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Extended Programmes with an Integrated Foundation Phase, as they are formally known, have been around for a long time. The first tranche of money for these programmes became available in 2000 although it was not until 2004 that they were introduced to the system more widely.  The purpose of these programmes have always been to enhance student performance by providing additional tuition and support to those who need it.  It is not necessary to look very far in HELTASA conference programmes to see many members reporting on their work aimed at doing exactly this.

Until now, the design of Extended Programmes has been guided by a document produced by the DHET, but largely the work of long standing AD colleague, Ian Scott.  According to this document, to be eligible for funding the curricula of Extended Programmes must:

  1. Be a fully accredited programme (for example a Bachelor’s Degree or National Diploma). Students are admitted to the accredited programme which has been redesigned to incorporate additional tuition in the form of an ‘integrated foundation phase’.
  2. Incorporate at least 60 HEQSF credits worth of additional tuition
  3. Be extended by an amount of time commensurate with the additional tuition (so, for example, programmes incorporating an extra 60 HEQSF credits would need to be extended by a semester. Those with an additional 120 credits would need an additional year.

Over time, the system itself developed a number of programme and course models arguably in a ‘bottom up’ fashion. The fact that these models were developed was largely due to the topsliced staff development funding that was available in the Foundation Programme Grants).  Staff working on Extended Programmes (many of whom are members of HELTASA’s Foundation SIG) organised lots of events and really developed their learning and their practice together.

The four programme types now identified by the Ministerial Reference Group that reviews applications for new funding are:

Type I: A fully foundational year followed by the three year ‘regular’ curriculum.

Type II:  A ‘slow stream’ approach involving the first year of the regular curriculum being split over two years with additional foundational provision built in over this time.

Type III: A combination of regular and augmenting courses where foundation development and support is provided alongside the regular course.

Type IV:  An ‘intervention’ curriculum where students are registered for the regular curriculum but those at risk are then pulled out into foundational courses when they begin to fail.  This model is most commonly used in the medical sciences were entrance requirements are so high.

The most popular course/module models developed over time are:

  1. Fully foundational courses which address gaps in students’ learning from schooling.
  2. Extended courses where, for example, a course/module is extended over time without any reduction in the amount of tuition. This would mean, for example, that a 15 SAQA credit semester long course could be extended over an entire year and would incorporate 15 SAQA credits and 15 ‘foundation’ credits.
  3. Augmenting courses where foundation level tuition is inserted alongside a regular course. The foundation level tuition is often provided by AD specialists who liase with the academic teaching the regular course and who may, or may not, got to classes so that they know what is going on in the course. This model may mean that the number of lectures and tutorials per week are doubled. If this is the case, then the number of SAQA credits allocated to the regular course are matched by an equal number of ‘foundation’ credits.

It is possible to discuss the merits and demerits of each of these programme types and models but the purpose of this HE Watch is to alert HELTASA members to another phenomenon.

Following the introduction of Extended Programmes in 2004, they grew swiftly.  For example, the 8,400 students accommodated in Extended Programmes as a result of the second round of funding in 203 approved programmes in 2007 had grown to 16,700 placed in 343 programmes by 2015.

More recently, however, this pattern appears to be reversing. In 2017, there was a shortfall in the approved headcounts for extended programmes of 3,557 with only two of the universities identified as ‘historically disadvantaged’ by the DHET (where one might expect students to be in need of support) having increased their enrolments significantly.

What has happened to see this decline in headcounts and the uptake of Extended Programmes?

Arguably one of the problems with Extended Programmes relates to the need to demonstrate their impact on student performance.  Again, if we turn to HELTASA conferences, we have seen many practitioners reporting on the success of the particular courses and modules they have been involved in teaching.  However, more difficult to identify is the overall success at programme level.

According to the DHET’s Report of the 2000 to 2016 First Time Entering Undergraduate Cohort Studies for Public Higher Education Institutions’ although there has been a slight improvement in the dropout rate for students on shows that while there has been a slight improvement in the dropout rate of students on programmes incorporating foundation provision (i.e. on an Extended Programme), the throughput of these students is lower than of the national cohort more generally.

Obviously, the quality of foundation provision across the system varies enormously.  Another arguably more significant problem relates to the fact that the ‘foundation phase’ often remains isolated from the rest of the curriculum which adopts a ‘business as usual approach’ to teaching and assessment.  Students who have had the benefit of approaches that build on their strengths rather than preying on their weaknesses in the foundation phase are confronted by the ‘brick wall’ of regular teaching and learning throughout the regular curriculum.

Possibly another reason for the decline in enrolments in Extended Programmes relates to students themselves.  In 2015 & 2016 we saw nationwide protests about the cost of studying in higher education.  Telling students who are embarking on a qualification that they will need an additional year to complete it even though we know that the majority take four years anyway, does not often result in a positive response. Although NSFAS provision has increased, a family income of R350K (which is the upper limit for funding) is not sufficient to allow families to pay for tuition and living costs and the thought of needing to do this for four, rather than three, years is hard to bear.

At the moment, a Reference Group is looking at the Policy on Extended Programmes with an Integrated Foundation Phase. Any changes to the Policy will need to go out for public comment which will mean HELTASA and its members will need to get involved. A purpose of HE Watch was to stimulate discussion amongst HELTASA members about developments in the system more broadly.  It would be really good to hear from members on the topic of Extended Programmes particularly in relation to the following questions:

  1. Why do you think the downwards trend in the number of students enrolled on Extended Programmes might be taking place?
  2. What could be done to ensure that Extended Programmes really do make an impact on our students’ chances of success?

Please comment on the above questions in the comments below.  We look forward to your feedback.