About 40 percent first-year commerce students have to de-register from their second semester maths component because they failed the first semester component.

The computational maths failure rate has been relatively high over the past few years. Last year, 370 students failed the same course according to course co-ordinator, Karin Hunt.

Out of the 361 students who failed computational maths in first semester this year, 105 did not qualify even to write the June exam because they did not meet the “satisfactory requirements” for the course.

In February, 839 were registered for the course. By May, eight had deregistered. At the end of the first semester, 708 students wrote the exam and 478 passed.

A student who fails computational maths cannot do business statistics in the same year. That student has to do statistics the following year although which should not lengthen the duration of their degree unless they fail other courses.

Hunt said a first year commerce student usually has three other majors to concentrate on that require a lot of attention.

Accounting student Nothando Kunene failed economics and maths and has de-registered from second semester components of both courses.

Kunene said when she realised she failed, she felt disheartened and disappointed especially because she matriculated from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy with six distinctions.

“When I came to Wits with six As I was sure I’d do fairly okay here at Wits. I did not expect to fail the way that I’m failing right now,” Kunene said. She said she knew it would be a challenge but did not expect to be “set back”.

Although she worries about the consequences of her academic progress on her bursary, she hopes to improve her performance.

Hunt said it is difficult to blame the high failure rate on isolated factors because each case is specific. Nonetheless, in general, many students are overwhelmed by the transition from high school to university. “It’s just so different from school,” said Hunt.

An academic paper Hunt co-authored with Wits colleagues showed that maths is an important indicator of students’ university academic success especially in commerce-related courses like accounting.

But even though more students are passing matric maths and qualifying for university, the current maths the university failure rate is generally higher than that of former higher grade students.

Hunt said a matriculant can get an A for maths exam but not have answered all its sections making maths an unreliable indicator of their university competence. Because they qualify for university, lecturers get the impression that they are prepared for university maths and know how to cope in first year.

Faculty registrar, Marike Bosman, said the faculty was dealing with many cases of mid-year de-registrations which she could attribute to factors such as financial problems.

The faculty provides enough academic support for students mainly in the form of additional tutorials according to Bosman.

Kunene however said that these “drop-in” tutorials at lunch were not helpful because there were only two or three tutors assisting many students.

“Often the rooms are full and not all of us can fit into the two rooms.”

Published in 17th edition of Vuvuzela