/ 23 June 2009

Closer link for varsities, colleges

Universities are not consistent in the way they recognise FET qualifications
Universities are not consistent in the way they recognise FET qualifications

Talks between the further education and training (FET) college sector and higher education institutions are moving forward slowly on articulation to allow FET graduates who want to continue their studies to enrol at universities.

Without any sector-wide recognition of FET qualifications by higher education institutions, the first group of students to graduate with threeyear national vocational certificates at the end of this year will not have the option to pursue university studies if they choose.

The issue of articulation is becoming more urgent as the government’s R2-billion injection into the FET sector starts to reap rewards, with 60% of last year’s intake of 50 000 first-year students graduating to second year.

JJ Mbana, chairperson of the SA College Principals’ Organisation and chief executive of the Eastcape Midlands FET college in the Eastern Cape, said this week articulation was ‘central” in all discussions in the FET sector. ‘Morally we have an obligation to our students [to resolve this matter].

Having enrolled for the new qualification in 2007 expecting to have an option to continue to varsities and not being able to do so will be a problem,” Mbana said. Mbana said signals from the higher education sector have been positive towards resolving the problem, and in an important step forward the FET sector will meet representatives of universities of technology next month to discuss articulation.

Dr Theuns Eloff, chairman of universities vice-chancellor’s association Higher Education South Africa (Hesa), said Hesa and the American Council of Education had established an office to work on building the capacity of FET colleges. ‘We have already set up the office in Pretoria.

The first part of the project is to build capacity, as well as to upgrade qualifications and IT and management information systems.” Out of this initiative articulation is expected to flow.

Eloff admitted that universities are uneven in the way they recognise FET qualifications. ‘We need to make this consistent.”

Meanwhile, the 60% of last year’s intake of 50 000 first-year students who graduated to second year is a marked improvement on 2007. Then 25 000 students enrolled as first years; 19 000 wrote the exams and only 10 000 or 40% passed enough subjects to enter second year.

But the picture is not uniformly rosy –the 2007 and 2008 pass rates in maths and maths literacy remained grim. Of the 19 282 first-year students who wrote the maths literacy exam last year, 39% passed, whereas only 28% of almost 20 000 students who wrote maths got through.

In the previous year, the percentages were 34% and 24% –although far fewer students wrote the two exams (8 939 and 10 404 respectively). There are 400 000 students in the FET sector, and the aim is to increase this to a million by 2016.

The education department’s deputy director general of further education and training, Penny Vinjevold, said the overall results are ‘not good enough yet. But we are on track. I am disappointed with the maths marks. I had hoped they were going to be higher.”

Vinjevold was upbeat, however, that more students are entering the system and that, overall, more are attaining a vocational qualification. These ‘pipeline students” could contribute towards plugging South Africa’s vocational skills gap.

Fifty FET colleges were created when the education department merged 150 technical colleges over a five-year period starting in 2001.

Between 2006 and last year, their infrastructure was recapitalised to the tune of R2-billion, in a move to redress South Africa’s shortage of artisans and technicians.

Fourteen new programmes have been introduced since 2007. Of three years’ duration, they include a workplace experience component. The programmes include engineering and related design, electrical infrastructure construction and tourism. IT, mathematics or mathematics literacy and English are compulsory.

The old curriculum ‘just gave people the theory. Here you come in and get an integrated package of theory and practical education,” Vinjevold said.

She said new students must take entrance tests as well as a financial means test. ‘We are looking at their social, academic and economic support needs and are placing them into programmes according to their situations.

When they are on stream they get academic and other support.” The mixed bag of results for last year’s first-year intake shows a pass rate of 27% for fitting and turning, but a 93% pass in criminology. Gert Sibande Public FET College in Mpumalanga was a top performer.