South Africa to expand, improve technical colleges

25 July 2014

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has announced a range of measures – including the extension of technical and vocational colleges, and the establishment of a new category of “community colleges” – to help transform South Africa’s post-school system.

Community colleges

Speaking to journalists ahead of his department’s budget vote in Parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday, Nzimande said community colleges would cater for unskilled people and those who did not finish their schooling.

The colleges will be established by grouping together clusters of adult learning centres, with the government strengthening their infrastructure, staffing and programmes.

South Africa’s public adult learning centres currently cater for approximately 300 000 individuals, which according to Nzimande is inadequate.

“A draft national policy on community colleges will soon be gazetted, and I urge all stakeholders to interact with it and give feedback to us,” he said.

Technical and vocational colleges

Nzimande said the government would be building more technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges – previously known as Further Education and Training (FET) colleges – across the country.

“More money will be directed to elevate their stature and programme offerings. Our top priority is to expand them while improving their quality.”

At the same time, R19.2-billion had been allocated over the next three years to ensure that TVET college enrolments continued to grow. Enrolments had risen more than 130% since 2009, the minister said.

The government would also focus on expanding these institutions to rural areas, which are currently inadeqautely served. “To correct this distribution, R2.5-billion has been committed by the department towards the refurbishment of two existing TVET college campuses and the building of 12 new campuses.”

Work is set to begin on three campuses: Nkandla, Bambanani and Thabazimbi.

The department had transferred all TVET college principals and deputy principals to the national department from the provincial education departments in April 2013, and appointed councils for all colleges.

Improving universities

In the university sector, Nzimande said his department was prioritising the development of infrastructure for historically disadvantaged institutions, support for teaching and learning, and the production of the next generation of academics.

Three new universities have been established: the University of Mpumalanga, Sol Plaatje University in Northern Cape, and the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Gauteng.

The University of Mpumalanga and the Sol Plaatje University commenced with their first intake this year, while the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University – which will merge with the Medical University of Southern Africa (Medunsa) campus in Garankuwa, Pretoria – will begin with its first intake next year.

The department has also established a new National Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences to respond to declining trends in the production of social science graduates.

Increasing teacher numbers

The department has focused on producing more school teachers over the last five years. In 2013, approximately 14 700 new teachers graduated, compared to 6 885 in 2009, an increase of 113% in new teachers per annum.

Over the next five years, Nzimande said, the focus would extend beyond basic education teachers to include the training of teachers for the whole system, including early childhood development, TVET colleges, community colleges and public universities.

“Our projections are that public universities will produce in excess of 23 000 new teachers annually by 2020.”

The department has also set a target of increasing the proportion of university academics with PhDs from 39% in 2012 to 47% in 2019.

Improving infrastructure

Between 2012/13 and 2014/15, the government allocated R6-billion towards infrastructure projects across the country’s 23 existing universities, with an amount of R2.3-billion committed for the current financial year. Of that R6-billion, 1.6-billion was allocated to student housing development.

Nzimande said the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) had been expanded to include students in TVET colleges, and the amount disbursed annually had grown by approximately 270% since 2008.

The department’s allocation to NSFAS for 2014/15 amounts to R6.139-billion. This includes R3.9-billion for loans and bursaries to universities, R2.1-billion for bursaries for TVET colleges, and R116.2-million for administration.

This is supplemented by a further R2.42-billion that is made available through NSFAS recoveries, National Skills Fund scarce skills bursaries, Sector Education and Training Authorities bursaries, and bursaries such as those from the Department of Basic Education’s Funza Lushaka programme, bringing the total funding available for loans and bursaries for the 2014 academic year to R8.85-billion.

“NSFAS has made a great contribution and has produced university graduates in many families and has changed their lives for the better. It is something we should be proud of. But this does not mean we do not have challenges,” Nzimande said, adding that his department was working with the NSFAS to improve the management of the system.

According to Business Day, the scheme helped more than 1.4-million students between 1991 and 2013, and would finance a further 430 000 students this academic year.

SAnews.gov.za and SAinfo reporter