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Higher education system urgently needs a revamp

A growing cohort of the unemployed remains the youth and, in most cases, graduates from institutions of higher learning. Picture: ANA Archives

A growing cohort of the unemployed remains the youth and, in most cases, graduates from institutions of higher learning. Picture: ANA Archives

Published Jun 2, 2023


Willie Chinyamurindi

Cape Town - The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey results are out and the numbers are not looking good at all.

The unemployment rate in South Africa stands at a towering 32.9% in the first quarter of 2023. This latest figure shows a 0.2 percentage point increase from the fourth quarter figures of 2022.

The unemployment rate, possibly in the subsequent quarter reporting, is predicted to increase again. Given the current energy crisis the country faces, expect more job losses and an increase in unemployment.

Behind these figures, though, are human beings. These are men and women from all walks of life facing a common scourge. They are the young, those in the mid-stages of their career, and even those faced with the daunting decision to exit or not to exit the workforce.

At the University of Fort Hare, I have had the privilege to research and document the storied experiences of such individuals, given the current labour market challenges.

This has been a difficult experience for me as a researcher.

The cathartic moment is sometimes when I get a call that one of my research participants, after six years of job searching, landed an internship opportunity.

A growing cohort of the unemployed remains the youth and, in most cases, graduates from institutions of higher learning.

Another cohort consists of those who could be classified as experiencing time underemployment. In some of our research, these are working adults unsure about their future due to job insecurity.

Some of these working adults have had to take cuts in their working hours, ultimately affecting their wages. This includes taking up external extra work-role opportunities in seeking additional work hours to compensate for the shortfall they are experiencing.

The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey results come against the backdrop of two salient events in April.

First, many institutions have conducted graduation ceremonies. Such celebrations showcase the resilience and dedication of the graduates, given the obstinate challenges before us. One such challenge is the high unemployment rate.

In research we have conducted, we have also noted through a self-reflection of graduates a growing clarion call for a revamp of the higher education system, especially for those pursuing degree qualifications.

This revamp includes the need for a more practical work-based learning interface to be integrated into the curriculum.

Others argue for the need to fuse a compulsory entrepreneurial component at each year of a degree qualification regardless of the discipline of study.

Another concern is the need to fuse pervasive skills for students in enhancing their graduateness and employability.

Such skills include promoting behavioural, interpersonal, communication, and self-management skills.

We hope this is prioritised urgently, as there is a growing body of international and local research arguing for such skills.

The second notable event, a precursor to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey results announcement, happened in KwaZulu-Natal.

Higher Education, Science, and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande launched the Richmond-Indaleni Skills Innovation Hub.

In his address, he noted with concern that not enough attention had been paid to the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) sector since 1994.

So why the lack of attention on the TVET sector?

It would appear through case examples worldwide that this lack of attention to the TVET sector is rooted in the socio-cultural milieu. This has led to perceptions that the TVET sector is inferior and that degree qualifications are preferred.

Often this has also resulted in the existence of a psychological barrier manifest in the stigmatisation of the TVET sector.

Despite these socio-cultural issues, globally (and in South Africa) there is noted investment financially in supporting the work of the TVET sector.

This has also included improving the management and governance aspects of TVET colleges to help the vital mandate they should occupy.

The discussion should even start in the career-forming stages during basic education. High school students need to be exposed to the varying opportunities that accompany attaining a qualification from a TVET college.

Attending a TVET college does not imply you are a low achiever. Possible TVET college enrolment should not be seen as a back-up in case you fail to make it into UCT, Fort Hare, or UJ.

Work is also needed to market the TVET sector and its model. This marketing work becomes crucial in positioning the TVET sector as a possible remedy to the precarious challenges in the labour market.

Notably, research shows that in terms of marketing, the TVET sector within the Global South has yet to do much compared with its counterparts in the Global North in telling its story well.

This could be attributed to the psychological barriers and stigma mentioned earlier.

The TVET sector model could inject much-needed optimism even amid despondency. The model of the TVET sector could be all the higher education fraternity needs to consider.

Chinyamurindi is a professor at the University of Fort Hare in the Department of Business Management. He writes in his own capacity.

Cape Times