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International Pre-University College: A world-class bridge to tertiary education

| June 24, 2014 | 2 Comments

By Joan Hope-Jones

One of the problems facing South Africa is the high dropout rate at tertiary institutions.1

Many students who complete matric are not ready to cope with the challenges of further study. Even those who have gained distinctions in the national examinations for school leavers often experience difficulty adjusting to the rigorous demands of university courses, due to the gap between their emotional and academic maturity and the level of these attributes required to excel at further studies. The gap between secondary school and university is also vast. Often, inadequate preparation at secondary school for tertiary studies is directly connected to high university dropout rates.2 International Pre-University College (IPC) is a unique college and ISASA member situated near Sandton in Johannesburg, Gauteng. It provides a crucial service to independent education in this country, successfully bridging these gaps by providing secondary school learners with all the skills, direction and qualifications they need to prepare for, and succeed at, university. In this way, we truly are a ‘world-class bridge to tertiary education’ – a motto we cherish.

Helping youth with demands of tertiary education

The college empowers young people to cope with the rigorous demands of further study, with a particular emphasis on enhancing mathematics, science and business skills. We provide for small classes with personalised attention in a structured academic environment, and extend our care to our unique ‘Homestay’ boarding programme. Due to this unique arrangement, the college continues to attract students from many different countries and backgrounds. Our Homestay mothers and fathers provide a wonderful support system for students away from home, and become actively involved in the studies and daily lives of the students in their care.

As a Cambridge International Examinations Centre, IPC offers the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and AS and A Level courses that enable students to qualify for matriculation exemption.3 These courses are not only accepted at South African universities, but are recognised internationally. Students may enter the programme at the age of 15 at IGCSE level, with the intention of then proceeding with AS and A Level courses. A one-year postmatric programme is also available, to improve chances of university acceptance or to offer students a year in which to develop and grow at their own pace to ensure ease of functioning and academic achievement at university. A team of incredible staff with extensive experience in their teaching subjects is at the helm. Our students are at the core of our activities, and the passion and determination of our staff allows us to hone and foster the needs of our students to help them become successful in the real world.

Individualised learning programmes at IPC

A unique aspect of IPC is that we do not put students into grades. When students enter the college, they are assessed in every subject and attend classes at an appropriate level. They also have a comprehensive psychometric evaluation and career assessment by qualified educational psychologists. Each student has a unique timetable tailored around strengths and weaknesses. This enables them to develop at their own rate in each subject, and they are only entered for examinations once they are assessed by the staff and are prepared and ready. This reduces the pressure on the student and reduces examination anxiety. This process results in a staged assessment tailored specifically to suit each student in every subject.

An important history

IPC has a rather interesting background. It started at St Stithians College in Randburg, Johannesburg, while I was teaching the sciences there some years ago. We began our postmatric programme in 1989, initially offering Unisa first-year courses.4 The Unisa programme was initially adequate, but we soon realised that we were limiting our intake to students who were not necessarily university material. Some of the Unisa first-year courses were also not recognised by other universities, so the search for more suitable curricula began. We eventually began the Cambridge International A Level programme in 2000, and so our Cambridge International Centre ZA 013 was born as St Stithians A Level College. The college was awarded fellowship status and became a University of Cambridge International Examinations Fellowship Centre in 2003.5

We never doubted our decision to follow the Cambridge International curriculum, and this programme has been my passion ever since.

Students from other African countries such as Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Nigeria, who apply to universities in South Africa with their matric equivalent qualifications, are often not accepted, so the IPC has always created the ideal home for them to achieve matriculation exemption for entry to our universities. Students who have begun their IGCSE studies in Namibia, Zambia and Botswana need to continue to AS Levels before entering our universities, and so we have been able to attract these students as well.

In 2008, Centre ZA 013 moved away from St Stithians College and joined Sekolo sa Borokgo,6 and was renamed SSB Pre-University College. Under SSB, the college flourished and grew until the need for expansion became apparent. In January 2013, the college was bought by a consortium of our teachers and their family members, and we were able to move to bigger premises and develop the laboratory facilities. The college became independent and we subsequently changed the name to International Pre-University College.

Multiple benefits at IPC

Students from as many as 20 countries have completed their Cambridge A Level studies in our centre. Many of these students have used AS Levels to qualify for matriculation exemption, which has enabled them to complete their studies either at South African universities or abroad. Some of our past students who have achieved superior grades in full A Levels have been awarded advanced credits in certain courses at universities in South Africa and the United States. This has resulted in them being given exemption from the first year of university study. Superior grades in carefully chosen Cambridge International A Level subjects can result in up to one full year of credit. One example is Kyla Mills, who is our psychology lecturer and student supervisor. After completing matric, she joined us for the accelerated one-year A Level programme. Her A Level grades allowed her to enter the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and proceed directly into second year in psychology and English literature. She is in the process of completing her Master’s degree in psychology.

Wherever one wants to go, locally or internationally, Cambridge International qualifications can help to make it happen. In the US, the qualifications are accepted at over 400 higher education centres including Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Another one of our past students, Nicholas Kögl, joined us in 2008 for the accelerated one-year A Level programme. This year, he graduated from Harvard University in Boston with an average of 92% (with philosophy as a major) and has been accepted at Cambridge College to study an MPhil in business management. Students are also accepted into leading universities in Canada, India, Pakistan, New Zealand and universities in the European Union.

While we don’t want to encourage the ‘brain drain’ from South Africa, it is a harsh reality that places are limited in our national universities for courses such as medicine and engineering, so our curriculum makes it possible for students to study medical degrees in, for example, Latvia, Cuba, Cyprus and Mauritius, and engineering degrees in the United Kingdom and India.

We find Cambridge International AS and A Levels very flexible as they allow us to offer almost any combination of a wide array of subjects. Students have the freedom to follow either a broad course of study or to specialise in a particular area. The content is multicultural and includes many countryspecific courses – for example, it is possible to write isiZulu and Afrikaans through Cambridge International.

The Cambridge system also provides a world-class support service for teachers and examination officers, offering a wide range of teacher materials to member schools, plus teacher training (online and face-to-face), expert advice and learner support materials. Exam officers can trust in the reliable, efficient administration of exam entries and excellent personal support and customer services.

Learning for life

International Pre-University College is an exceptional institution that produces not only exceptional students but exceptional people. With the help of the standards laid out by Cambridge International Examinations, our students not only develop understanding and knowledge essential for further study, but also independent learning and constructive thinking skills that help them become independent learners and equip them for life.

1. John, V. (2013) “Dropout rate points to lack of support.” Available at:
2. SA Study (n.d.) “2013 matric success overshadowed by weak university preparedness.” Available at:
3. See, for example:
4. The University of South Africa is widely regarded as Africa’s leading open distance learning institution. (Source:
5. See, for example:
6. See, for example:!middle-school/c1lcp.

Category: Winter 2014

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Comments (2)

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  2. kadari Diana says:

    i want to be prepaired for grade 12. what do ido? i want to do online classes. please guide me. thanks.

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