In line with its strategic objectives, and the country's requirements for high-level skills, Wits University is moving towards being a more research intensive institution, with a higher proportion of postgraduate students. As a result, and with the agreement of the Department of Higher Education and Training, the number of places available for first-time first-year applications was not increased from 2013, and has been kept constant at 5 500. The current total number of undergraduate students at Wits is approximately 21 000, and the total number of postgraduate students is approximately 10 000.
In relation to this, Wits would like to comment on the country-wide issue of the increased demand for university places that is unlikely to be met by the current absorptive capacity of the public higher education system.
It is certain that there will be many disappointed applicants who are turned away, even though, at first sight, their NSC results had prompted hope of entry. The university would like to clarify the various factors contributing to this situation, so that disappointment is not compounded with misunderstanding. These factors include positive developments in the basic education sector, as well as insights into how universities are responding to the increased pressure on available places. Wits' experience in this regard is bound to be similar to that of most other universities.
In 2012/13, Wits received 34 000 first-time first-year applications. In 2013/14, this number increased significantly to 46 000. At the same time, the improved matric pass rate, as well as an increase in the number of distinctions in subjects such as mathematics, has meant that many more applicants have met the minimum requirements for university entrance.
Wits is able to accommodate 5 500 first-time first-year students in 2014. The substantial increase in the number of applications, coupled with a higher number of matriculants meeting minimum requirements, has resulted in increased competition for available places. An unfortunate consequence is that many applications have been unsuccessful.
While selection procedures may differ among universities, the final matric results are used as one of the key selection indicators for admission into the majority of Wits' programmes and final offers are based on these results. Offers are also subject to the university having sufficient available places. Preference is thus given to top achieving students.
In order to manage the number of places available for each programme, once firm offers are made to applicants, there is a deadline by which these offers need to be accepted. In some cases, applicants received firm offers, but failed to accept the offer within the required period of time. All offers are communicated via SMS, e-mail and post, and the acceptance time period is clearly stipulated.
Wits understands the concern of unsuccessful applicants and their families, and urges them to consider alternatives, such as FETs and private institutions. Applicants with lower-level aggregates might also consider rewriting subjects such as mathematics, science and English through centres recommended by the Department of Basic Education.
Wits commends the Department of Higher Education for taking action to address the challenges facing the sector and the country at large by establishing two new universities, and expects that in due course this will relieve some of the pressure on the remaining institutions, while increasing access to higher education. At the same time, it is incumbent on the education sector to work together to create opportunities for other types of post-schooling education and avoid a reliance on universities as the only form of post-schooling provision. The economy requires the fully diverse range of skills that is provided by an appropriately diversified tertiary sector.