20 June 2012

South Africa: Choosing the Right Institution for Tertiary Studies


Matrics have to make numerous stressful decisions during their last year at school, and they are often neither equipped nor able to access concise and accurate information which will have an extended impact on their lives.

One of these decisions - whether to study at a college, university or private higher education institution - can be particularly baffling. Especially when students continue to be confronted by myths such as that certain kinds of institutions are inherently better or guarantees employment upon completion of studies.

Dr. Felicity Coughlan, director of the Independent Institute of Education, says choosing where to study is a personal decision that must be taken with care, as the various institutions are not interchangeable and one size does not fit all.

Investigate reputation

"When you are making a decision about what to study and where, it is important to note that there is a wide range of different opportunities and that the decision is ultimately a personal one. You need to consider what you need, what you can afford and what you would prefer to get from a learning space, and then choose your institution accordingly.

"Always ensure that the institution is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training, but also speak to students and investigate the reputation of an institution before committing money and time," she says.

There are two key institutional types available to prospective students, namely public institutions and private institutions. Both the public and private sectors also host two different kinds of institutions - Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, and higher education institutions.

"Each institution - whether public or private, FET College or higher education institution - has a character and focus of its own," says Coughlan. "Several are generalist and you can follow a range of study options, while others are very niche and focused and offer a limited range of specialist qualifications."

Look at facilities

Prospective students, once they have decided what they want to study, must look at which institution best caters to their chosen field of interest. "Facilities differ based on a range of factors - there are less likely to be science laboratories in a business school and many private institutions are not able to afford large sport fields; so work with sports clubs to offer students a work/social balance," she says.

"Class sizes vary too from institution to institution and while classes in private institutions are normally smaller, this is not always the case. It is thus imperative that when you are making a decision about what to study and where, that you recognise that there is a matrix of opportunity available to you. The decision is ultimately a personal one, based on what you need, what you can afford and what you would prefer to get from a learning space," Coughlan concludes.

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