By Dr Naresh Veeran, Chief Commercial Officer of the Embury Institute for Higher Education

For all high-school learners, the National Senior Certificate (NSC) represents the gateway to further study. But what exactly are the options available to the average South African student and, more importantly, does one size fit all? Dr Naresh Veeran, Chief Commercial Officer at the Embury Institute for Higher Education, provides some valuable advice.

What Should I Study?

I have two daughters in high school who every so often raise the subject of further study with me. With my 16-year-old, it’s as clear as day. I see the makings of an artist who has little or no interest in pursuing anything remotely related to maths and science while, in the case of my 13-year-old, I see a scientist, a genuine problem solver, who enjoys the arts but who’d surprise us all if she pursued it as a career.

As different as they are, the advice I offered them both, though, was the same and it was the very same that my dad, a music teacher, offered me when I was in high school: find something that you really enjoy doing and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!

Look to your own family. Chances are that the happiest among them are the ones who love what they do.

While it is a given that your choice must also be able to support you financially when you eventually enter the world of work, choosing a field of study that you feel passionate about is the first step in the process. Passion fuels purpose but, more importantly, purpose fuels life.

Where Should I study? 

The South African tertiary landscape is a fairly regulated one which means that a particular qualification from University A is in fact considered to be no different from one obtained at University B.

Against the above, obtaining a qualification is more than just about a piece of paper waiting for you at the end of the road. It is in fact a journey; a journey made more meaningful when accompanied by an experience and strong institutional support along the way.

A great “journey”, then, would ideally incorporate opportunities for students to also grow holistically (vs only academically). Such growth could come from institutional support of students to participate in formal platforms for collaborating and co-creating, or the provision of both space and context for students to network. Participation in exchange programmes and having access to world-class learning technologies also contribute significantly to the overall learning experience.

Having worked in both the university and private higher education environments, I have found that some institutions are far better resourced and equipped to deliver a meaningful and value-laden “experience” than others. My recommendation here would be for you to score your short-listed institutions against such factors as reputation, image, infrastructure, safety and security, social life, the availability of formal support mechanisms and, most importantly, against what employers and/or other practitioners in the industry where you intend working think about Institution A vs Institution B.

In the public education space, you can study at a University, a University of Technology, or a Technical and Vocational Education and Training or TVET college. Universities generally focus on academic research, degrees and post-graduate qualifications, while Universities of Technology focus on higher certificates, diplomas and, to an extent, degrees. TVET colleges offer mostly certificate courses that enable you to work in a technical or vocational field. In order to gain admission at a University or a University of Technology, you have to pass Grade 12 and meet specific admission criteria. However, TVET colleges generally allow admission with a Grade 9 pass.

Choosing between Private and Public Institutions 

Tertiary education in South Africa currently comprises 17 state-owned Universities, 9 state-owned Universities of Technology, and 50 state-owned TVET colleges. While this may seem like a large number of available public institutions, capacity at each institution is limited. This means that not everyone who applies and meets the entrance criteria are automatically accepted.

Many students thus choose to obtain a qualification at a private institution.

South African private higher education institutions or PHEIs, unlike their PHEI counterparts such as Harvard or Stanford in the US, are not allowed to call themselves universities, but may offer the same levels of qualifications as a public university. Embury Institute for Higher Education, for example, is the institution I help lead and it specialises in degrees, diplomas and higher certificates which, over the last two decades, helped produce some of the country’s very best teachers.

At present, some 300 private providers of higher education currently help bolster the country’s tertiary capacity.

Choosing a Mode of Study 

Nearly half of all higher education students study through distance learning. Popularly known in some circles as the “learn while you earn” option, it is highly cost effective and offers flexibility. Distance learning students generally have the option to take a little longer to complete their qualifications than their contact learning counterparts and save money not having to travel to or live near a campus. Distance learning students also have the space to hold full-time jobs.

While distance learning is a viable option in both the public and private education spaces, it requires discipline and dedication together with a fair amount of maturity and focus.

How much will all this cost?

The first year of a Bachelor’s Degree in Education at a public institution costs around R 70 000, of which the state subsidises half. Student fees are thus responsible for half that amount. At Embury, the full private experience will cost around R 48 000 in 2019.

If you’re considering a private institution, keep the following in mind:

  • Choose a Registered Institution: All private institutions must be registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training who issue a Registration Certificate. Ask to see it if in doubt.
  • Choose an Accredited Programme: Ensure that the specific qualification is accredited. All accredited qualifications will appear on the Registration Certificate.
  • Choose a Well-Respected Institution: Employers and past students are your best sources to gauge institutional reputation. Google is another great way to find out what current students think of the institution.
  • Choose a Specialist: Most large private institutions offer a variety of qualifications while a handful specialise. Specialist institutions, e.g. those operating in the film, teaching or IT sectors, offer a unique learning experience given their singular focus, and that, in most instances, their lecturers are either industry practitioners or former sector professionals. Most importantly, specialist providers are generally respected by the industry, which means that employment rates among graduates from specialist institutions often reach in excess of 90 percent.

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