The subjective experiences of students who withdraw from a directed masters programme in psychology at a historically disadvantaged university : a case study
Neuropsychiatric disorders place a great burden on the South African healthcare system. This burden is compounded by the shortage of integral human resources such as mental health care staff. Directed Masters programmes in Psychology can address this shortage as it is the practicing degree to qualify as a psychologist and subsequently register as such with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). A small group of students are selected into Professional Masters programmes in Psychology each year, but not all students complete their studies as some are either terminated from the programme or choose to self-terminate. There is a lack of systematic exploration of the factors contributing to non-completion due to self termination. The study therefore aimed to explore the experiences of postgraduate students that chose to self-terminate their studies in a directed Masters programme in Psychology and to identify the factors that contributed to such a decision. The study was qualitative and explorative in nature. The sample consisted of four participants who were previously enrolled for a directed Masters programmes in Psychology offered at a historically disadvantaged university in the Western Cape. The Senate Research and Senate Higher Degrees Committees of UWC (Ethics Clearance and Project Registration Number: 15/4/44) granted permission to conduct the study. Relevant ethics principles including informed consent, voluntary participation, confidentiality, and anonymity were adhered to. Data was collected through programme records and semi-structured interviews. Interviews were transcribed and analysed by two researchers using thematic analysis. Data collection and analysis occurred simultaneously until saturation was reached. Trustworthiness of the findings was achieved through continuous interrogation of multiple readings of the data, reflexivity, and external auditing. Findings revealed numerous factors that incorporate personal, programmatic and contextual considerations as motivations to self-terminate from a postgraduate programme, thus pointing to the complexity of the decision-making process within a socially embedded reality. The factors influential in self-termination prior to enrollment include the participants' interest in psychological work, their prior work experience and a need for skills capacitation which served as their motives for enrollment. Upon entry into the programme the participants experienced a disparity between their expectations and the nature and requirements of the programme, which led to a lack of satisfaction with the course. Lack of satisfaction, along with academic, physical and emotional unpreparedness, uncertainty about study choice, and perceived competence were some of the obstacles to academic integration. The dissonance they experienced were further exacerbated during enrollment by other factors such as the availability of financial support, interpersonal dynamics within the cohort group, and personal belief systems. The participants were able to find meaning in the process of self-termination as it led to a heightened pursuit of the realisation of personal goals. Participants have subsequent to their experiences in the programme been using the knowledge that they have gained in both salaried and volunteer positions, thus continuing to contribute to the field of psychology.