 June 2004

UCT has shown substantial growth in postgraduate enrolments, with honours enrolments up 47%, master's enrolments up 23% and doctoral enrolments up 24% in the period 1999 to 2003.

These are some of the findings of the latest Teaching and Learning Report, which profiles the size and shape of the university and is used as a tool to highlight strengths and challenges for UCT in its future planning.

The reports also says that the proportion of black postgraduate enrolments has increased by four percentage points to a level of 44% over the period 1999 to 2003.

At undergraduate level, the equity profile has stabilised around 51% for black students. But there has been a progressive decline in the proportion of black applicants, which has been mirrored proportionally within the new undergraduate admissions pool.

Student enrolments at UCT grew at a rate of 5% per annum between 1999 and 2003, with undergraduate enrolments growing at a rate of 5.7%. Postgraduates have grown at a rate of just over 4% a year. The greatest numerical growth has taken place in the commerce faculty, although humanities remains the largest of UCT's six academic faculties.

Also on the positive side, UCT's enrolments in the area of science, engineering and technology are well above the targets set in the National Plan for Higher Education.

Another feature of the 2003 report was a marked improvement in matric results for applicants. The 2003 pool showed that 60% of all new undergraduate enrolments had achieved either notional A or B matric aggregates. Academic performance of these students will be tracked over the next five years, but the university is already seeing indications of improved junior course success rates among the students.

UCT's graduate outputs over the 1999 to 2003 period grew by just over 11%. Master's and doctoral graduates together made up 12% of graduates last year, but this group of graduates was predominantly white (61%).

Although the report noted progressive improvements in success rates, it found there were still marked differences in the undergraduate success rates among students within different population groups. It noted that this required further explanation.

Analysis of the longitudinal progress of first-time entering undergraduate (FU) students within the 1995 to 1999 entry cohorts showed that almost two thirds of the 1999 FUs had graduated within five years of first registering at UCT. The overall completion rate amongst the 1999 cohort was markedly better than that within the 1998 cohort, but longitudinal progress was found to vary widely, by faculty and by qualification, in relation to institutional averages. Student retention information of this kind feeds into enrolment management at UCT, and departures from institutional averages require further investigation.

It was also noted that the high level of voluntary dropout, as opposed to formal academic exclusion, remained problematic. The Centre for Higher Education Development, in conjunction with the Institutional Planning Department, will be conducting research to look into this issue during 2004.

In terms of staffing, the report found that the overall permanent, full-time academic complement of the university had diminished slightly between 1999 and 2003, largely due to staff losses within the faculties of humanities and science.

The proportion of academic staff with doctoral or master's degrees was found to be hovering around the 86% level, except in the faculties of law and commerce which have embarked on an equity exercise and had consequently filled more posts with junior staff from the designated groups. The report also noted that there had been a good response to a Teaching and Learning Charter, as well as the plagiarism policy approved by the Senate in 2003. A plagiarism software pilot project is currently underway. In addition, actions have been taken by the six faculties and the GSB to counter plagiarism through the agreed approaches, including informing students about what constitutes plagiarism and providing templates for correctly referencing others' work.

It is intended that issues and challenges identified within the 2003 Teaching and Learning Report will be allocated to appropriate managers within the institution. The accountable managers will report during the course of the year to the Senate Executive Committee on progress made towards addressing these issues and challenges.

Associate Professor Sonia Berman, a member of the Quality Assurance Working Group, said the report made it easier to interpret the throughput rates in specific programmes or courses because it determined what the norms were at UCT. Similarly, it provided a context for interpreting staff:student ratios in specific programmes, particularly for outside visitors or reviewers.

Professor Paula Ensor, acting dean of humanities, described the report as a "very detailed quantitative overview of teaching and learning activities across the university".

"From a faculty perspective, it provides valuable information over five years about total enrolments, undergraduate and postgraduate, the ethnic and gender profile of student enrolments, as well as the profile of the academic staff," she said.

"Not only does this provide a detailed snapshot of where we are, it also serves as an important planning tool, in that it enables us to look at issues such as recruitment, throughput and graduation rates, and the balance between undergraduate and postgraduate enrolments.

"This directly informs our equity and transformation goals. The present report has raised a number of challenges for me as dean, including the fact that while our overall student numbers have increased by nearly 20% over five years to 2003, staff numbers have declined by nearly 10%. These figures, taken together with the fact that our operating and non-recurrent budgets have not really grown in real terms, show the faculty is taking strain. The stress levels which emerged in the Institutional Climate Survey point to this, and this is something we as a faculty need to address."

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