Transforming higher education
South Africa’s higher educa- tion landscape is changing, with tertiary education not
only more accessible but also more aligned to meet industry needs. The changes are necessary as the country works towards preparing young people for the world of work and contributing to the economy. As the country commemorates Youth Month, PSM takes a closer look at how the country’s youth are being provided with opportunities to succeed through the Depart- ment of Higher Education and Training.
Appointed in February as the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor has a challenging and important job ahead. She is tasked with phasing in free education for the poor and what is called the “missing middle” students.
Following a protracted nationwide protest under the banner #FeesMustFall, it was announced in December that youth from families whose income is less than R350 000 a year will receive free higher education and training. Im- plementation is under way and will be phased in over five years.
In a conversation with PSM, Minister Pandor confirmed that implemen- tation of the bursary scheme is proceeding smoothly.
“The new bursary scheme is a very important intervention by the government of South Africa and, of course, the people of South Africa because it is their taxes that are paying for this,” she said.
The bursary scheme is offered to qualifying first-time entry univer- sity students and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college students, in all years of study.
While the bursary scheme comes with conditions that include aca- demic performance requirements and future community service, what is significant is that existing National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NS- FAS) funded students will have their loans converted into grants that need not be repaid to NSFAS.
To fund the bursary scheme, additional government funding of R7.166 billion was allocated in 2018 – with R4.581 billion set aside for qualifying university students and R2.585 billion allocated to TVET col- lege students.
The Minister said that while there are still challenges, she is pleased that young people will now be supported in a manner that allows them to focus on succeeding in their academic work, rather than worrying about their finances. “Students can now focus on what we want – which is for them to be successful undergraduates, get through their courses in minimum time and begin contributing to South Africa and the world,” she said.
Occupational opportunities at TVET colleges
The Department of Higher Edu- cation and Training also aims to improve the calibre of TVET college education to change preconcep- tions that a university education is always best and to deliver the technical and vocational skills the country needs.
“South Africa has a National Development Plan mandate to increase the number of artisans in our country exponentially,” noted the Minister.
National artisan production num- bers rose during 2015, 2016 and 2017, increasing by 50 percent from 14 389 to 21 188 in 2017.
Artisan figures should improve even more as a result of a current drive to create centres of speciali- sation in TVET colleges. Minister Pandor explained that the project will focus on 13 short-supply critical trades and occupations and will be introduced in 26 colleg- es. These occupations are meant for government’s infrastructure and Operation Phakisa projects and will be piloted for two years, after which more colleges will be identified for the specialised college model.
The National Skills Fund (NSF) has committed R150 million to the project, which has the support of industry.
In her recent Budget Vote speech, the Minister said that in 2017 the NSF provided R886 million for 8 000 undergraduate students pursuing different qualifications in scarce skills such as accountancy.
The fund also provided R254 million for 3 500 honours, masters, doctoral and postdoctoral fellows. The NSF also hosts the annual Mandela Day Career Development initiative. This legacy programme selects 67 learners annually from a different province in honour of former President Nelson Mandela. “It increases the number of high achieving students in scarce skills disciplines,” she said.
Minister Pandor said colleges that specialise in specific fields of study could become centres of excel- lence synonymous with producing the best skill sets in their given field. For example, one college could focus solely on mechanical engi- neering and another on aviation, she explained.
“I believe specialisa- tion is the future of colleges,” she added.
“We want to have diversity. We don’t want all our colleges to do the same thing.”
The Minister believes careful thought must go into college specialisation. For example, in the regions where tourism is a major employer, colleges should focus on the tourism and hospitality sector. “From my interaction with the various service providers of training for young people, including private sector companies, I really get the impression that there is a serious intent to address the skills gap in South Africa. I was impressed with the work of the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) as well as the TVET colleges.”
“I think the colleges are coming into their own. There is a greater sense of confidence and I like that some of them are starting to develop niche areas.” “Ekurhuleni West and Ekurhuleni
East TVET colleges are working in a very coordinated way to develop distinct programmes that respond to aviation matters because of where they are located,” she said. The Minister added that she was pleasantly surprised to see that some institutions have identified that the spatial locations of several companies create valuable op- portunities for programme devel- opment.
“What they seem to be doing is what we always desired would happen in the technical and vo- cational space.”
“For instance, the Ekurhuleni colleges will work closely with a company like DHL, which is located at OR Tambo International Airport, and get a sense of what is required to manage an entity like this and what kind of skills they should be focusing on,” she said. Minister Pandor would also like to see tourism colleges offering stu- dents foreign languages like Swahili, Italian, German and Mandarin. Nothing makes a traveller more comfortable than being assisted in their home language, she said. She believes that cost implications should not be too great, given that many embassies would be keen
to assist. The Minister said she was happy that several colleges were already offering more foreign languages courses.
Partnerships revitalising work and learning
Minister Pandor said her prede- cessor, Minister Blade Nzimande, worked very hard to establish partnerships with the private sector and with industry.
She said the department would continue leveraging those part- nerships and “expand them even further”.
One of the concerns, she noted, was seeing young trainees being unable to complete their qualifi- cations because they don’t get the necessary practical experi- ence in the workplace.
The HRDC, which is a national, multi-tiered and multi-stakeholder human resource advisory body, has a vital role to play.“We are able to articulate our need for partnerships to all stakeholders through the HRDC.”
The Minister said SETAs are doing very important work in allowing access to learnerships to a diverse range of young people.
She added that SETAs also provide workplace training because many, particularly black people and women, have not enjoyed the opportunity to improve their positions in the industries in which they work. The sectorial focus of the SETAs includes the acquisition of workplace skills.
The department has forged several partnerships to create more opportunities for young people. This includes the United States- South Africa doctoral programme which comprises of a network of 12 US universities and 18 South African universities that will work together to implement 12 doctoral programmes.
These are aimed at enabling 100 existing academic staff to complete their doctoral quali- fications and funding of R57.2 million has been allocated to the programme.
Focus on entrepreneurship
The Entrepreneurship Develop- ment in Higher Education pro- gramme was launched last year. It is aimed at coordinating the development of an entrepreneur- ship platform within the university education sector in South Africa. This includes entrepreneurship in academia and the development of student entrepreneurship as well as entrepreneurial universities. Minister Pandor said that more needs to be done to not only help young people to be work-ready, but for them to be creators of decent work.
She would like to see institutions of higher learning offering entrepreneurship with all courses, a move that will see young gradu- ates establishing start-ups that
can reshape the future of the country. The Minister said this could also be the most effective and practi- cal way to reduce concentration in the economy by dismantling monopolies to make way for a more inclusive small business sector.
“For me this is key. I want young people to talk about creating their own businesses rather than focusing on getting a job,” she said.
The Minister’s words come at a time when unemployment among young graduates remains a concern.
In its Quarterly Labour Force Survey covering the first quarter of 2018, Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) said the burden of unem- ployment remains concentrated among the youth. They account for 63.5 percent of the total num- ber of unemployed persons. Stats SA also said that the unem- ployment rate among the youth does not respect education levels, with the graduate unemployment rate at 10.2 percent among those aged 25–34 years, while the rate among adults aged 35–64 years is 4.7 percent.