SA colleges get $6.7m boost

[Image] Ehlanzeni FET College is one 12 South
African institutions to benefit from
USAID funding.
(Image: Ehlanzeni FET College)

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Twelve rural Further Education and Training (FET) facilities in South Africa have received a major cash injection from a US government agency to boost skills development and training.

The US-South Africa Partnership for Skills Development, worth US$6.7-million (more than R50-million), was launched on 20 October 2009 at the Waterberg FET College in Mokopane, Limpopo province.

The partners in the initiative are the US Agency for International Development (USAid), which is funding the programme, and South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training.

The scheme aims to strengthen academic programmes, develop lecturers’ training skills and bolster student support services, not only in Limpopo, but at colleges in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape provinces as well.

The Mpumalanga beneficiaries are the Ehlanzeni, Gert Sibande and Nkangala FET colleges. In Limpopo the Lephalale, Capricorn, Letaba, Sekhukhune, Mopani South East, Vhembe and Waterberg FET colleges will benefit, as will the Northern Cape Rural and Northern Cape Urban FET colleges.

“I am happy that the partnership will support existing interventions being implemented at FET colleges; in particular student support services,” Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said at the launch.

“This will enhance student access, retention, throughput and linkages with sustainable economic opportunities. [It is] appropriate that a partnership of this nature is formed with FET colleges.”

US exchange opportunities

Supervised by the American Council on Education (ACE) and American Association of Community Colleges, the programme will also create partnerships with the private sector in South Africa and offer exchange opportunities with US colleges and universities.

Some of the US academic partners are the Bronx Community College in New York; the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System; National Center on Education and the Economy, based in Washington DC; Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts; and YouthBuild International, which is based in Boston.

“We are delighted to have this opportunity help build new bridges between the US and South African higher education communities,” ACE’s Madeleine Green said in a statement. “By doing so, [we will] help South Africa tap into lessons learned from US community colleges to expand the learning opportunities for disadvantaged youth.”

The programme includes a labour market research component, which has been allocated $320 000 (more than R2-million). Nzimande applauded this element because it will “give colleges access to labour market data”.

“In this way, training at colleges can be matched to demands of the marketplace,” he said.

Some $1.7-million (about R12.6-million) has been set aside for a local HIV/Aids programme, which Nzimande hopes “will go a long way in liberating our youth and our country from the scourge of the pandemic”.

Government’s FET drive

The US investment will go a long way in improving conditions at FET colleges, but the South African government is also working to boost these institutions. The country’s 50 colleges and 236 campuses “will be the primary site for skills development training”, President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation address in June 2009.

“To date government has invested R600-million [$80.3-million] in bursaries for FET college students in order to create access for the financially needy,” said Nzimande.

“Government was aware that this investment was not enough and will work to improve it,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring that no young person is deprived of the opportunity for education or training merely because of a lack of money…”

The FET colleges revitalisation project, which ran over three years and ended in March 2009, saw the government spending R1.9-billion ($25 422-million) on improving infrastructure, acquiring more equipment and developing a new curriculum, among others.

FET institutions play a pivotal role in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape, as universities are yet to be established there.