Plans to widen access to higher education have been announced

In January 2014 South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) published a “White Paper for Post-School Education and Training”, detailing its strategy to improve the quality of the country’s 50 technical and vocational education and training colleges (TVETs) and build a network of community colleges geared to those who either never attended or did not complete secondary school.

Aims 

“The DHET’s highest priority is to strengthen and expand the public TVET colleges and turn them into attractive institutions of choice for school leavers,” the paper said, “by improving management and governance, developing the quality of teaching and learning, increasing their responsiveness to the local labour market, improving student support services and developing their infrastructure.” Though total enrolment at South African TVETs nearly doubled from 345,000 in 2010 to 650,000 in 2013, the paper acknowledged that the “current mix of programmes and qualifications in the TVET colleges is complex to administer, difficult for learners and parents to understand, and often poorly quality-assured”. The DHET aims to raise TVET intake to 1m in 2015 and 2.5m by 2030, and to make it easier for TVET graduates to transfer to universities.

Community Colleges

Another objective is to overhaul the 265,000 public adult learning centres, by grouping clusters of them into community colleges to cater to adults without high school degrees who are not eligible for enrolment at TVETs. The new institutions will be launched with a pilot scheme, expanded by adding new campuses where necessitated by increasing enrolment, and provided with infrastructure and “a critical mass of full-time staff”. The community college enrolment target is 1m by 2030. The white paper also calls for the creation of a South African Institute for Vocational and Continuing Education and Training to oversee TVETs and community colleges.

Regulation

The new strategy effectively transferred authority for the TVET sector from provincial governments to the DHET. While the white paper is vague on what the immediate impact on South Africa’s universities will be, it is expected to result in the diversion of substantial resources from traditional higher education institutions to the newly established TVETs.

There is no doubt that the university system has not been adequately addressing the educational or employment needs of a broad swathe of the population. In the second half of 2013, 3.4m South Africans aged 15-24 were neither employed nor enrolled at an education or training institution, according to Statistics South Africa. Over 36% of women in this age group fall into this category, compared to nearly 30% of men.

While many stakeholders believe a well-functioning technical and vocational education sector would be invaluable to South Africa, there is disagreement on whether TVETs have the capacity to meet the needs of the huge population of school leavers. “If the goal of reaching higher education enrolment of at least 20% is to be achieved, together with improved completion rates, the sector needs to work towards providing direct admission, as well as appropriate curricula and support, to at least the top 15% of school-leavers, including equitable proportions of students from all population groups,” the Council on Higher Education wrote in its “Proposal for undergraduate curriculum reform in South Africa”, published in August 2013.

Concerns

Critics argue that South Africa does not have the human resource capacity to provide highquality instruction at TVETs when universities are already struggling to find qualified academic faculty. There is also concern that existing flaws in the university system will not be fixed if it is deprived of state funding in a period when enrolment is expected to rise significantly. Before the white paper was even passed in November 2013, government funding of TVETs had increased from R3.9bn ($369m) in 2010 to R5.6bn ($530m) and the bursary allocation for TVET scholarships had risen from R300m ($28m) to R1.99bn ($188m) in three years. The DHET has pledged to up this amount substantially as TVET intake increases over the next two decades.

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The Report: South Africa 2014

Health & Education chapter from The Report: South Africa 2014

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