South African Journal of Higher Education

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Theoretical perspectives on factors affecting the academic performance of students

MP Jama, MLE Mapesela, AA Beylefeld


Whilst the government, higher education authorities and institutions, academics, academic development practitioners, researchers etc. recognize that there is an increasing number and diversity of students accessing higher education, do the stakeholders really know who these students are before even thinking of enhancing their learning and teaching? Certain student retention theories like those of Tinto, Spady and Bean have described the type of students entering higher education, but have failed to describe some real attributes and life-worlds of these students.
The purpose of this article is to present a theoretical model describing the ‘circles of progression’ of a university student in a South African context. This model describes the progression of a student from pre-entry (school and family background), the initial entry into university (first few weeks/orientation), entry into university (teaching and learning environment) and until completion of studies. Although contributions that report on and seek to theorise on a range of responses to teaching and learning challenges are needed, contributions and theories on who these students are, and what are the factors affecting their academic performance are also as important.

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