An inquiry into student support mechanisms in postgraduate nursing programmes at the University of KwaZulu-Natal : a students' perspective.
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Background: Literature on postgraduate student throughput and success suggests a mismatch between registration, throughput and success rates among postgraduate students. Purpose of the Study: This study aimed at exploring and describing mechanisms used to increase throughput and success rates in Postgraduate Nursing Programmes at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Conceptual Framework: The theoretical framework used in this study was derived from Tinto's proposed Theory ofInstitutional Action (2005). This theory is based on the assumption that learners' behaviour which is manifested in persistence or departure is never fully understood because only the act of leaving or staying is observed, not the underlying intentions behind the action. Research Methodology: Using a mixed methods paradigm, the whole target population of 83 participants was sampled for the quantitative aspect and 2 focus groups each consisting about 12 participants for the qualitative aspect were used. Data were collected using a questionnaire and an interview guide. Descriptive statistics and were used for quantitative data, while thematic content analysis was used for qualitative data. Results: This study revealed that the support mechanisms for increasing student throughput and success rates are structured in three phases: the pre-enrolment phase, the integration phase, and the engagement phase. During the pre-enrolment phase, support is offered in form of information to help students understand what is expected of them, inform students about the programmes offered, the cost of the programmes, duration of the programs and the available support services. During the integration phase, the support provided includes guidance about the registration process, information about programmes and disciplines offered, counselling regarding curriculum design, modules to select and required credits for completion, orientation, and helping international students with visa extension with repatriation issues. During the engagement phase, the support provided includes academic, psychosocial and financial services. Facilitating factors reported include: student interaction with academic staff to monitor and provide feedback, a responsive curriculum to learning needs through the teaching and assessments methods utilised, active student involvement, personal effort, prior learning and working experience, and enough learning resources. Barriers reported were inadequate information, insufficiency of student-lecturer interaction time, unsuitable psychosocial support for adult learners, lack of mentorship and academic advising services, lack of time to participate in co-curricular activities, limited time for studying, ineffective use of learning resources, and language barrier. Recommendations: The study revealed a need to provide a balance mixture the available support mechanisms because academic support dominated the support services offered. Findings also showed the necessity to adapt the psychosocial support to the needs of all categories of students including adult postgraduate students.