The North West University has joined other institutions of higher learning in implementing the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP).

The University started by introducing central research workshops, which Masters and PhD candidates will benefit from. North West University Academic Developer, Dr Raymond Emekako, says the programme will help students academically.

“The ministerial statement is a document that is being released based on research data from all universities in South Africa. It points direction to curriculum support and for students and academic staff. Now the ministerial statement wants us to dedicate support for a lot of postgraduate students that are black and that are female in South Africa because of the current data that we have.”

Lack of proper support of Masters and PhD students have seen many students not completing their studies on time. Others quit the world of academia empty-handed and discouraged.

Previously the North West University’s centre for teaching and support only offered full support to undergraduate students while post graduate students were solely relying on their supervisors for direct support. Now the university is assisting them for the first time by holding central research workshops.

According to the Department of Higher Education, the proportion of students in South Africa graduating from postgraduate programmes is on the decline despite an overall increase in the number of graduates.

Professor Emmanuel Mgqwashu from the North West University’s Centre for teaching and support says this intervention was critical as students struggled to complete their qualifications.

“The picture has been that students take longer to graduate, sometimes three years [or]more. If part-timers are supposed to graduate in five years, they were graduating on the 8th year or not at all. Some big numbers are not graduating at all. So that picture has encouraged us to put together a proposal and to submit for funding in order to address that issue.”

Research expert and author, Dr Erik Hofstee, says many factors are to blame.

“The delay in students completing their work, the lower throughput that we would like to see, that is a multi-faceted problem. On the one hand, it has to do with super visionary capacity, it has to do with prior training of students, it has to do with time pressure and finances. There are all kinds of issues that contribute and if it’s going to be solved, I think we need a holistic approach.”

Students have welcomed this intervention.

Financial exclusion is also a concern as Dr Hofstee explains.

“I think that in terms of a country investing in its people, investing in education is an obvious place to start,” says Hofstee.

“It strikes me not just unfortunate and unfair,  on an individual who could have obtained a qualification. but does not because of finances. It strikes me as a tragedy to the country as a whole. I think we ought to prioritize that. I know there are many demands on the fiscus but this strikes me as a priority.

The program, which will run for three years, aims to also support academic staff.