Pushing the envelope of student access and success: Developing the Higher Certificate in Foundation Development and Access at the University of the Free State (Gert Hanekom, Francois Marais and J Francois Strydom)

In April 2013 the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at the University of the Free State (UFS) started investigating the establishment of a Higher Certificate in Foundation Development and Access (referred to forthwith as the HC). This initiative grew from discussions held between the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the UFS’s CTL, where the development of post National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 5 qualifications offered in collaboration between Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges and Universities was championed. The successful two-decade track record that the UFS had in offering its University Preparation Programme (UPP) in collaboration with TVET Colleges provided a strong foundation on which to develop an alternative HC.

This “foundational” HC would not only provide students with access to Higher Education (HE), but also maximise their chances of graduating. The HC is viewed as a qualification that would contribute to curbing the crisis of students who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). The development of the ‘’foundational’’ HC builds on the existing structures, curricula and points of delivery of the UPP. The UPP has already proved to be effective in granting degree access to students, who would otherwise not have access to post-matric studies as a result of their matric marks. It is also evident that students who complete the UPP first, eventually achieve good results in their degree studies. Since 1996, 2 598 Degrees have been awarded to students who began with the UPP, including 232 Honours, 33 Masters, and nine M.B.Ch.B. Degrees.

Based on the positive experience of the UFS, the HC will focus on strengthening those foundational academic skills (e.g. Academic Literacy) that students need to succeed in HE studies. Successful students will be granted access to the second year of study of an appropriate extended degree on a subject credit basis. If the HC is approved and accredited, it will mean that successful students will receive a South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) registered qualification.

Although the envisaged HC deviates from the expectations of the latest Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF) that a HC should make students employable, be vocationally-oriented, and include work-integrated learning, the DHET and the Council on Higher Education (CHE) regard it as ground-breaking in terms of its potential benefits for students. That is why it pushes the envelope in terms of thinking about student access and success in the Post-School Education and Training (PSET) sector, especially with regards to existing policy on the nature and aim of entry-level post-matric qualifications.

This HC was approved by the UFS Council in March 2014. However, owing to deviation from existing policy, issues such as clearance in terms of the Programme Quality Mix (PQM) and accreditation at the national level have yet to be finalised (as of October 2014).

The article is available at: http://ctl.ufs.ac.za/content.aspx?id=4

Mr Gert Hanekom is a Researcher: Access and Success at the UFS CTL.

Mr Francois Marais is the Director: Administrative at the UFS CTL.

Prof. J. Francois Strydom is the Director: Academic at the UFS CTL.

For further information contact Mr Gert Hanekom at hanekomg@ufs.ac.za or Mr Francois Marais at maraisf@ufs.ac.za and Prof J Strydom at strydomJF@ufs.ac.za