Evaluating the South African higher education government funding framework
South Africa is ranked 146th out of a total of 148 countries by the World Economic Forum for its education system and last in science and mathematics, and yet the government spends up to a fifth of its budget on education. Only 40% of pupils who start schooling in grade 1 will pass matric (grade 12), with just 12% maintaining high enough marks to qualify for university entrance. Any research to boost learning in South Africa, at any level, should be welcomed. The primary goal of higher education institutions is to provide education to post-school students, but the institutions need to be financially viable. Most higher education institutions in South Africa rely heavily on financial support from the government in the form of subsidies (up to 40% of total income in some cases) for funding to remain financially viable. Therefore, government subsidies represent a significant investment into higher education and student retention needs more research in South Africa. Many of the universities in South Africa, especially those that are financially sound, do not take much notice of student dropouts and those that do pay attention, do so firstly at the postgraduate level. The return on investment for master’s and doctoral students is much higher than that for undergraduate students. Understanding the basic elements of the funding framework for South African universities is vital in the understanding of financial losses from student dropouts. The underlying factors that determine the base of funding for higher education have remained the same since the introduction of the Holloway formula in 1953 to the current New Funding Formula (NFF), implemented in 2004. Large amounts of funds are still invested in higher education and there is a national shortage of high quality students in scarce skills, in particular students with a postgraduate qualification. Dropouts result in fewer graduates and large amounts of funding and human capital are wasted on educating students who will never complete their studies. Postgraduate studies have a potential greater loss and a prediction of the expected and unexpected loss for these students may encourage institutions to examine student retention more closely. The latter is an area for concern and needs to be assessed and addressed as soon as possible.