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27 Nov 2009 06:00
Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande is worried about the relatively low number of students in the higher education sector.
The number stands at about 18% of the 18- to 24-year-olds compared with rates in developed countries, which range from 30% to 70%.
In some cases this figure needs to be unpacked because the percentage may include students from the technical-vocational sector.
Any strategy to increase enrolments in the South African higher education sector faces at least three formidable challenges:
This, of course, does not mean stringent efforts should not be made to improve the higher education system, without compromising quality in any way.
Earlier this year Ahmed Bawa and Peter Vale highlighted in an article a central deficit in the post-secondary system: the underdevelopment of further education, which they likened to an inverted pyramid. They said this is so not only in South Africa, but also in many developing countries.
There are about 800 000 students in the university sector but less than half that number in the further education and training (FET) sector; in the United States there are six to seven million students in the university sector, but double that in the community college sector.
Similarly, the technical-vocational sector is well developed in countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.
What are the advantages, benefits and challenges that face the FET sector in South Africa?
What contribution can universities make in developing the FET sector? There are three contributions of note:
The FET sector has the potential to provide the necessary skills and knowledge to large numbers in the informal economic sector, including the SMME sector, the unskilled and underskilled, high-school dropouts, university and technikon dropouts and the unemployed.
Considerable emphasis and faith is being placed on ‘learnerships” as a flagship solution to skills training for the South African economy.
The real problem is the separation of job training from education.
The challenge for Nzimande is to find additional resources to support development of the FET sector, without cutting funding to the universities.
Will the skills levy fund provide the answer?
If the FET sector is included, student figures in higher education of between 30% and 40% in a decade seems an attainable goal.
Jairam Reddy was the vice-chancellor of the former University of Durban-Westville (which merged to become part of the University of KwaZulu-Natal), chair of the National Commission of Higher Education, former director of the United Nations University’s International Leadership Institute and holds the chair of the Council of the Durban University of Technology. He writes in his personal capacity
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