Cape Town 101102.Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande at a media briefing held at Parliament. PHOTO SAM CLARk, CA, Ilse Fredricks

Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, which have been heavily criticised for their poor returns, were “where the future of this country lies”, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said yesterday.

Briefing journalists, Nzimande said the department would run international benchmark tests for students studying at these colleges, review whether pupils with a Grade 9 pass should be admitted and look into differentiating the career paths of students according to their level of education.

He said the government would throw R2.1 billion into the system to fund the studies of 215 000 students this year.

In comparison the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, whose bursaries are earmarked for university students, has R8.3bn to fund 205 000 students.

Nzimande said one of the biggest challenges facing training colleges was the fact that they had students with four different education levels in one class – Grade 9, 10, 11 and 12.

Now his department wants to review whether these colleges are the correct route for pupils with only a Grade 9 pass. “We have to look into that… in relation to the purpose of the FET colleges and also in the light of the plans we have for community colleges,” he said.

But labour analyst Loane Sharp from Adcorp said the government was putting the resources in the wrong place with training colleges. “The FET colleges are in a shambles, the chance of finding work with an FET qualification is less than without the qualification,” he said. There were 23 000 engineering and business study opportunities for matric learners at the country’s 50 FET colleges. A further 10 000 spaces existed to train artisans and there were 44 000 opportunities in the national vocational certificate programme, while employers had created 93 000 apprenticeship and learnership opportunities.

The sector education and training authorities have provided 16 503 more learnerships. The retail automotive sector has training opportunities for 12 000 more artisans.

Nzimande said South Africa produced 12 000 qualified artisans each year on average. His department said last year that there was a shortage of 40 000 artisans. – Additional reporting by Nompumelelo Magwaza