Var­sity killed the col­lege

The no­tion of free univer­sity tuition has gained ground in state cir­cles, yet the chronic un­der­fund­ing of tech­ni­cal and vo­ca­tional col­leges re­mains un­ac­knowl­edged

CityPress - - Business - DEWALD VAN RENS­BURG dewald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za What should be done to im­prove the qual­ity of TVET col­leges?

The grow­ing po­lit­i­cal clout of univer­sity stu­dents has con­trib­uted to the im­plo­sion that is threat­en­ing South Africa’s tech­ni­cal col­lege sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to a min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee re­port­ing to Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande.

Since the stu­dent protest move­ment #FeesMustFall erupted on univer­sity cam­puses coun­try­wide in 2015, the chronic un­der­fund­ing of the 50 Tech­ni­cal and Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing (TVET) col­leges has wors­ened – even as large emer­gency al­lo­ca­tions were found for uni­ver­si­ties.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma is sit­ting on the po­lit­i­call­y­sen­si­tive re­port sub­mit­ted to him last week by the He­her com­mis­sion, set up to look into the fea­si­bil­ity of free univer­sity tuition. A sep­a­rate re­port on the TVET sys­tem was pub­lished with­out much fan­fare in the Govern­ment Gazette ear­lier this month.

The TVET col­lege re­port be­moans the “gross un­der­fund­ing” of col­leges, es­pe­cially com­pared with the am­bi­tious ex­pan­sion tar­gets they were set in the 2013 White Pa­per on post-school ed­u­ca­tion.

The num­ber of stu­dents at TVET col­leges was meant to bal­loon from about 345 000 in 2010 to 2.5 mil­lion by 2030. The growth of univer­sity stu­dents was meant to slow down and sta­bilise at 1.6 mil­lion by 2030.

This plan may al­ways have been des­tined for fail­ure, but the col­leges have suf­fered as a re­sult of what the min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee calls the “lob­by­ing power and in­ter­ests in the univer­sity sec­tor”.

“The com­mit­tee notes that the ur­gent re­sponse to the #FeesMustFall cam­paign is an in­di­ca­tion of the ex­tent to which univer­sity fund­ing is pri­ori­tised at the ex­pense of other sub­sec­tors, such as TVET.”

TVET col­leges have made this point to any­one who would lis­ten, said Xo­lile Xuma, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the TVET col­leges governors’ coun­cil.

“We are highly un­der­funded. Since 2013, the deficit has been R14 bil­lion,” he told City Press.

This deficit is premised on the col­leges chas­ing a head­count tar­get and ex­pect­ing govern­ment to cover 80% of the cost per stu­dent.

“We are be­ing un­fairly treated in favour of the uni­ver­si­ties,” said Xuma.

“Our stu­dents did not get any debt re­lief; we just can­celled their debts. We did not re­ceive any­thing. The #FeesMustFall move­ment made Par­lia­ment con­cen­trate on the uni­ver­si­ties. The problem is, you want peo­ple to go to the street be­fore you give them re­sources. But what does the coun­try ac­tu­ally need? It needs skills.

“I am not say­ing the uni­ver­si­ties are ir­rel­e­vant, but we need to train ar­ti­sans,” said Xuma. With­out a sig­nif­i­cant new al­lo­ca­tion of funds, the col­leges will most likely em­bark on a mas­sive con­trac­tion, in­stead of ex­pand­ing.

“What will hap­pen is that we will take in the stu­dents we are funded for,” said Xuma.

“We need to reg­is­ter 700 000, but we are funded for 400 000. Since 2013, we have upped the en­rol­ments, but our in­fra­struc­ture can­not ab­sorb them.

“The ma­jor­ity of col­leges are now in se­vere fi­nan­cial dis­tress.” Nz­i­mande has pre­vi­ously com­plained that Trea­sury will not pro­vide the fund­ing needed for the TVET sys­tem.

But Xuma said that Na­tional Trea­sury could not be blamed for the po­lit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties that are set by the pres­i­dent and Cab­i­net.

“I do not nec­es­sar­ily agree with the nar­ra­tive that Trea­sury is un­will­ing to give the re­sources. If we were a pri­or­ity for the pres­i­dent and the Cab­i­net, there would be re­sources.”

TOO LIT­TLE MONEY OR TOO MANY STU­DENTS?

The TVET col­leges had an “abysmal” pass rate, said the min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee.

In 2011, be­fore the size­able in­crease in en­rol­ments, the pass rate for col­lege exam writ­ers was al­ready only 41%. This has led to an “ex­or­bi­tant per capita cost, which is un­sus­tain­able”, ac­cord­ing to the TVET re­port.

It goes on to state that “more­over, the ab­sorp­tion rate of TVET grad­u­ates in the econ­omy is also a cause for se­ri­ous con­cern”.

This ac­tu­ally un­der­states the wastage. Trea­sury has, in the past, claimed that if dropouts are in­cluded, the com­ple­tion rate at col­leges is closer to 11%.

This high fail­ure rate means that the state spends R454 260 to suc­cess­fully pro­duce a sin­gle na­tional vo­ca­tional cer­tifi­cate – the TVET equiv­a­lent of ma­tric.

That is more ex­pen­sive than putting a stu­dent through an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree at univer­sity.

The qual­ity of the col­leges need to im­prove, even if this has to be at the ex­pense of in­creas­ing en­rol­ment, con­cluded the com­mit­tee.

The first rec­om­men­da­tion it has put for­ward is to sub­stan­tially in­crease fund­ing. With­out more money, all other rec­om­men­da­tions are point­less, it said.

TVET col­leges re­ceive 4% of the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get, while uni­ver­si­ties get 11%, noted the re­port.

The var­i­ous parts of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem sim­ply do not fit to­gether, said the com­mit­tee.

This lack of “ar­tic­u­la­tion” leads to sit­u­a­tions where you have to pub­licly fund some­one’s ed­u­ca­tion for nine years to pro­duce an ar­ti­san be­cause some peo­ple will com­plete ma­tric, then the three-year na­tional cer­tifi­cate (vo­ca­tional), fol­lowed by a three-year ap­pren­tice­ship to get all the the­ory and prac­ti­cal ed­u­ca­tion they need to qual­ify for a trade.

Ac­cord­ing to Xuma, “the problem is not the TVET sys­tem, it is the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem”.

“The sys­tem cre­ates peo­ple who want to go to univer­sity, but also stu­dents who can­not get into univer­sity – stu­dents who can­not speak English or write well.”

Col­leges then be­came the de­fault op­tion for the least pre­pared young­sters af­ter school, he said.

A lack of po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment and fund­ing for the col­leges might be the main problem, but the TVET sys­tem also needed more sup­port from the in­dus­tries it was meant to pro­vide skilled work­ers for, said Xuma.

“We are not like the uni­ver­si­ties,” he said. “We rely on ac­cess to work­places for the prac­ti­cal com­po­nents. The pri­vate sec­tor has to play a role in pro­vid­ing work­places, tools and re­sources.” SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word COL­LEGE and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

CHAL­LENG­ING THE SYS­TEM Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande

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