Robert Prince


Higher education’s ability to retain students through to graduate appears to be an international challenge. This is also the case in South Africa where only 27% of student complete their studies in minimum time and where 55% will never graduate. These challenges have meant that extended degree programmes, where degrees are formally done over a longer period of time, have become a feature of South African education. One challenge is determining which students will benefit from an extended programme. In South Africa there are two sets of assessments that are pertinent to this debate: the National school leaving examinations (a statutory requirement for entry into higher education) and the National Benchmark Tests. The first set of assessments are norm-referenced and are therefore often difficult to interpret for the purposes of placement. The second, however is criterion-referenced and is therefore better suited for this purpose. This paper describes the two assessments, tracks the academic standing of a cohort of students over six years at one higher education institution. It argues that using the results of the two assessments in complementary ways is the most productive approach for the purpose of placement at this institution and others in South Africa. The implications of looking at these assessments is briefly explored in broader higher education contexts.