n South African Journal of Education - Factors influencing academic success or failure of first-year and senior university students : do education students and lecturers perceive things differently?

Volume 23, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0256-0100
  • E-ISSN: 2076-3433



South African universities are changing in several very important ways; their entry standards are changing, their programmes are focusing more specifically on the outcomes that learners are required to achieve, and their student populations are becoming more diverse. These changes are occurring in a climate of increased accountability. It is, therefore, important for universities to be concerned about the standards of their academic programmes and about the success rates of students. Together, these factors have produced a range of opinions about what needs to happen in universities if the diverse range of students is to be successful in outcomes-based programmes that maintain high standards. Some educators argue that entry standards are the most important determinants of success at university; others maintain that non-academic factors must also be considered. There is considerable evidence that the views and expectations about success held by lecturers and stud ents are not always consistent. This article presents the results of a recent empirical investigation at the University of Pretoria that attempted to identify the post-enrolment factors that lecturers and students perceived as having important influences on students' success in their university studies. The study investigated the different expectations of first-year students, senior students and lecturers and identified numerous important similarities and inconsistencies. Most notably, there was a high and significant correlation between the rankings the three groups (lecturers, first-year students and senior students) gave to 52 factors linked to successful university study. There was also a high and significant correlation between the rankings of lecturers and senior students on 55 factors suggestive of unsuccessful university study. However, the perceptions of first-year students were not strongly correlated with either lectures or senior students. This suggests that First-year students may have unrealistic expectations about the non-academic factors that could reduce their chances of successful study. The results of the research could be used in three ways. University administrators could provide more supportive learning environments to enhance the chances that students will be successful and lecturers could also use the information to enhance the influences of positive factors on student learning. The influence of negative factors could also be minimised accordingly. Finally students could also be assisted and supported to approach university studies in a way that will increase their chances of success.

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