n South African Journal of Higher Education - An Activity Theory analysis : reasons for undergraduate students' absenteeism at a South African university

Volume 28, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1011-3487



The study reported on in this article sought to ascertain the extent of undergraduate student absenteeism; the reasons for its occurrence; and the actions performed afterwards. Activity Theory is the theoretical framework against which reasons for absenteeism of students enrolled in three- or four-year degree programmes across degree levels in four faculties at a higher education institution (HEI) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, were surveyed. A research sampling method was used whereby 696 of a potential 1 428 students responded to a structured and semi-structured questionnaire requiring qualitative and quantitative responses. An interpretive paradigm was used for the analysis. The activity system's mediating elements comprising subjects, rules, community, division of labour, tools and objects, capture the range of cumulative influences and their interdependency. As substantive theory, Allardt's (1989) Sociological Theory of Welfare assesses well-being. The study found that students' absenteeism reflects challenges regarding existence needs, compromised learning quality and a risk to throughput. Consequently, some 'objects' might need to be redefined. Departmental and institutional strategies are recommended.

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