Johannesburg - Trade union Solidarity announced a three-year education plan worth R400 million on Tuesday.

The decision was made at the union's general council meeting in Pretoria, chief executive Dirk Hermann said in a statement.

“This involves plans for education from primary school to university level. The planning includes the construction of a new training campus that would be home to various educational organisations.”

Akademia, the first phase of a fully-fledged new private university, would be expanded significantly and additional trades would be established at Solidarity’s technical college Sol-Tech.

The trade union also announced that study aid to its members and their children would increase to R60m in the next three years.

“The advent of the information economy means that trade unions have to make 'information' a key theme in their operations,” said Hermann.

“Knowledge is the best way for trade unions to protect their members in this new economy. The role of trade unions must change drastically, or they will lose their relevance.”

Flip Buys, chairman of the Solidarity Movement, said Solidarity planned for the next generation.

“Our message to young people is that studying will open up a future for them in South Africa. Young people who learn the art of lifelong learning have a lifelong advantage,” he said.

“The greatest benefit that a trade union could give its members is to equip them with knowledge.”

Hermann said the trade union wanted to equip people to stay in South Africa and contribute to the growth of the South African economy.

“That is also our contribution towards curbing unemployment and poverty,” he said.

A focus on mathematics teaching formed part of Solidarity’s education plans, including a society for mathematics teachers and maths clubs at schools and winter schools.

Expanding these plans to other important subjects was also being considered.

Solidarity also announced it was implementing major social outreach programmes in education.

Over the next three years, this would include plans to support thousands of pre-schools with food aid, provide 12 000 schoolbags to needy Afrikaans pupils, and give study assistance worth millions to needy students.