An ELKS seminar: completion and retention issues in South African distance education

The ELKS Community, coordinated by the BDRA, ran a very successful seminar on the 24th of September from 10.15am – 11.45am British Summer Time. The event was broadcast from the BDRA’s Media Zoo at its new premises at 103 – 105 Princess Road East, Leicester. The speaker was Dr Paul Prinsloo, who is at the Directorate, Curriculum Development at the University of South Africa, one of the Mega Universities with 290,000 students studying at distance. Paul’s seminar was concerned with a social critical model of student retention in distance education in developing country context, a very relevant topic for distance educators all over the world.

I think you will find the seminar very interesting and relevant, so we have recorded the session together with live interactions from participants in the way of a chat box and live questions and answers.

Click on the link below to view and listen to the recording of the seminar. I suggest your skip the first 5 minutes so you want to avoid the bit where we struggled with the technology in the beginning!

A short introduction to Paul’s seminar follows for those who prefer to read before listening.

Title of the seminar: Understanding student through-put and retention in a higher education developing world context

A short introduction:

The University of South Africa (Unisa) has as its vision “Towards the African university in the service of humanity.” With its almost 300 000 students, Unisa is one of the mega-universities in the world and the largest in Africa. As the only dedicated comprehensive distance education provider in South Africa, Unisa faces unique opportunities and challenges with regard to contributing to realising the dreams and aspirations of a post-apartheid democracy in a developmental state, providing responsible open access to previously disadvantaged individuals and groups in redressing the injustices and inequities of the past and providing sustainable and appropriate student support optimising students’ chances of success.

Most of the current conceptual models on student throughput and retention are developed within the context of residential North Atlantic higher education settings. Although there are some research efforts and proposals specifically dedicated to understanding student retention and throughput in the context of distance education, there is very little research and conceptual exploration regarding the impact of the specific African context on understanding student throughput and retention in an open and distance learning environment.

This proposed social-critical model is the first such conceptual model in a distance education environment in a developing world context. We are of the opinion that the model and its implementation and refinement will considerably impact on enhancing the quality of teaching and learning at Unisa. As such the model is an important and innovative initiative to define, inform, encourage, increase and sustain retention, throughput and active student participation.

About Dr Paul Prinsloo:

Paul is an Education Consultant at the University of South Africa. His research interests include curriculum theory, student throughput, corporate citizenship, sustainability education, teaching about climate change and religious studies. Paul regularly reads papers at national and international conferences and has published in accredited and popular journals on a range of topics including the teaching of corporate citizenship, ethics in business education, curriculum design and factors impacting on the success of teaching and learning in distance education. Paul received an Open University International Fellowship in 2007, the Unisa Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research in 2008, and a Unisa International Fellowship in 2009.

Happy listening and viewing. I would like to hear your feedback on the seminar (please email me at; we will take your suggestions to improve our future ELKS semainrs.

You can join ELKS Community (free!!) at

Thank you.

Palitha Edirisingha
27 Sept 2009

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