SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande. File photo: Dumisani Sibeko

Parliament -Substantial progress has been made the past decade and a half in relation to schooling, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said on Tuesday.

The 2011 census showed educational levels had increased significantly, he said during debate in the National Assembly on President Jacob Zuma's state-of-the-nation speech.

The proportion of South Africans with a Grade 12 education or higher had risen from 28.8 percent in 2001 to 40.7 percent in 2011, an increase of 41.3 percent.

The school participation rate by seven to 15-year-olds in 2011 was 98.8 percent.

Nzimande said the 2009 decision to split education into two “was indeed a stroke of genius that is beginning to bear fruit”.

The higher education and training department had developed a vision of post-school education and training.

It had already made significant practical advances which were beginning to improve the opportunities for youth and adults in acquiring further education and skills.

Further education and training (FET) college enrolments had grown substantially over the past few years, from about 350 000 in 2010 to over 650 000 in 2012.

This had been made possible through a variety of strategies.

These included a concerted effort to raise awareness of FET education, free education for poor students in FET colleges, and expanding shorter skills courses offered in FET colleges with the assistance of sector education and training authorities.

A turnaround strategy to improve the quality of FET college teaching and management had been developed.

This included short-term interventions to stabilise some of the weaker colleges, appointing qualified chartered accountants as chief financial officers in 43 of the 50 FET colleges, developing specialised qualifications for college lecturers, and special interventions to strengthen student support.

National Student Financial Assistance Scheme funding for loans and bursaries to students in universities and colleges had expanded from R2.375 billion in 2008 to well over R6bn this year.

“FET college students coming from poor backgrounds and following occupational programmes are now completely exempted from paying fees.”

This meant that bursary funds for FET college students coming from poor families had increased from R310 million in 2009 to R1.75bn in 2012, and would reach R2bn in 2013.

“Such a massive increase, largely to the benefit of poor black students, has never ever happened in our country before,” Nzimande said. - Sapa