Reflections on Studying at University Without Matric

2014-11-21 12:46

When I first heard about the University of the Western Cape's alternative access programme for people who do not meet the formal admission requirements, I thought it was crazy to admit a person who does not meet the requirements, when people who qualify for degree studies get rejected.

That was until I attended the first Recognition of Prior Learning information session organised by the university's Division for Life Long Learning. I then realised that although a National Senior Certificate with a bachelor's pass is the formal requirement for Bachelors Degree studies, it is not the only way to assess a person's potential for academic success. There are alternative processes that can be used to assess whether or not the person can be admitted to Bachelors Degree studies, and our laws give universities the right to do that.

But many South Africans do not know this. Perhaps because institutions of higher learning do not share this information with the public as widely as possible. Considering South Africa's developmental challenges, our institutions of higher learning ought to be championing this.

Many of my friends are shocked when they learn that I do not have matric and benefited from the University of the Western Cape's alternative access programme. I had left school many years ago at the equivalent of grade 9. When you are hungry, school becomes the last thing on your mind. So hustling for my next meal meant that education would take a back seat. But I always went back to school whenever things got better at home. I'd always start a school year but would not finish, and as such, I was still at primary school when I turned 17.

And in 2010, I applied to study at UWC through their Recognition of Prior Learning programme. There were two admission possibilities for me. The first was the Portfolio Development Course (PDC) which is used to assess knowledge and skills acquired since the person's last school year, and includes work experience. The second option was the Test for Academic Potential (TAP). For both options, the candidate must be at least 23 years old on date of registration if the application is successful and submit to such assessment processes.

I chose the test as the PDC, to me, seemed to be more suitable for people with years of work experience, and I had very little experience at that time. I wrote the TAP and the National Benchmark Test. My results for both assessments were good enough to secure admission.

That further confirmed that perhaps institutions of higher learning should do more to recruit people who, for some reason, could not continue with their education; if they can demonstrate potential to succeed in their chosen academic programme. And a Dean of a faculty at the University of the Western Cape once told the Senate that some of the best students in the university are those who secured admission through the university's alternative access programme (Walters, 2014: 1).

The Dean was informed by the successes of many students who had enrolled at UWC without meeting the formal requirements, and excelled, in some instances performing better than the students who were admitted with their excellent grade 12 results.

There are many professionals who obtained their qualifications through the RPL programme. Think about the student who completed all his LLB, LLM in record time and serves as an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa. Think about the Social Worker, Teacher, Academic, and their contribution to society.

The many professionals who obtained their qualifications through the RPL programme, and are excelling in their chosen fields prove that the University of Life can also prepare a person for academic success. And that maturity, dedication and a lot of hard work also helps a person do well in their studies. Of course RPL students also have challenges at home, work, community, and they add academia which comes with its own challenges; they have more life experience in overcoming whatever obstacles they encounter.

I have met a lot of fellow part-time students who had to deal with many issues in their lives such as death in the family, divorce, retrenchment and they still go on to complete their studies. Today I can proudly say that with all the challenges I have faced in my life, I was given an opportunity to pursue my dreams, and used that opportunity well.

Today I look at myself and look back at how much I've grown as a person, and how the university has helped me grow, unlocked my potential and added another proud graduate to its Alumni list. Who would have thought that the boy who was kicked out of high school for 'failing to comply with the school's code of conduct' (I refused to cut my relaxed hair), sniffing Benzine on the streets of a small town in rural Eastern Cape, hated school, would one day end up completing a degree in record time with a few distinctions? Yes its possible.


Reference List

Walters, S. (2014). Reflections on 14 years of RPL policy, practice and research at UWC. Retreieved 21st November, 2014, from

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