A critical evaluation of academic support programmes at selected universities in South Africa : with reference to human resources development for the advancement of African leadership skills.
The study examines the evolution of academic support programmes (ASPs) at predominantly White universities in South Africa. The participating institutions include: University of the Witwatersrand, University of Natal, Rhodes University, and University of Cape Town. Since they are selected on the basis of pioneering the establishment of ASP in South Africa and the extent of effectiveness achieved by ASP programmes, the relationship between the stated goals of academic support and the approaches, as well as strategies used to achieve them, are assessed. Throughout the focus is on whether or not the programmes are effective in reducing the failure and drop-out rates at these universities. The important variables in the intervention process are scrutinised. They include the conceptual framework guiding the formulation and implementation of the programmes and the environment in which ASP operates. A more wider context of ASP is explored to determine those factors that have a significant influence on the successful implementation of the programmes. Among those identified are institutional policy regarding the perceived requirements of disadvantaged students and what are considered to be appropriate strategies for dealing with their disadvantages. For this purpose the experiences of international ASPs are investigated to establish similarities, or lack thereof, with the South African experience. The measures adopted in the United States to deal with the inadequacies of the schooling system, as it impacts on the tertiary sector of education, have especially appealed to educationists in South Africa, since the educational context of Blacks in the United States of America is believed to have many parallels in South Africa. For different reasons racism in the educational arena has resulted in Blacks being underprepared for tertiary education in both countries. The important task then is to ascertain whether the strategies used to resolve the problems encountered by these students at colleges and universities in the United States have any relevance for the South African situation. The focus then shifts to what appropriate measures are necessary to bring about a dispensation that will allow maximum benefit to flow from ASP for both disadvantaged students and educational practice in tertiary institutions. It is the author's firm belief that, without scientifically derived solutions, the mistakes committed by local ASPs and elsewhere will be repeated in South Africa, thus delaying ASP from realising its full potential so that institutional policy-makers, staff and students may reap the fruits of functional ASPs that are both efficient and effective. South Africa has the advantage of entering the ASP field when accumulated knowledge on the subject will provide the opportunity to build on the strengths of others and learn from their weaknesses, and so enhance the chances of success for the programmes here. In an attempt to contribute towards making this objective a reality, wenty-four criteria have been formulated from ASP experiences at the four universities surveyed which participated in the investigation. From conducting interviews with ASP personnel faculty staff and students and personally visiting campuses and, among other things, perusing their records and scrutinising annual reports, it was possible to decide that the best way to address the problem of ineffective ASP is to draw up criteria that can be used, in future, for purposes of setting up ASP units and evaluating the performance of both newly established ones and those already existing. Regular attendance at ASP conferences and the invaluable exposure, through presentation of papers at these and other fora and subsequent exchanges of information and sharing of perspectives, have convinced the writer of the urgent need to approach the problem systematically, scientifically and rationally. Finally, it is contended that without a procedure for the implementation of the criteria, there is the risk of selecting and using them randomly. Hence the grouping of the criteria according to their common characteristics and functioning will expedite the implementation process and reduce the risk of failure as a result of poor sequence and incorrect utilisation.
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