It’s good to know where you fit into the current academic landscape. Knowing what the big picture of higher education looks like puts your position, achievements and future employment into perspective, and also highlights challenges faced by students around you.

Employment statistics by education levels

Looking at statistics published by Stats SA for the first Quarter of 2015, the importance of tertiary education becomes clearer, as does the increased focus of the education industry (and the government) in their attempts to address the attrition rates of students enrolled in some form of tertiary studies. (Note: There aren’t specific statistics related to the employment of people with partially completed tertiary studies, thus we can’t measure the value of partial studies on employment levels).

(Note: Tertiary education here is not limited to Degrees)

University completion statistics

UNISA published an article last year in which they highlighted some challenges and needs for change.

Here are some scary excerpts from that article:

  • From a group of first time students (across all universities) starting their degrees in 2006
    • 33% dropped out in their first year (first year attrition rate)
    • 55% had not graduated their degree within 5 – 6 years
  • UNISA-specific statistics
    • Estimated 78% of students enrolled in 3 – 4 year degrees will not complete them
    • Only 9% of students doing a 3 year degree will complete their studies

Reasons for first-year attrition rates

As can be seen from the above, a big challenge that universities face are the numbers of students who ‘drop out’ after their first year of studying.

The author of a research article attempting to identify the reasons for first year attrition from Accounting studies formed focus groups of students who either failed their first year of studies, or changed to an ‘easier’ course. (Note: The research was aimed at students who has enrolled for a degree with the intention of qualifying as a Chartered Accountant)

The students identified the following as reasons for their attrition (in no particular order):

  • High workload and pace of work, with limited time available (especially in comparison to school)
  • Lack of effort (on their behalf!)
  • Lack of motivation
  • General emotional wellbeing
  • Problems with choice of qualification (eg: uncertainty about what CA’s actually do; studying the CA route due to parental, societal ‘pressure’ and perceptions)
  • Transition from school to university (eg: Too much freedom and too many distractions; difference between class and exam questions)
  • Social distractions and peer pressure
  • Poor self-management (eg: Time management; Wanting to be ‘spoonfed’ by lecturers; Wanting lecturers to take responsibility for their homework)
  • Underestimation of the demands of the course
  • Problems with the university (eg: Ineffective / disinterested lecturers; Unfair treatment; lack of discipline in class)
  • Level of difficulty
  • Difficulties of black students (eg: Financial difficulties; Distance from the campus)


By identifying the challenges facing you and your fellow students, you are in a better position to address the issues that may stand in your way. Find support and assistance to help you avoid pitfalls that may prevent you from achieving your goals.


Statistics clearly indicate that some form of completed tertiary education greatly improves employment rates. It is vital, therefore, that South Africa improves the through-put rates of students.

For those of you who are currently students, (Note: Students currently account for 16.7% of the 20.3 million potential labour force that is not economically active) what are you doing to ensure you complete your tertiary studies? Of equal importance, what are you doing to assist and encourage those around you to reach their goals as well?

If you can relate, or have a query...


  1. Its an on point article. Makes me realize how fortunate I am as a black female who graduated from UNISA and working. Thank you for the truely insightful article that brings one to the reality of the world around us.

    • Thank you Lindiwe,
      I totally agree with you. It’s quite scary to visualise the statistics, rather than just read them. We generally compare ourselves to those around us who have more than us, and get discouraged or upset that others are further than us, but we forget how far ahead we are if we have education!
      Well done for graduating and investing in your future 🙂

  2. 9% shocked me,really Iam part of that % who complete the degree… i know quite a few guys whom i started my degree with and now they have dropped. No amount of encouragement would make them begin their studies again.

    • It is very sad that so many people don’t finish. Everyone has their own challenges, and one solution doesn’t fit everyone. I really hope we can see this percentage increase in the next few years. Our country needs education and skills!!! 🙂
      Congrats for being in the 9%!

    • Awesome Cuan… you just keep at it! You’ve come so far, don’t let the world and it’s challenges get you down!

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Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

Yvonne Starkey CA(SA)

I coach accounting students who are struggling with their study habits and mindset, and want their studies to be as effective as they used to be. See more on my about page

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