A waste of po­ten­tial

In this ex­tract from his new book As by Fire, Jonathan Jansen ex­am­ines the lim­i­ta­tions of the uni­ver­sity en­rol­ment sys­tem

CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

never have been ad­mit­ted to uni­ver­sity, given his ma­tric­u­la­tion cer­tifi­cate; or Sipho will never pass at a uni­ver­sity level even if his orig­i­nal school cer­tifi­cate qual­i­fied him for ter­tiary stud­ies.

Few uni­ver­sity lead­ers un­der­stand that dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion from school to uni­ver­sity bet­ter than Sizwe Mabizela, the vice-chan­cel­lor of Rhodes Uni­ver­sity. A kind-hearted man with bound­less em­pa­thy for stu­dents, he once headed the qual­ity as­sur­ance body that sets the stan­dards for school­leav­ing cer­tifi­cates.

Says Mabizela: “What is ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing, and has been hap­pen­ing for a long time, is that uni­ver­si­ties are re­ceiv­ing more and more stu­dents who are un­pre­pared for higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“And if you look at the per­for­mance of our pub­lic higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the dropout rates are fright­en­ing. In fact, al­most half of the young peo­ple who en­rol at our pub­lic higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions leave the sys­tem with­out a qual­i­fi­ca­tion of one kind or an­other.

“That, of course, is a colos­sal waste of hu­man po­ten­tial, and the rea­son why they’re in that predica­ment is that there aren’t any vi­able, at­trac­tive post-school ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­cept uni­ver­sity.

“I’ve ar­gued on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions that this coun­try does not need more peo­ple with uni­ver­sity de­grees. What this coun­try des­per­ately needs, at its level of devel­op­ment, are more young peo­ple with ar­ti­sanal skills. One can pour in money to deal with the fund­ing of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

“But that, in and of it­self, will not make the sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence, be­cause you have young peo­ple in a pub­lic higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem who should not have been there in the first place, who would have ben­e­fited by go­ing to a tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing (TVET) college.

“Un­for­tu­nately, those col­leges are not in­sti­tu­tions of choice at the mo­ment. And so, as part of re­solv­ing the chal­lenges of higher ed­u­ca­tion, we need to pay greater at­ten­tion to our TVET col­leges. Make them in­sti­tu­tions of choice.”

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