by Jamie Mighti
SOUTH Africa is a strange country, where the level of sports excellence is hilariously inconsistent. On the one hand, Bafana Bafana keep losing games and can only dream of the World Cup, while in contrast the cricket and rugby teams rank amongst the best in the world.
The answer can be found in Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest coach of all time. The answer to how to create a Wits that ranks in the top 100 universities lies in the Alex Ferguson rule.
When Alex Ferguson got to Manchester United in 1987, he made it very clear that his primary concern would be youth development, that is how he could keep producing the likes of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. He focused not only on their technical abilities but also on their character. He took boys and made them leaders. Ferguson understood that he had to be in control of the player production if he wanted to win multiple titles, and we all know how that story ends.
The latest QS global university rankings place Wits at 313th overall worldwide, that’s a jump of over 50 places for us in the space of one year. This in and of itself is a considerable. However, we are not yet on track to become a university entrenched in the top 100 unless we start prioritising the one group of students who matter the most. That group of students who are treated like the scum of the university: our first years.
This university bleeds first years. Too many get lost even before they hit the halfway mark and our dropout rate is over 50% for most faculties at the first year level. The dropout rate for courses like actuarial science is over 60%. Last year alone, the percentage of students who could not proceed to the next year of study was 51%.
The number of students who had to go home was over 2 700 according to the Wits annual report. Not proceeding to the next year of study is a loss of two major resources, namely time and money.
Academic exclusion is worse, considering that for those of us from harsh backgrounds being in university is the only chance some of us have to change our lives. It is a major tragedy to find out that most of the students who have to repeat a year or go home are predominantly of the first year variety. Wits, as a university, is breaking the Alex Ferguson rule.
If this university truly wants to be in the top 100 then we have to follow the legendary coach’s lead. We speak of having more postgraduates, more research and more papers published. However, if we are serious about seeing more of these, then we have to look where the greatest coach of all time looked. We have to look at our most important source of brilliance, we have to look at our first years.