By Meggan McCarthy & Kelly Adams
Pic: Desiree Schirlinger
The amount of students entering Rhodes this year has increased by 10% instead of the proposed 2% growth expected annually. This recent increase has put huge strain on many academic departments and lecture venues.
According to Professor Pat Terry, who is in charge of organising the Rhodes timetable and lecture venues, there are now 700 more first year students then there were in 2008. The faculties that have seen the biggest influx of students are the Commerce and Science faculties. The amount of first years in the Science and Pharmacy faculties has grown by 45%. In the Commerce faculty, the numbers have grown from 650 students to 818.
Terry said that this has had a big impact on some subjects as the students do not fit into the lecture venues and practical laboratories. In Botany, the sizes of the classes are exceeding the available space. “The University is concerned about what happens next year, because these students will be going into second year,” said Terry. Terry also said that the University is having meetings and discussions in order to have a look at the problems involved in this growth. “It’s worrying, it’s difficult planning this growth,” said Terry, adding that this problem is not unique to Rhodes, as many other universities have also had to deal with a large increase of students this year.
According to Terry, one of the factors involved is that the “no show rate” was much less than in previous years. Terry explained that “once the deposit is paid, we have a pretty good idea of how many students will pitch, but many students withdraw at the last minute. This year we haven’t had that.”
The second factor involved is the turmoil over the National Senior Certificates. Approximately 20 000 more school leavers qualified with endorsements, so more people were able to go to university.
Another factor contributing to the growth is the state of the economy. “In times of economic downturn, people cannot get into the job market that easily. They would rather get a qualification [through university] as they believe that this will help them to get a job. When there’s an economic downturn, the number of students goes up,” said Terry.
The number of students is not final, as not everyone has registered yet. However, Terry said that the increase has not caused great stress, “There is anxiety, but not panic.”
Vanessa Dossi, a first year BCom student, said that the Economics and Management lectures are the most affected venues in terms of reaching full capacity. Dossi said that students have “to get there at least 15 minutes early. If [they’re] late, [they’re] going to be on the floor.” Dossi said that this is also due to students all going to one of the lectures instead of the second one on the same day.
Another concerning issue is the number of first year students who have had to go into digs because of space constraints. Many residences have waiting lists with over a hundred people on the list.
Oppidan warden and senior lecturer in the Law department, Gordon Barker, is not worried by the current situation. “There haven’t been a lot of problems with placing students in digs due to the building boom that has happened in Grahamstown in recent years. The Grand residence and certain townhouse developments means there has been enough space to accommodate the extra students.”
When asked if the student increase will continue in upcoming years and how Rhodes will deal with the great influx, Barker was sure it will happen but he is not pessimistic about it.
“If you look at universities like Stellenbosch and NWU in Potchefstroom, the towns are roughly the same size as Grahamstown, but they have vastly more students than us and they manage. The trick is to synchronise all aspects of the University to ensure that the system runs smoothly,” Barker concluded.