Youth unemployment needs a closer eye
Similarly, it is of concern that the already high youth unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 55.9% in the second quarter of 2017 from 54.3% in the first quarter of 2017. This statistic glosses over the fact that of the approximately 9 million unemployed individuals in South Africa, 3.3 million are young people between 15 and 24.
Compounding the alarming rate of youth unemployment is our current state of formal recession, which we will recover from only over a number years. There is simply no economic or political stimulus, given an economic growth rate of less than 3% a year, or indeed a private public social compact, that will mitigate against this trend.
This means that the objective set out in the National Development Plan (NDP) that the unemployment rate should fall from 24.9% in 2012 to 6% in 2030 is, kindly put, an unreachable target. This would require the creation of a staggering 11 million jobs, up from a total employment number of 13 to 24 million, by 2030. We have only 13 years to meet this target,meaning we need to create more than 1 million secure jobs every year. That is 83000 new jobs a month, every month for the next 13 years. Somehow, I don’t see it happening.
Given this outlook, and the fact that the demand for skilled labour means that those with a post-secondary qualification are far more likely to find employment than those with only a matric certificate, a certain boldness is required in re- imagining higher education provision. It simply cannot be business as usual. If the government had to fund all new entrants into higher education during the 2016 academic year, it would have cost R51 billion.
The Department of Higher Education’s total budget for that year was in the region of R9.5bn, which could cover only 425095 new applicants. A significant number would be denied access to higher education, and the backlog will continue to grow, together with our growing rate of youth unemployment.
Student protests in the #FeesMustFall campaign led to property damage of over R460 million at universities since October 2015, and violent protest action in South Africa has led to more than R1bn of damage to state and private infrastructure in recent months. It is not entirely inconceivable to link an increase in civil protest action to an increase in the youth unemployment rate.
If the problem of youth unemployment is left unattended in the current climate of failures in planning and implementation of higher education, it will result in systemic socio-political and economic collapse across the democratic project.
Much has been said about the role of public higher education within this quagmire. However, given these considerations, it is now time to call more firmly on the private higher education sector to play an active role to respond to capacity constraints.
What is urgently required is for the sector to build institutional and funding mechanisms that would, at scale, increase the capacity of higher education provision, which must mobilise private capital as an equitable share of the higher education market. This capital must allow for greater and more affordable access to higher education finance. In this regard, the idea of a privately owned and managed national student savings and loan scheme should be an immediate consideration.
Within the NDP, private higher education institutions are seen as a key pillar in the successful provision of higher education. It points out that “This acknowledgement of the role of private higher education means that the current regulatory and funding arrangements for this sector may need to be fundamentally reconsidered to enable it to become an integral component of an expanding higher education sector. In addition, possibilities for the positive stimulation of the sector will need to be sought. The private higher education sector will also have to demonstrate that it has the will and the wherewithal to manage suitable levels of self-regulation within individual institutions in order to assure greater confidence in the quality of their education provision.”
By 2030, a 70% growth rate in higher education enrolment is expected. It would be unwise not to heed the policy direction provided by the NDP that private higher education should and must play a greater role.
These planned targets have significant implications on how the state directs and regulates the higher education sector, including the private providers, and it will require legislative and regulatory arrangements.
Moreover, we require boldness in action at an institutional level among all role-players and a firm admission that what we are currently doing is simply not working.
* Oosterwyk is head of partnerships and strategy at the Cornerstone Institute (cornerstone.ac.za) a non-profit private higher education provider. He writes in his personal capacity.
** ** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.