This project examines issues of access, retention and throughput at three very different universities in the South African higher education landscape. These issues play out against the historical and social backdrop of differentiated education and the systematic exclusion, poverty and political disempowerment of the majority of the population. And while higher education institutions in South Africa share this common past, they also display highly disparate characteristics related to their local contexts, the communities they serve, their staff profiles, and their access to resources and culture. Consequently the three institutions face both common and specific challenges. This chapter explores their contexts and their conceptualisation of success as measured in terms of access, retention and throughput.
We begin by sketching some developments in higher education in South Africa in the past two decades. In particular we look at the growth and change in composition of the student body. We also consider the impact that staffing and funding issues have on the ability of higher education institutions to discharge their core functions, particularly teaching and learning. Having set the scene at a national level, we turn to the specifics of the three universities examined in this study.We place them in their historical and social contexts and compare their educational offerings, the composition of their student bodies and their resourcing. We then go on to examine how the questions of access, retention and throughput have been interpreted and responded to at each of the three institutions.Higher Education Monitor: Access and throughput in South African Higher Education - Three case studiesIn what follows, we provide some comparative information on the student enrolments, resources and outputs of each institution to help position the three universities in relation to each other. Since the data were not always available in the same format for all three universities, some adjustments have been made in presenting it to take account of these differences. For the purposes of consistency, race is reported as African, coloured, Indian and white and 'black' refers to African, coloured and Indian combined.