We need to pro­duce the skills re­quired by the econ­omy


IN OR­DER to thrive, an econ­omy re­quires a di­verse range of skills, from high level, con­cep­tual to prac­ti­cal gety­our-hands-dirty-type skills.

To meet th­ese de­mands, the postschool education and train­ing sys­tem pro­vides uni­ver­si­ties and two types of col­leges – tech­ni­cal vo­ca­tional education and train­ing (TVET) col­leges and com­mu­nity col­leges.

Since 2015, much fo­cus has been directed at uni­ver­si­ties and the #FeesMustFall cam­paign. The gov­ern­ment has come to the party in terms of no fee in­creases dur­ing 2016 and 2017.

With all eyes on the drama sur­round­ing uni­ver­si­ties and #FeesMustFall, TVET col­leges have be­come the prover­bial boil­ing frog on the stove.

We should keep in mind that the ma­jor­ity of school leavers don’t make it to univer­sity, and while en­rol­ment at TVET col­leges has been in­creas­ing (al­most dou­bled from 358 393 in 2010 to 702 383 in 2014), in com­par­i­son to uni­ver­si­ties, the post-sec­ondary col­lege sec­tor re­mains small.

In most other coun­tries, school leavers gen­er­ally at­tend col­leges, with rel­a­tively few go­ing on to at­tain univer­sity education – here the trend is al­most the op­po­site. Un­for­tu­nately, much of the de­sire for a univer­sity education is rooted in the rel­a­tively neg­a­tive stigma at­tached to col­lege education.

Be that as it may, col­leges may be the next to ex­plode if the De­part­ment of Higher Education and Train­ing, the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and col­lege man­age­ment don’t do some­thing soon.

TVET col­leges were pre­vi­ously the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the nine pro­vin­cial education de­part­ments. Given that the fund­ing of th­ese col­leges was at the dis­cre­tion of th­ese education de­part­ments, the re­sult was an un­evenly de­vel­oped col­lege sys­tem, with TVET col­leges in some prov­inces se­verely un­der­funded.

Given the cen­tral­ity of the skills de­vel­oped by TVET col­leges, and in or­der to bring about a mea­sure of uni­for­mity in the fund­ing and man­age­ment of th­ese in­sti­tu­tions, the func­tion was shifted to the na­tional sphere in 2012.

Un­for­tu­nately, an assess­ment of the fund­ing al­lo­cated in re­spect of TVETs over the medium term sug­gests that even with this mi­gra­tion of the func­tion to the cen­tre, the gen­eral de­pri­ori­ti­sa­tion of th­ese col­leges will con­tinue. When the min­is­ter of fi­nance ta­bles the 2017 Bud­get in Fe­bru­ary, it will in all like­li­hood en­tail in­creases in sub­si­dies to TVETs and higher trans­fers to NSFAS.

The ques­tion is not whether we will see any in­creases in re­spect of TVETs, but rather the quan­tum of those in­creases, es­pe­cially if one con­sid­ers that in real terms, sub­si­dies to th­ese types of col­leges have been on the de­cline since 2013/14, grow­ing be­low the rate of in­fla­tion.

Of con­cern in the cur­rent fees cri­sis is the blan­ket ap­proach be­ing ap­plied to both uni­ver­si­ties and TVET col­leges, which may well serve to com­pound the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges faced by col­leges, be­cause it as­sumes that the na­ture of the fi­nan­cial chal­lenges faced by th­ese two very dif­fer­ent in­sti­tu­tions are sim­i­lar. For ex­am­ple, TVET col­lege fees are less ex­pen­sive than univer­sity fees. One would also ex­pect that the house­hold in­comes of TVET stu­dents are gen­er­ally dif­fer­ent to those of univer­sity stu­dents.

So, while the pro­vi­sion of a no-fee in­crease for stu­dents from house­holds with an in­come up to R600 000 a year might make sense for univer­sity stu­dents, the cut-off of R600 000 might be too high in the case of a typ­i­cal TVET stu­dent and could pos­si­bly mean that the ma­jor­ity of TVET stu­dents ac­tu­ally qual­ify for this no-fee in­crease, in­clud­ing those stu­dents who can and have been pay­ing their tu­ition fees.

The TVET sec­tor has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate the skills our econ­omy so sorely needs to spur on eco­nomic growth. But for that po­ten­tial to be re­alised, and in­deed for col­leges to be a real and fea­si­ble al­ter­na­tive to univer­sity education, we need an over­haul of the sec­tor such that qual­ity is im­proved.

Fur­ther­more, for TVETs to ef­fec­tively pro­duce the skills re­quired by the econ­omy, we need to en­sure that TVET cur­ricu­lums and train­ing are re­spon­sive to the needs of in­dus­try.

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