Cape Town 101102. New Deputy Higher Education Minister, Hlengiwe Mkhize at a media briefing held at Parliament. PHOTO SAM CLARk, CA, Ilse Fredricks

Southern African Development Community (SADC) higher education ministers discussed how to develop a joint plan for the region at a meeting in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“The ultimate objective is to develop a higher education and training plan for the region through discussions on the status and challenges of the sector...,” said Education Minister Blade Nzimande's spokeswoman, Vuyelwa Qinga.

At the meeting, the Southern African Regional University Association (Sarua) submitted a presentation on access and participation rates, including the role of private institutions.

“Out of these discussions, the policy vision for the region will be translated into a regional strategic framework... which will outline key priorities for both the short and long terms,” Qinga said.

The implementation of these decisions would be undertaken by the technical committee on higher education, training, research and development, she said.

Earlier, the deputy minister of higher education Hlengiwe Mkhize said higher education systems in Southern Africa were not growing to meet the demands of the growing youth population.

“We do not have enough institutions of higher education and training, despite the new public and private institutions which have been built in various countries in the region over the last two decades.”

She said the region did not have adequate numbers of well-qualified academic personnel.

“In South Africa only 33 percent of our academics have PhD qualifications, “ she said.

She said the country depended on these academics alone to produce research output, and to supervise masters and doctoral students.

Mkhize said the SADC region was reported to be investing more per student than other countries with a similar level of educational achievement and income.

“These numbers refer to education as a whole and not only tertiary education. Nonetheless, our returns on investment in higher education, seemingly, do not compare favourably with those in other regions.”

She said there was a need to increase investment into higher education and to devise means to ensure higher education became accessible to all people, especially the poor.

“We need to explore all the available options in this regard, open and distance learning presents one such option.”

She said open and distance education expanded access and reach to people who were not reachable through face to face education.

“We must build on our current initiatives and expand them and we need to develop our use of new technologies to ensure high quality distance education.”

Mkhize said another key task was to improve the quality of higher education relating to teaching and research.

“We need to make sure that out institutions have or develop the teaching and research capacity of their staff, to ensure better learning experiences for students and enhance research performance by institutions.” - Sapa