Johannesburg - A four-fold expansion of the public colleges sector by 2030, the revamp of the further education and training (FET) college system and prioritising the production of critical skills is what the roadmap for training school leavers charts for the next 16 years.
Artisan training will be the centre of South Africa’s post-school training. The White Paper on post-school education and training, launched by Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande last week, positions technical and vocational education and training (TVET) as the prime centres to develop scarce and critical skills needed for the country’s economic development.
The TVET colleges, previously known as FET colleges, will increase student intake to 2.5 million in 2030 from 650 000 students enrolled last year.
The White Paper envisages a more modest, but still significant, increase in the planned intake at universities. They are expected to enrol 1.6 million students in 2030, from 937 000 students in 2011. This would increase university access to 25 percent of prospective students from 17.3 percent.
John Pampallis, the special adviser to the minister of higher education and training, said universities would target growth of scarce skills while continuing to provide general academic education in the natural sciences and humanities.
Academics and analysts differ on how effective this policy will be in lifting South Africa out of the crisis of scarce skills shortages it is facing.
“It would be appropriate for the college system to be expanded and strengthened,” said Gerda Kruger, the executive director of communication and marketing at UCT.
Kruger pointed out that while some argued that the ideal post-school shape was a triangle, with a broad base of technical colleges, South Africa had an inverse system.
“We have an inverted triangle with limited capacity at college level and many scrambling for university places. However, it may be ambitious to increase numbers in the college sector four-fold by 2030 since this would require huge infrastructural and human resource development.”
What about the production of critical skills? Will South Africa match its labour force needs with this plan?
“There are 829 000 vacancies in the private sector which could be filled now if the skills were there.
“Unfortunately, the skills that South Africa lacks are in the management and professional fields and these are produced at universities. That’s why it is a major mistake to marginalise universities to bolster FETs,” said Loane Sharp, a labour market analyst at Adcorp.
He argued that bolstering the FET colleges sector was a mistake considering the poor performance that had been observed in the past.
Nzimande pointed out last week that the pass rate at FET colleges was only 40 percent in 2012, but it had improved from a dismal 12 percent in 2010. He tabled a comprehensive shake-up plan which includes international benchmarked entry tests and lecturer training.
Nevertheless, Sharp felt that that the White Paper did not state how to address the “poor and patchy” intake requirements, sub-standard curriculum design and low examination standards, all of which contributed to the poor performance of FET colleges.
But it did envisage that all vocational programmes and qualifications offered by these colleges would be reviewed.
Relevant employers, government departments and other stakeholders would take part in the review.
The paper says the private sector will not only advise the colleges on the issue of curriculums, but industry experts could also teach at these colleges part-time.
A major portion of post-school training will be diverted to alternative platforms other than universities.
Over and above TVETs, a new type of institution will be established in the form of community colleges. These are aimed mainly at the youth and adults who have not completed Grade 12 and those who have never attended school at all.
The formal programme of these colleges will include the General Education and Training Certificate and other senior certificate programmes.
The White Paper envisages that 1 million learners will be enrolled in these colleges by 2030 and will be introduced in a phased approach.