South African Higher Education Access Challenges

The aim of this essay is to firstly discuss what is meant by the term sociology and how sociologists understand the social phenomena by identifying and applying some of it’s key features and concepts. And further more discuss the challenges of accessing and succeeding at higher education institutions in South Africa by drawing from the course readings, university rules/history, general relevant articles and lastly from a book Rebels and Rage written by a Professor that understands particularly the University of the Witwatersrand very well Prof Adam Habib the schools Vice Chancellor from 2013 to present.

This essay also aims to show how both structural as well as agency should be considered when addressingthese challenges.

In the most basic way sociology can be defined as the study of society however different sociologists have different understanding on what sociology is really is and thus making it difficult to have one universal definition and so according to (Giddens& Sutton 2017 , p4) sociology is the scientific study of human life social groups, whole societies and the human world as such.

” Also according to (Stewart& Zaarman 2014, xv) ” sociology is the scientific study of human social interaction and the social forces which shape much of human behavior.” From the two definitions we can conclude that sociology is a science that studies human lives, their interactions and how they behave in relation to the whole society.

Different sociologists understand sociology different, so this makes them to often disagree about how research findings should be interpreted. Few of the sociologists that had a major impact on sociology where Marx and Durkheim who also had different opinions about this study, and both their views support that sociology is broad and can be interpreted differently.

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However this is not the main mandate of this essay.

Sociology requires one to have a special way of thinking that enables them to think of themselves not in isolation but in relation to the society in order to look at them from a new/different point of view and this is termed the sociological imagination. The sociological imagination enables one to grasp the events that took place in the past on the society which is history and also the individuals own specific experiences which is termed the persons biography.

As mentioned above this essay will discuss the challenges of accessing and succeeding at higher education institutions in South Africa. This essay will therefore firstly outline the challenges of accessing higher institutions in South Africa. Before going there we will have to take note that Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both. (Mills, 2000, p.30). Whilst on the on the other hand Prof Adam Habib emphasised that If we do not understand our history and the relevance ofour context, we risk repeating the failures of our past ( Habib, 2019, p.xi). And by these we can conclude that before we go on, on a topic that involves the wider society or a specificinstitute we should firstly understand its history.

Therefore before the challenges that affect the University of the Witwatersrand can be outlined the history or patterns followed on this institution should be taken into account and discussed. The University of the Witwatersrand is a higher education institute in South Africa that began as the South African School of mines in 1896 and received full university status and being incorporated as the University of the Witwatersrand on 1 March 1922. Wits is one of the world’s leading research institutions, Wits equips it’s students with contextualllygrounded world class education.

Wits is the highest ranking university in South Africa and Africa according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities and Centre for World University Rankings, and also the only university in Africa in the Alma Mater Index: Global Executives Ranking (2017) which shows the top 100 institutions from which Fortune 500 CEOs graduate. In order for the university to maintain it’s reputation and status the “socially defined niches, position” it has to meet certain standards and requirements also the annual increase in the economy everywhere else lead to the main mandate of this essay, which are the challenges students encounter in order to access and succeed in this institution.

Now with the profound understanding of the university we can now be able to look at the challanges students encounter in order to get into this institute. Most students cannot get to universities because of their socio-economic backgrounds or either the quality of education they have received. Both these factors can make students not to be able to get accepted in the university. The main question sociologists can be interested in is how?

Apparently accessing higher education institutions is not something that has only started a few years ago however it has been there for a long time. This can be supported by one of the books that Steve Bantu Biko wrote, in this book he writes about how black students were excluded from the educational system. Student life and the quality of education during that time were not equal to all students during the 1960s” (Biko,2004).

The countries population is made of more non traditional than traditional students and those are the students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who received a compromised quality of education and in some parts of the country these learners dont have proper resources to attain good results some get taught under the trees whilst others even get to write their final examinations without having teachers. However when the university admits students it doesnt consider all these aspects traditional and non traditional students fight for the same place at the university as the Admission Point Score or the entry requirements for everyone are the same.

The other challenge is that regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds they are all expected to pay the application fee of R100 for South African students and R700 for international students of which the application will be invalid or unconsidered unless it is paid. The university tends to ignore all these challenges and they practice equality which is treating everyone the same than equity which is giving everyone what they need to successful.

The factors stopping students to access these higher education institutes are much more related to the ones that stop students from succeeding in them. Getting a great Admission Point Score and being able to pay the application fee and getting accepted at the university is not yet something to be celebrated as you can only feel the edge once you inside. As mentioned above the non-traditional students come from poor educational backgrounds and most of them have only learned English as a second language however when they get into universities they use English as a medium of instruction and the concepts learned cannot be further translated as a certain discipline or course has its own jargon and expectations so this makes it more hard for them to succeed.

The issue of language triggers different problems to different students and therefore causes them to have personal trouble and since it affects more people in the society it becomes a public issue.

Over the years students had been struggling to have accommodation because of their socioeconomic backgrounds and this made them to sleep at libraries or computer labs whilst on the other hand some can’t keep up with travelling to school and therefore are forced to drop out. The other challenge is that almost all courses have computer programmes or at least learners are expected to use computers for typing and and submitting their work and most of the non traditional students have never used a computer before and this can make them to attain lower marks. The last basic challenge is that although we have the right to free health care on the country, in this university students have to pay a certain amount in order to have a consultation at the campus wellness center.

This can only imply that if a student is sick but doest have money he/she wont be attended and given any medical care. All the above mentioned factors had been the few of the many challenges experienced by students at the University of the Witwatersrand And these issues can develop deficit thinking (Define defiecit thinking) on some individuals and blame the students for being lazy and incompetent however sociologists can stand on that and give the reasons why things are the way they are.

The situation has been better over the past years as students saw these problems and used their own agency  to come up with a solution. This is an extract from the book Rebels and Rage written by a Wits Vice Chancellor Friday the 16th in October 2015 was a hot and humid evening, made even more by the throngs of students who occupied the multi-storey concourse in the middle of Wits University’s main admin block.

Hundreds of students hung over thebalconies singing ‘ iyho Solomon ‘ protesting that fees must fall.”Basically what the VC is trying to explain in this extract is that on this day Wits University’s students were using their agency in order to challenge the structure and make fees to decrease although this initiative began at wits the fees issue had an impact on other university students in South Africa.

The fee issue is/was a problem to the whole country so more and more students started joining what has initially started at wits continues and say that Students achieved what they wanted to do for years Meaning the students agency outdid them. In this book he also continues why fees had increased. In the beginning of the year 2019 Prof also released a statement that it takes about R100 000 a day to maintain the university.

However dues to the students concerns as the VC’s of the universities along with the department of higher education they had implemented strategies that will help the non traditional students, the strategies include extended programmes defferdpaynents, government subsidies, mentors, clubs and Societies, the CCDU and More.

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South African Higher Education Access Challenges. (2019, Nov 29). Retrieved from

South African Higher Education Access Challenges
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