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Factors to consider when deciding on studies

THE world looks very different today compared to when the Matric class of 2020 entered their final year of school six months ago.

COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown have caused much upheaval for this year’s matrics, not least in terms of the way their educational journey has changed. But while much of their experience is different for this year’s Grade 12s, one thing has not changed – the need for them to decide what they will study and where when they progress to higher education next year.

“Your journey might seem tough right now, and the future uncertain. But although things are different, you must continue to work towards realising your dreams, and this includes weighing your options carefully before deciding on the best course of action for you, for continuing your education in 2021,” says Nola Payne, head of faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education.

Payne said the process and considerations involved in making higher education decisions have changed as a result of the way the world has changed, and matriculants and their parents need to take that into consideration.

“For example, in previous years, we would advise students to attend open days at various institutions, visit campuses to speak to student advisors and faculty staff, and connect with current and former students. It goes without saying that this physical legwork is no longer an option in the form that it used to be in the past.”

The good news, however, is that quality institutions will now be hosting virtual open days, which allow prospective students to actually ‘visit’ more campuses, and give them quicker access to advisors by scheduling online appointments.

“Additionally, some institutions will allow on-campus visits, by appointment.

“In addition to getting a feel for institutions via online meet-ups, the considerations for determining the quality of offering and an institution’s ability to provide seamless, sustainable education have also irrevocably changed in recent months,” Payne said.

She said when considering higher education options now, prospective students have to assess the following three factors:

1. The ability of an institution to provide a superior online offering

As many students realised during lockdown learning, a good contact education does not necessarily translate to a good online education, said Payne.

“This means that historic ideas of what made a good, ‘prestigious’ institution have been turned on their head. You have to ensure that any institution for which you opt will be able to offer a superior education regardless of delivery method.

“So this year’s matrics are, for the first time, able to get a real insight into how institutions actually managed to do this over the past few months, regardless of whether they are a public university or private higher education institution.”

Payne said some of the questions to ask in an effort to determine an institution’s competence in terms or their online offering, include:

a. Whether the institution has an online learning platform;

b. How the institution uses the platform for teaching and learning;

c. How lecturers teach using the online platform;

d. What students are expected to do on the online platform;

e. What resources students need for online learning and

f. What statistics show in relation to attendance, submission of assignments, and student progress during lockdown.

“Obviously if an institution doesn’t have an online platform, or if their online platform did not effectively support the continuation of learning, one should think twice about opting for such an institution going forward,” Payne says.

“So be sure to interrogate all your choices to get a clear sense of what they did for their existing students these past few months; how they assisted those students whose circumstances required additional support and whether their students were able to adapt to the new environment.”

2. An institution’s focus on work-integrated learning

A focus on work-integrated learning and industry alignment was important in the past, but now it is more important than ever, says Payne.

“Given the massive loss of jobs in the wake of COVID-19 and global lockdowns, opportunities are going to be limited in coming years. When hiring picks up again, employers will want to be very clear that they are appointing graduates who are able to do the job and not just have paper credentials to show for their time at university.

“This means that you should ask of institutions how their curricula are connected to the real world of work, how closely they work with industry to ensure you engage with relevant, updated learning material, and how work-integrated learning is incorporated in the curriculum.”

“The additional benefit of work-integrated learning is that this also provides students with a portfolio of evidence upon graduation, which gives them additional collateral during the job hunt,” Payne said.

3. The registration and accreditation status of an institution and qualification

One thing that has not changed, is the need to ensure an institution is properly registered and accredited, Payne said.

“Bogus colleges and qualifications have been a challenge in South Africa in the past, and one expects unscrupulous operators will continue to prey on the most vulnerable in future. This is why you need to start considering your options now, and not leave your decisions about your future too late, when you might be desperate to further your studies but find yourself with fewer options.

“Give yourself sufficient time to investigate the institutions and qualifications that interest you, so you’ll be better positioned to investigate them thoroughly, and weed out those which will cost you time and money without providing the required return on investment.”

Payne advised matrics to start investigating their options without delay, and to spend a little time every week working on their higher education checklist.

“At this stage, you may not yet be sure what you want to register for, or how to connect with institutions. But the fact is that higher education continues, and good institutions will have the systems and advisors in place to help you on this exciting journey – you just have to reach out,” Payne said.

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