Wits devises holistic plan to promote student success and achievement

The University of the Witwatersrand has begun designing an institutional framework for student success, the first draft of which will be released at the end of the 2019 academic year.

Professor Diane Grayson, senior director of academic affairs said, “Before coming to Wits, I was working on a quality enhancement project in higher education that sought to enable all universities in the country to look systematically at how to improve student success.”

Grayson added that student success was a concern that she brought with her to the institution and her first task, after making a presentation to senate and getting approval, was to coordinate the development of such a framework.

“Research showed that only about one third of students are completing their qualifications in minimum time, and even with an additional two years the completion rate was still less than 60%. Yet we have the cream of the crop,” she told Wits Vuvuzela.

According to Grayson, the framework’s principles and values are to draw on research and scholarship sourced from data provided by the institution’s Business Intelligence Services (BIS) unit.

A data scientist at the BIS unit, Innocent Mamvura, said the unit’s role on the project was “to collect and look at historic data, identify patterns and highlight certain trends to answer questions posed to the unit with the aim of helping the university improve its processes”.

Mamvura said the unit looked at a number of variables including library and lab usage, residence status, class attendance and funding.

“We used a system called predictive modelling, where we drew insight on historic information to predict the current student. We would then figure out whether a student would most likely pass or fail based on those inputs, and propose interventions if necessary,” Mamvura told Wits Vuvuzela.

He also added that despite the access to the data for research purposes, student information confidentiality remains a priority.

Dean of student affairs Jerome September said the goal of the institutional framework for student success was figuring out how to refocus Wits, with the students at the centre.

“What we found was that there were a lot of initiatives and support services in place, but they were all fragmented and therefore not working optimally to the benefit of the student,” September said.

“Often when students access these services, they retell the story and potentially re-live the traumatic experience. What we want to do here is potentially break those silos and integrate the support services and map the student engagement journey,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.

September adds that the work done is to assist student affairs with a way of formally indicating or having a sense of what the student journey is.

“Once we have a sense of what the journey is we are better equipped to implement support structures and components as the need arises.”

Grayson said her vision for the framework was to prioritise students in order to increase rates of retention and completion.

FEATURED IMAGE: Professor Diane Grayson, Wits senior director of academic affairs.
Photo: Sisanda Mbolekwa