Academic Monitoring and Support (AMS)

One of the more successful institutional initiatives implemented in line with the Academic Monitoring and Exclusion policy is the University Academic Monitoring and Support Strategy (AMS), a home-grown programme that recognises that student success and failure are a product of both institutional and student preparedness or under-preparedness. The AMS system is evidence-driven and determines what resources are required to improve institutional responsiveness for student progression, success and quality.

The AMS programme is primarily targeted at “at-risk” students, but is available to all students who require additional support. Students are identified on the University Electronic Robot System (ERS), using academic progression codes. The system, which alerts both students and staff to performance trends, activates appropriate student support. The AMS is funded through the DHET Capacity Development Grant (approximately R7m per annum) and supplemented by collateral funding from College budgets. The initiatives are regularly monitored through the Teaching & Learning Strategy Group (TLSG). Annual AMS Colloquia and dedicated workshops enable staff to interrogate, consolidate, and share effective and innovative practices.

UKZN has a bouquet of student evaluation tools, including student satisfaction surveys, module evaluation surveys, student evaluation of quality teaching and peer-evaluations, amongst others. In addition, UTLO has developed an online student evaluation system based on mobile phone technology. The Annual Graduate Opinion Surveys and other student satisfaction surveys provide evidence of their experiences in order to review plans, strategies and approaches in realising our goals in pursuit of optimal student success.

UKZN has consistently performed above the national average student success rate of 80%. Achieving, maintaining and exceeding this success rate is a priority at the University. Of particular concern are the drop-out rates in first year (approximately 6%) and the increase in average time to completion for the three-year degrees, with just under a quarter of students finishing their degrees in regulation time.

AMS Colloquium 2018

The sixth Academic Monitoring and Support Research Colloquium in conjunction with the College of Law and Management Studies was held on 28 November 2018 and attended by 127 delegates from four institutions, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban University of Technology, Mangosuthu University of Technology and the University of Zululand. The aim of the colloquium was to share evidence-based practices of academic support that have been operational across universities in KZN. The Colloquium provided an opportunity to: Discuss and unpack the effect of AMS programmes on students’ learning and development.

Explore and share AMS experiences and best practices from four higher education institutions in KZN (UKZN, UNIZULU, DUT, and MUT).

Papers focusing on the following topics were invited:

  1. Quantitative evaluations of AMS programmes (including uptake)
  2. Cohort analysis of the effect of AMS on student outcomes (retention, dropout, graduation)
  3. Qualitative papers on students’ experiences of AMS (including student satisfaction with the programmes)
  4. College/department self-evaluations of AMS programmes

Overview of the programme by Professor Saras Reddy

The programme for the day was divided into four sessions. The first session highlighted the AMS programmes in the College of Law and Management Studies; the academic monitoring and support programme (AMS); the academic writing interventions (Writing Place) and the Bachelor of Commerce Foundation Programme. The second session focused on the AMS programmes on offer at the three other institutions of higher learning in KwaZulu-Natal, i.e. UNIZULU, DUT, and MUT. Oral paper presentations were thematically organised during the third session and the fourth session involved small group discussions (consisting of representatives from the four UKZN Colleges) around perspectives on the development of a tutor/teaching assistant curriculum at UKZN.


Out of the 127 delegates, 119 were from UKZN, four from DUT and one from the University of the Western Cape. MUT and UNIZULU were represented by two delegates each. When disaggregated by designation, 45 of the delegates were academic staff, 50 were students who were either tutors, mentors or academic development officers and 30 were identified as AMS staff who were on long-term contracts. Figure 5 below shows the attendance by designation.

...Figure 5. Sixth AMS Colloquium attendance by designation

Keynote Panel Discussion 1: Showcasing CLMS AMS Programmes

Dr Annah Bengesai chaired the first keynote panel discussion. Ms Prim Naidoo, highlighted some of the successes and challenges they faced in the AMS programme in the period 2016 to 2018.

Ms Naidoo reported that during this period, 2 779 students individually consulted with an ADO, of which 1 186 (42.8%) were male and 1 590 (57.2%) were female. The majority of the students (53%) visited ADOs for content support, 21% for test and exam preparation and 26% for academic skills such as time management. She also indicated that more than 80% of the students had seen the ADO once during the year and that those who regularly consulted were the high-performing students. Hence, there is a need to encourage the “at risk” students to make use of the intervention. The programme also seemed to be working, as evidenced by the fact that 17% of the students who were “at risk” at the beginning of this period (2016) managed to acquire the maximum credits and move to good academic standing (a status which shows that a student has acquired at least 75% of their required credit load).

Ms Serrenta Naidoo presented on the operations of the Writing Place in the College of Law and Management Studies. The main purpose of this facility is to assist students with the development of literacy skills that are crucial to their success at the university. Writing support is offered in small group peer tutoring sessions that are student-centred and promote active learning. In 2018, 1 339 students were seen across all three campuses in the first semester, while in the second semester 1 085 students were assisted at the Writing Place. In the first semester of 2018, 18% (242) of students visiting the Writing Place were identified as “at risk” or “underperforming”. The remaining 82% (1 097) were on “good standing” status.

Dr Joseph Jere’s presentation on the Bachelor of Commerce Foundation focused on the support offered to students, which includes:

  • “real time” monitoring and evaluation of student results;
  • close relationships built into the programme with student services offering personal counselling support and various group sessions;
  • open-door policy encouraging student consultations;
  • a dedicated programme coordinator to monitor overall student performance, wellbeing and adjustment in the programme;
  • the development of a perception of social support and belonging can be attributed to dedicated classes (lecture rooms) for students in the Foundation Programme to use for study and other academic activities such as tutorials.

Keynote Panel Discussion 2: Sharing Institutional AMS Programmes: Perspectives From DUT, MUT And UNIZULU

Mr Edgar Samkange presented on the implementation of the First Year Experience (FYE) at Mangosuthu University of Technology, which was adopted as a key student support strategy at the institution. The key tenet for the FYE is that it is defined at each contact point with the following:

  • Pre-enrolment and registration support
  • Orientation and extended orientation
  • Student profiling and monitoring
  • Peer/senior student support
  • First year teacher and teaching

Samkange indicated that the support of top management and the integrated approach adopted were instrumental in the success of the programme to date.

Dr Gift Mheta from the Durban University of Technology presented on the Writing Centre. He mentioned that their tutors were mainly postgraduate students, although they also employed a “few good undergraduate students”. All tutors undergo initial training at the beginning of the year and there is ongoing training throughout the year. They also have weekly meetings and encourage “peer training” as well. Mheta also indicated that, on average, 40% of the students at all the DUT campuses make use of the Writing Centre. He credited the high uptake of the centre’s service to the various marketing awareness campaigns that they conduct, which include road shows and writing competitions. Some of the activities offered in their Writing Centre include:

  • One-to-one writing consultations
  • Academic writing workshops
  • Creative writing workshops
  • Reading, writing and discussion groups

Ms Bawinile Mthanti from UNIZULU did a presentation on the intervention offered in the Faculty of Commerce. The intervention focuses on peer mentorship, early tracking of under-performing students, and recognition of top-performing students at School, Faculty and University levels. She reported that their intervention was regarded as being highly beneficial to the students.

Oral Paper Presentations

A total of 26 abstracts were submitted for the sixth AMS Colloquium which were all accepted for presentation, although some had to be revised based on the guidance provided by the abstract reviewers. The topics ranged from pyscho-social support, evaluation of AMS programmes, uptake of AMS services and writing support. There were also papers that discussed theories around AMS support. The papers were presented in five breakaway sessions. Each session had a chair and a judge, who both evaluated the quality of the presentations. The top presentations in each session were given a gift and all presenters were motivated to develop their presentations into publications. College Perspectives on the Development of a Tutor/Teaching Assistant Curriculum

For this session, the delegates were organised into four small groups based on the Colleges they belonged to. A team that had been set up by the University Teaching & Learning Office (UTLO) to develop a tutor-training programme chaired these sessions. The aim of the discussions was to answer the following critical questions:

  1. Who are the tutors/teaching assistants in your College?
  2. What are their roles and responsibilities?
  3. What are the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they should be competent in?

Feedback from the sessions: There was consensus from all four Colleges that currently there was no clarity regarding the roles and responsibilities of tutors, ADOs, or mentors, even within the same College. This, however, has been a recurring concern over the years and efforts are currently underway to resolve the matter. Other issues that came up from the College discussions were the type of skills and trainings tutors require, which are:

  • Facilitation skills
  • Time management skills
  • Educational theory
  • Assessment skills
  • Practical teaching & learning skills

Tutors/ADOs/Mentors who were in the small groups also indicated that they themselves needed counselling, given that they experienced immense pressure during their tutorials/counselling sessions with the students. They further reported that sometimes they did not know how to handle the stress of giving support to the students. In addition, the tutors/ADOs also emphasised that they needed to be recognised as an integral part of the teaching & learning process.

Critical Reflections on Proceedings and a Way Forward: Professor Sarojini Nadar

Professor Sarojini Nadar applauded UKZN for its efforts in promoting AMS over the years and in hosting the AMS Colloquium since 2013. She also indicated that while six years had passed since the inaugural colloquium, the same questions lingered regarding what constitutes best practice in AMS. While she applauded the focus in evaluation and quantitative evidence, she indicated that this should not be done at the expense of theory and more qualitative approaches. Theory was needed to understand some of the questions that the AMS programmes have been trying to answer over the years.

Key Resolutions advanced: Professor Rubby Dhunpath

The key resolutions taken during the colloquium were summarised as follows:

  1. There is a lack of coherence in the various AMS activities, even within the same College. There is a need for clarity in role definition and responsibilities of AMS practitioners.
  2. A tutor-training programme is currently being developed which will take into account tutors’ as well as College-specific needs.
  3. There is need for more theoretical understanding of student support.

Tutor Training and Development Programme

In developing an effective tutorial programme at UKZN, UTLO embarked on a Tutor Development Project in collaboration with representatives from the four UKZN Colleges, who comprise the Tutor Development Project Team. In 2018, the team conducted several workshops, to understand both UKZN Tutor needs and academics’ reflections on tutors’ roles and responsibilities. These workshops have aided the crafting of a blended approach to Tutor Training and Development (TTD). The team met several times between February 2018 and July 2019 to develop the syllabus and course content for the blended learning Tutor Training and Development Programme.

The online course of the TTD Programme is complete and is currently piloted with incumbent tutors, academic development officers (ADOs) and supplemental instruction (SI) leaders. The online course is intended to give prospective tutors introductory first-level training towards preparing them for successful engagement as tutors. The online training also aims to regularise tutor training and ensure all tutors have a basic understanding of educational theory, learning styles and the University’s R.E.A.C.H principles as they apply to teaching & learning. The themes of the online course are: roles and responsibilities of tutors/TAs; institutional culture; learning styles; learning theories; assessing learning; diversity and inclusivity; technology enhanced learning; organisational management; facilitation skills; self-management.

The second stage of the Tutor Development Project involves the tutor training workshops, which take place on all campuses in the last quarter of 2019. To be admitted to the training workshops, prospective tutors are expected to complete the online course with a pass rate of 85%. The workshops will equip tutors with skills to mentor, encourage, guide and model effective learning strategies for students. A further level to the tutor training will entail tutors being encouraged and supported to develop a tutoring portfolio that can potentially help them become better tutors and advance in their careers as future academics. While tutors are being encouraged to attend the further development workshops, the team primarily targeted are those who intend to pursue an academic career. It is expected that tutors/ADOs/SI leaders who aspire to be academics will most likely self-select, i.e., they might attempt the online course several times to attain a higher grade and register for the workshops.

Publications on the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning:

2018Dhunpath, R., Matisonn, H., & Samuel, M. Towards a Model of Mentoring in South African Higher Education. Alternation Journal Vol 25,2 (2018) 78 – 1055.
2018Dhunpath, R., & Subbaye, R. Student success and curriculum reform in post-apartheid South Africa. International Journal of Chinese Education, Volume 7, Issue 1, pages 85 – 106.
2018Paideya, V., & Dhunpath, R. Student Academic Monitoring and Support in Higher Education: A Systems Thinking Perspective. Journal of Student Affairs in Africa Volume 6(1) 2018, 33–48.
2018Naidoo, D., van Wyk J. M., & Dhunpath, R. Service Learning Pedagogies to Promote Student Learning in Occupational Therapy Education. Africa Education Review, DOI: 10.1080/18146627.2017.1340806.
2018Dhunpath, R. Shifting the Language Policy Gaze: from Debates on Policy to a Dialogue on Practices. African Perspectives of Research in Teaching & Learning 2(1).
2018Dhunpath, R., & Amin, A. Crises, Contestations, Contemplations and Futures in Higher Education. Special Edition of Alternation Journal, Vol 25. No2.
2019Dhunpath, R., & Amin, A. Curriculum without Borders. Special Edition of Alternation Journal, (in press).

Contact UTLO:
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Howard College Campus
University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 4041, South Africa.
Tel: +27 (0)31 260-3002
Email: UTLO