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Success or failure? Student experiences of the Extended Curriculum Programme (ECP) in the College of Humanities, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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South African Universities have responded to the global trend towards massification of higher education by public policy imperative to redress the legacies of apartheid. Extended Curriculum Programmes (ECPs) are used to implement this policy to remedy the limitations of disadvantaged primary and secondary schooling. This serves to improve both participation and success rates of those from these backgrounds who demonstrate potential. Dwindling government funding of tertiary education, high dropout rates, increasing numbers of black students gaining access into the universities, and the threat of a declining quality tertiary education have popularized suggestions in favour of the cancellation of ECPs. While the success of ECPs is being questioned, its value cannot be undermined. Some studies even suggest the expansion of such support to all tertiary students. The imperative to generate strong evidence on the value of ECP to inform policy decisions motivated the current study to target the voices of the ECP students in the College of Humanities, University of KwaZulu-Natal as a case study. The Social Constructivist paradigm was used to inquire into ECP students’ experiences of success and failures, using the Attribution theory to assess their beliefs and how they understand and relate to their experiences of learning as affected by the ECP. The Study Process Questionnaire was also used to test how ECP students’ learning motives and studying strategies determine their approaches to learning. This mixed methods with emphasis on the qualitative approach was used to collect data. Students from different levels on, within and through the programme were sampled to give a representative view. Twenty-two face-to-face semi-structured interviews, two focus group interviews and 170 responses from the Study Process questionnaire were used to collect the different kinds of data. Thematic content analysis was used on qualitative data, while data from the SPQ was analysed using STATA statistical analysis software. Students’ approaches to learning were correlated and presented in graphical and tabular formats as determined by their motives and strategies. The discussion chapter used statistical graphs and tables to support themes derived from the qualitative data on students’ attributions. The study found that students attribute the outcome of their studies to a variety of factors that are worth considering in empowering students when implementing the ECP and in policy adjustments on how student underpreparedness can be addressed. The academic and computer literacy skills and other foundational skills from the programme empower ECP students to assist mainstream students. It also facilitates their social construction of university life and enables their adjustment by positively affecting their motivations while preparing them to succeed. The attribution theory was found to have the reflective-tool to enable students understand themselves and their learning habits. Such self-awareness equips students to learn and adopt more productive approaches to learning; a useful tool for student counsellors. The study suggested that opening the ECP up to all students may boycott a vital element of cooperation and competition that the programme evokes between its students and mainstream student when they compare their performances. Nevertheless, instead of discontinuing the programme due to funding constraints, its foundational modules could be open as compulsory to all students based on the outcome of a university entrance test to determine readiness and skills level in important cognate areas. These modules are to be based in the ECP to demonstrate that all students need support of some sort and to enhance equal socialization between ECP students and mainstream students. This would contribute towards eliminating the stigma on the ECP, and sustain the programme through mainstream students’ registration without much recourse to external funding. Nevertheless, financial constraints, difficulty of exiting the programme, and the lack of transparency about its admission criteria remain threats to the programme, but the programme does contribute towards constructing a positive university learning environment.