The centralised applications system: staff and student perceptions at Durban University of Technology and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Dzingwa, Salamina Manoge.
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Undergraduate admission processes in South African Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have been characterised by numerous challenges and a series of negative consequences. One overarching challenge is improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the institutional management of admissions processes. The way in which late applications to institutions have been managed is also of grave concern for both the government and general public, notably, issues of affordability and access to HEIs remain highly contested in the sector. Centralising the applications process nationally, beyond the current dispensation in KwaZulu-Natal, is a solution proposed by the government but the question of whether a Central Application System (CAS) will sufficiently address these challenges calls for undertaking an empirical investigation of the phenomenon. This study evaluates current perceptions of the staff and student CAS users at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), to ascertain, inter alia, whether the CAS is a fit and suitable application process model for HEIs. The researcher implemented a mixed method research design driven by a case study strategy, underpinned by post-positivist, pragmatism and constructivist worldviews and guided by an input-output-outcome meta-theoretical framework. Data were collected at DUT, UKZN and the Central Applications Office (CAO), from 312 participants, through semi-structured interviews, focus groups and a group interview with staff, and a student survey. Emerging themes from combined application of content, matrix and thematic analyses provide guidance on how to improve the CAS before it becomes operational for all HEIs. Stata 11.0 results from the surveys revealed a number of statistically significant relationships between relevant variables. Qualitative and quantitative results converge on the fitness of the CAS model for processing undergraduate applications. Findings highlight CAS challenges such as mismatched information; lack of compatibility of technology systems between the CAO and the two universities. This applied research produces knowledge on policy implementation strategies with recommendations for administrative enhancement of access to higher education.