Durban - The Department of Higher Education’s plans to enroll more than a million students into colleges next year was “too much, too soon”, and would put strain on the financial aid scheme.
The department’s annual report showed that it fell short of its target of enrolling 800 000 students by nearly 100 000 last year.
The report, which was tabled in Parliament last month, also noted that Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges were underperforming because not enough students were securing bursaries through the National Financial Aid Scheme’s academic merit criteria.
It noted: “Measures will be put in place that colleges apply both the means test to determine student financial eligibility, as well as student academic performance and potential for satisfactory academic performance in order to arrive at those who qualify for the bursary.”
Professor Graeme Bloch, an educational expert at the Maphungubwe Institute, said funding was an issue, but more people needed to be encouraged to enroll at vocational colleges.
“People should be encouraged to go there, but we need to improve the product. Right now people want to go to universities, because that is where the jobs are,” he said.
Bloch said staffing and resources needed to improve and that the colleges needed to ensure students got jobs at the end of their courses.
“One million is a realistic target, but we’ve got to ask what do we want from tertiary institutions, both universities and TVET colleges?
“We encourage our students to go to universities because that’s where the jobs are. We must strive to do the same for TVET colleges by improving the product, which demands we improve staffing and resources,” he said.
DA higher education spokeswoman, Professor Belinda Bozzoli, said more needed to be done to focus, expand and improve the training, vocational and educational training colleges.
“They need better management and more funding, because at the moment they are expanding without putting extra resources into them, so you will have a dangerous situation where you have more students, bigger classes and the same staff complement,” she said.
Bozzoli said failure rates at colleges were “shocking”, and worse than at traditional universities.
“Upgrade staff as you expand – right now the one million target is too much, too soon, and I doubt the department will meet that anyway, because they have missed all their targets in the past three years.
“We are going to challenge the department in the portfolio committee meeting next week, because year on year, we see very little improvement,” she said.
Bozzoli said although colleges were important within the South African context, there needed to be a better link between industry and colleges.
“Make the link stronger, and we really need to have demand-driven colleges rather than supplier driven, which means you need to know what is being demanded by industry, and know where the economy is going,” she said.
IFP higher education spokesman Themba Msimang, said the government was experimenting with people’s lives, and blamed the ANC for the state of colleges, because they had closed colleges in the 1990s.
“This is why we did not agree with the closure of colleges… Now government is busy experimenting with people’s lives,” he said.
A higher education department spokesmen could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.