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Overview of throughput and retention towards understanding epistemic access and success

Themes 2 and 3

The SARChI T&L was invited to participate in the project being conducted within a broader research project by the Ali Mazrui Centre for Higher Education Studies (AMCHES). It focuses on understanding epistemic access and success of students from disadvantaged backgrounds at universities in South Africa. With the provision of free higher education for students in need of financial support, it appeared as if the question of formal access had been significantly addressed but that the question of epistemic access within a framework of epistemic justice needed more attention. Low graduation rates, high dropout rates and general academic underperformance are central problems facing South African universities, particularly after the introduction of free higher education.

The project is focused on undergraduate students in six institutions: Wits, UJ, University of Pretoria (UP), University of the Western Cape, University of Limpopo and the Central University of Technology. Two faculties (Humanities and Natural Science) form part of the case study at each institution.

Faculty profiles with respect to student progression and pass rates (PPRs) were statistically compiled for the cohort of 2012-2018. These profiles were analysed for the institution as a whole and disaggregated by the Humanities and Science Faculties. The aim of the analysis was to have a composite statistical narrative for each faculty’s PPR. Data from the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS) together with programme information from the institutions have been drawn on to achieve the statistical narrative.

Research team: Shireen Motala, Zahraa McDonald (research coordinator), Ahmed Essop, Logan Govender, S Ndlovu.

Time frame: 2021-2023.

Research outputs

Chapter reviewing statistics for a report to the CHE; journal article; book chapter.

Achievements of set goals

The chapter reviewing the statistics for the CHE report has been completed and submitted to the CHE.


The data for this project are owned by the CHE and approval is awaited for further publications.

Knowledge contribution/contribution to the Chair’s strategic goals

The data from this project has contributed insights to the Chair’s strategic goals. In particular, they can contribute to understanding teaching excellence at the undergraduate level. The focus of the project on epistemic access has also brought to the fore experiences related to equity, social justice and decolonisation at six university campuses.

Strategies going forward

All data have now been collected and the report submitted to the CHE. Further publications, including journal articles, book chapters and non-peer-reviewed publications such as blogs and newspaper/popular journal articles have the potential to emerge from this project. A planning workshop to determine the most critical publication opportunities, together with the teams and timeframes for the manuscripts, could provide an optimal way forward. There is also the opportunity to feed into the larger project which a workshop could facilitate. Synergies with other projects within the work of the Chair might also be explored.