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By Dr Nana Adu-Pipim Boaduo FRC Affiliated Researcher: Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Centre for Development Support (Bloemfontein Campus) & Lecturer: Faculty of Education, Department of Curriculum Studies (Qwaqwa Campus): University of the Free State: South Africa Email: or & Dr. Joseph Mensah Head: Department of Social Studies Tonota College of Education, Tonota, Botswana & Saline Monicah Babitseng Lecturer: Department of Foundations of Education Tonota College of Education, Tonota, Botswana

NB: This paper was presented at an Educational Colloquium at University of the North-West, Potchefstroom Campus South Africa from the 20-21 August 2009




Abstract Education is the most important mechanism for the empowerment of people for their socio-economic, political and technological development. In South Africa, learning environments of higher education institutions must take cognizance of this in structuring their course programmes. For the purpose of quality assurance of course programmes South African higher education institutions can contribute meaningfully by applying the principles of tracer study to create sustainable learning empowerment environment for the continuous professional development of past students. While many higher education institutions provide training to a variety of clients, most forget them as soon as they graduate and leave the institutions’ environment with no means to contact them. This paper provides documentary analysis about the need to use the tracer study paradigm for the enhancement of quality course programmes offered in higher education institutions in South Africa to be able to meet the demands of changing educational, socio-economic, industrial and technological demands of the new century.

Key words: quality assurance, quality course programmes, tracer study paradigm, Sustainable learning environments, scholarship of engagement, continuous professional development, professional development, empowering learning environment

Introduction It must be acknowledged that South Africa has some of the best and finest higher education institutions in Africa with well equipped workshops and laboratories and professionally staffed with a variety of scholarly professionals (CHE, 2009). These institutions turn out a large number of diplomates, graduates and post graduate students in


3 various disciplines and professions. In addition these institutions reform their curricula and course programmes at regular intervals to be able to keep abreast with the needs of the rapid technological, societal and institutional changes to be able to meet the requirement of clients. However, once these graduates are pushed out of the walls of the institutions which trained them, they are forgotten. They are not followed through the use of the tracer study paradigm to find out about what they are doing with the training they received and what they need to help them improve their knowledge and skills on continuous bases to be able to meet the challenges of the flux of changes in science and technology. In short, they are forgotten and neglected as well. One wonders about the basis for curricula and course programmes reform in the South African higher education institutions to be able to introduce new courses to provide current knowledge and skills for their clients. This paper provides documentary analysis about the need to use the tracer study paradigm for the enhancement of the quality of course programmes offered in higher education institutions in South Africa to be able to meet the demands of changing educational, socio-economic, industrial and technological demands of the new century.

Provision of a working definition of the concept tracer study For the purposes of this discussion tracer study will be taken to mean: A period when institutions of learning set up regular intervals of time to venture into the field and follow their past graduates to find out what they are doing with the training they received and find out from them how best they think the institutions who trained them will be able to help them upgrade their acquired knowledge and skills through the reform and innovation of curricula and course programmes including school-based or work-based professional development to live up to the expectations of the constantly changing technological and scientific working environment and employer demands.

From the basis of the above definition, a tracer study should examine, through in-depth investigation, all the changes in the career patterns of the graduates who have passed through an institution with the aim to provide additional support services as well as the


4 change in curricula and the introduction of new programmes. Tracer study can be used as a metre stick to evaluate programmes in order to improve upon them.

In South Africa, contrary to what is happening in the developed countries, academic efforts connected to the interdependence of higher education institutions with workplace (world of work) have not been paid the urgent attention deserved. On the other hand, the competency of higher education institutions graduates is experiencing a major shift towards a greater awareness of the importance of generic and managerial competencies besides specific and technical competencies.

In South Africa tracer study must be incorporated as part of the higher education institutions accreditation system by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as an important priority. To be specific, tracer study is an important indicator of higher education institutions management in terms of reform and innovation of course programmes.

Generally, tracer study is a field-based action research activity. It is about tracing and locating particular objects (graduates from a particular higher education institution) through a reliable and dynamic system in order to determine their path of movement. According to the Association of African Universities (AAU, 2002) tracer studies constitute one form of empirical study which can be considered an appropriate means of evaluating the results of the education and training provided at a given institution. In the context of this discussion, the system is higher education institutions in South Africa. The employment status of the pass-out graduates is the main object to be traced and that the graduates must be involved (, (

Purpose of a tracer study Generally, the main purpose of a tracer study is to examine, evaluate and study the current and subsequent career and other employment patterns of graduates from


5 institutions of learning. To be specific, tracer study can be used, among other things to find out about:    

The number of graduates who are not able to find work in their chosen field and who are currently unemployed. The number of graduates who take alternative jobs outside their knowledge and skills training environment. The number of graduates with professional degree but work at sub-professional jobs. The number of graduates who received professional qualifications and degrees from abroad and may be struggling to locate themselves appropriate jobs commensurate with their training

   

The number of graduates who have migrated out of the country as a result of their acquisition of appropriate knowledge and skills. The number of women graduates who qualify but decide to leave their professions to become housewives. The generation of data-base on status of employment of graduates. The generation of important information related to gainful employment.

Significance of tracer study The significance of a tracer study can be considered from two angles namely: the productiveness as well as the cost-effectiveness of programmes and the reform of programmes to meet the expectations of clients and the business community in a rapidly changing world of science and technology. In general terms, tracer study is a powerful tool for institutions of higher learning for assessing the training needs in relation to the allocation of resources in the training fields. In effect, in many institutions of higher learning whose aim is to provide training programmes in courses may maintain a steady state of production and therefore likely to become off-balance with the structure of the rapidly changing science and technological spheres as well as market demand and employer requirements. Tracer study, in a specific focus area, can point out such errors


6 for easy and quick rectification. As a matter of importance, tracer study is useful to planners in determining the allocation of resources as well as to the educationalists or training experts in designing curricula and training courses to meet employers’ needs. Furthermore, tracer study helps both planners and trainers to get a clearer picture of how the labour market operates. In short, tracer study is a means of maintaining curriculum relevance and of providing targeted benefits to graduates to enhance their general and specific marketability.

The benefits of a well organised tracer study is multidimensional in nature because the findings are supposed to assist planners in the institutional setting in decision making, mending ways and developing greater rapport with clients, especially employers of the higher education institutions’ graduates. Furthermore, the findings can benefit graduates in securing employment; explore self-employment opportunities and developing better network with seniors already employed (

In the process of conducting a tracer study there is absolute need to make clear what exactly is being studied and evaluated. The following need attention during this process:    

The distribution of graduate students from the institution undertaking the tracer study in various sectors of the economic system. The effectiveness and efficiency of the training institution in the preparation of the graduates for the world of work. The cost of training relative to either social and private benefits or the combination of both. The relationship between the labour market and how the knowledge and skills acquired by the graduates from the institutions producing them can be utilised by the labour market.

Objectives of tracer study


7 The purpose and significance of tracer study have been provided, it is necessary to spell out specific objectives that need to be considered in the conduct of a tracer study. The list below is tentative and not all inclusive.          

To develop tracer study implementation plan for subsequent application. To prepare appropriate method and design of tracer study at various levels. To update information on the latest development on tracer study in South Africa and elsewhere. To discuss and prepare implementation plans for the study. To initiate the establishment of National Tracer Study Centre in South Africa. To assess the employment status and market acceptability of pass-out graduates. To facilitate in carrying out employability assessment of current students. To provide employment opportunity for younger graduates as they can access the generated data-base of the seniors already placed. To provide practical industrial exposure to present students through their seniors who are already placed in various organizations and industries. To develop curricula, syllabi and course programmes as well as instructional methodology in consultation with experienced pass-out graduates in line with the latest trends and practices in industry.

 

To carry out collaborative research between the institution and the members’ organizations in areas of mutual interest. To invite knowledgeable and experienced pass-out graduates as guest lecturers in their areas of interest. (, (

Major research problems and questions for tracer study 7

8 In a tracer-study major research problems that the researcher would be required to find answers in the study include the items list below:         

What prompted the study? What is the aim of the study? What are the objectives of the study? Who will make use of the study report? Who is to be followed (sample population)? What kind of sampling procedure will be used to select the population? What will be the modes of contact of the respondents (questionnaire, interview, telephonic conversation, graduation day, and alumni day)? What research instruments would be used in the process of collecting data for the study? What kind of master questionnaire would be developed and used to collect the required data?

Why the listed questions will require the attention of the researcher, the methodological dimensions will require careful and systematic approach for the choices of appropriate and relevant methods to be selected and used in the study. What follows is a brief introduction to methodological paradigms.

Methodology for conducting tracer study The need for theory and methodology of tracer study must be considered in this respect for in-depth introspection. It is a tradition that in any research study, the exact theoretical underpinnings and research methodology or a combination of methodologies (triangulation) may be required (Patton, 1987 & 1980a; Mouton, 1996 & 2006). In the process of making a methodological choice their philosophical underpinnings should be thoroughly established as well as the exact method or methods to be chosen and used. In this respect the philosophy will include a theory of when and why to apply; for instance qualitative rather than quantitative and the awareness of the limitations of equally


9 applicable and relevant various methods. Is it going to be qualitative, quantitative, action, participatory or a combination of a selected few (Boaduo, 2005)? The three levels in the methodological paradigmatic dimensions is represented in figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Levels of Methodological Paradigmatic Dimensions
Epistemological Assumptions Ontological Assumptions

Epistemological Assumptions

Ontological Assumptions

Quantitative Qualitative


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Methodological Paradigms

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Research Methods - Sampling - Data Collection - Data Analysis & interpretation


Research Instruments– questionnaire – interview – observation – Research Goal

Source: Mouton, 1996:39 with modifications by the author of article Figure 1: Levels of Methodological Paradigmatic Dimensions
Epistemological Assumptions Ontological Assumptions



Quantitative Qualitative


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Methodological Paradigms

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Research Methods - Sampling - Data Collection - Data Analysis & interpretation


Research Instruments– questionnaire – interview – observation – Research Goal

Source: Mouton, 1996:39 with modifications by the author of article
Quantitative Qualitative Participatory

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Methodological Paradigms

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Research Methods - Sampling - Data Collection - Data Analysis & interpretation


Research Instruments– questionnaire – interview – observation – Research Goal


11 Source: Mouton, 1996:39 with modifications by the author of article

It must be hinted at this point that methodological choices and applications are task specific and the task may be determined by the objective(s) of the study; and the objective(s) of the study can be made clearer through the proper specifications of the research question(s) whose answers would be the bases for finding solution(s) to the research problem(s). The main emphases in this respect are that: the research methods and techniques are task-specific and the task is often defined by the research goal; different research studies use different methods and techniques because they have different objectives. Methodology of analysis must be considered from three perspective namely databases, tracer survey and indicators. The alumni of the institution should have database to be able to provide contact information about past graduates. A tracer survey can also be conducted. Indicators could be used to measure the benefits and costs associated with programmes in the institutions that trained the graduates (Tracer Study VII, 2007). In most research cases the research methods and techniques must be

appropriate and relevant for the study being conducted and this should apply to all the aspects of the research study – sample and sampling, questionnaire and interview schedule, data collection, treatment, analyses and interpretation.

Suggested procedure for contacting past graduates in the course of a tracer study? Normally, higher institutions of learning have a data-base for their past and present students. This can be the beginning of contact. The information provided could be used to reach them. Apart from this, the media, both print and non-print can be used through announcements and advertisement requesting past students to provide required contact information. Another significant occasion that could also be used is the usual graduation day when the past graduates and the general public are invited to attend. Furthermore where the institution has an alumnus, it will be the most perfect starting point to get in touch with past graduates (World Links Impact Evaluation Series, 2002; Tracer Study Report, 2005). What must be required from past students should be simple and specific so


12 that only relevant information for the compilation of report for the survey could be obtained – for instance:             

Name used while in the institution Student identification number Year of entry Year of graduation Course taken (Major and minor) Degree obtained Contact physical address Contact postal address Email address Profession/job you are engaged in The position you are holding in your work Contact telephone and mobile numbers Contact information of known colleagues and past graduates

If the form in table 2 is used for the collection of data during the survey, it can provide information that will enable the institution conducting the tracer survey to keep in a database for subsequent use during similar studies that require information about past graduates

The designed form should contain all the information bulleted above including additional information, for instance contact with colleagues who are past graduates of the institution and may be working nearby or staying in the same suburb. The information form can look like the one provided in table 2 below. It should contain simple instruction which requires the user to fill in the space after reading the statement provided. For instance, fill in the spaces provided after reading the short statement Table 1: Contact information form for past graduates from (Name of institution)


13 Full name Student ID Year of admission Year of graduation Course taken Major subject Minor subject Degree/diploma/certificate taken Physical address

Postal address if different from physical address E-mail address if any Profession/job you are employed Position in the job Contact telephone/Mobile Please provide information of any past graduate from the institution you know:- Name and contact e-mail or mobile:

The table above can be used when advertising in the print media or made available to attendants during graduation ceremony or special anniversary day of the institution.

Conclusion and recommendations This paper has provided documentary analysis about the need to use tracer study paradigm for the enhancement of the quality of courses offered in higher institutions of learning in South Africa to be able to meet the demands of the changing educational, economic, industrial, social and technological demands of the new century. A working definition upon which the whole discussion was based has been provided. The purposes, significance, processes and objectives of a tracer study are listed. Major possible anticipated research questions that the research team will encounter have been listed. A 13

14 brief methodological framework has been provided. The procedure for the conduct of tracer study is given as well including a table with suggested data list that respondents are supposed to provide for analysis and interpretation to be able to provide a report on the study.

It must be indicated that tracer study survey is a very tedious and complicated exercise. Extensive efforts should go into tracking and contacting individual graduates and alumni. There is need to step up the process of providing regular opportunities for alumni to register and create a forum electronically and through the web. Furthermore continuous efforts should be made to collect data progressively before and after graduation which will contribute to the improvement of the analysis of future tracer studies. Additional data can be collected for the type of institutions, nature of work, and ranks of the past graduates.

The following recommendations are provided as a means to help improve tracer study in the future: 

Development of database for all higher institutions in South Africa Every higher institution of learning in South Africa should have a database of its past graduates. This should be linked to the National Research Foundation (NRF) to serve as a database for all the higher institutions in the country for easy access and use.


Follow-up of past graduates after graduation All higher institutions of learning should establish a rapport with their past graduates who should be contacted regularly. The office of the Student Representative Council (SRC) should be made to provide such contact services and keep regular, constant and reliable sources of information about past graduates.


Tracking of alumni who are either studying or working outside the country


15 It is necessary to know exactly where past graduates are, what they are doing and the impact of their activities on the institutions that trained them and what they can do for their institutions in terms of the development of new courses which are not provided locally that led to their movement to overseas to pursue such studies. 

Meeting of the alumni at specific intervals Generally, the alumni of any institution serve as the link between the institution and the outside world in terms of demand and supply as well as raising funds for the development of their institution. The meetings can be annually or biannually so that past students are able to meet the institution’s administration and share experiences and provide information for the institution to reform its facilities and course programmes.


The role of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) SAQA should make it as one of its conditions for recognition of higher institutions of learning to be accredited for its recognition seal. In fact SAQA should make it a compulsory condition for all higher institutions of learning to submit a tracer study report biannually to be able to know the contributions of these institutions in providing the required skills for the overall development of South Africa.

It is important to indicate that tracer study is a means of gathering important information about past graduates of higher institutions to be able to identify what they are doing with the training they obtained and what could be done to add to their expertise through these institutions to be able to reform their course programmes to keep up with the needs of the rapidly changing technological and scientific age.

List of references



Association of African Universities (2002). Regional workshop on tracer studies of past university students. University of Namibia: From the 7th to 11th January 2002.

Boaduo, N.A-P. (2005). Methodological Choice and Application in a Research Study: A Framework for Practitioners. In The African Symposium: African Educational Research Network. An online African Educational Journal. Volume 5. Number 3. September 2005. Pp. 19-33., ( Mouton, J. (1996). Understanding Social Research. Pretoria: J.L. Van Schaik. Mouton, J. (2006). How to Succeed in your Master’s and Doctoral Studies: A South African Guide and Resource Book. Pretoria: Van Schaik.

Patton, M.Q. (1980a). Making Methods Choices. In Evaluation and Programme Planning. Volume 3. Pp. 219-228.

Patton, M.Q. (1987). How to use Qualitative Methods in Evaluation. London: Sage. Tracer Study Report, (2005): Guidance and Counselling Services Education Division. Florida: Malta Tracer Study VII, (2007): Joint Japan & World/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program (JJ/WBGSP), May 2007. World Links Impact Evaluation Series, (2002): Uganda Tracer Study: An Impact Assessment of Information and Communication Technologies on World Links Participating Students. Washington DC.


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