MUT study identifies strengthening tutoring as key to students’ academic success

Dr Phiwayinkosi Gumede

The necessity for continued tutoring at higher education institutions has been affirmed by research that was conducted by two of the University’s staff members, Dr Phiwayinkosi Gumede, Acting Senior Director of the Teaching and Learning Development Centre at MUT, and Mashango Sithole, Coordinator of the Peer Assisted Learning and Foundation Provision in the same department; the study was published in the Perspectives in Education journal.

The necessity for continued tutoring is more so in the case of South Africa where a growing number of students, who are underprepared for university, join higher education institutions at the beginning of every year in search of academic success.

To strengthen academic support to students and stop the revolving door syndrome in higher education where large numbers of students drop out without completing their qualifications, the study by Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) researchers identified the reconfiguration of the tutoring programme to be sustainable and efficient as a possible solution to improving student support.

Dr Gumede and Sithole’s study explained that what could help support students is a “sustainable and effective tutorship programme, characterised by qualified and well-trained tutors, stable policy, adequate resources, effective coordination of the activities, and cooperation among key role players.”

The study proposed that the tutoring programme should be approached as a system with interrelated components which work together towards a common objective. The two researchers proposed a tutoring programme as a subsystem with three pillars, which are Inputs, Transformation and Output.

Input encompasses the key resources, role players, beneficiaries and structure (tutoring policy).

“The development and implementation of the tutor policy is the bedrock of implementing a tutorship programme, as it ensures standardisation and point of reference for coherence, without which the stability of the programme may be compromised,” explained Dr Gumede.

The study also cautioned that as much as policies are important, periodic reviews of these policies was important in ensuring that they responded to changes in external and internal environments.

The bulk of the work happens at the second pillar, Transformation. This is where tutors are recruited, trained, and given the necessary support to effectively render their tutoring duties. This is also where the coordination of the tutoring programme takes place; tutoring policies are developed, implemented and reviewed; along with tutorial venue allocations and monitoring the whole programme.

The Output of all these efforts would be a sustainable and effective tutoring programme with “qualified and well-trained tutors, stable policy, adequate resources, effective coordination”, the study explained.

The most critical elements of this system are funding, coordination, tutors, and policies. An investment in these elements is necessary for the tutoring programme’s efficiency and sustainability.

“Tutorship should be considered an integral part of the university system with adequate allocation of resources and efficient coordination of the tutorship programme activities. Long term sustainability is pertinent, considering that tutorship programmes are one of the key interventions put in place by universities to ameliorate poor student success challenges and are part of student support and development mechanisms,” the study recommended.