Taking students to the next level

A new initiative to allow further education and training (FET) college students to continue their training at university level will take off next year.

The University of the Western Cape’s (UWC’s) Further Education and Training Institute (Feti) is piloting a programme that entails students starting a degree programme at a vocational FET college, then moving on to complete it at UWC.

According to the Feti’s Seamus Needham, next year employees in the insurance sector may receive training for a BCom degree at Northlink College, College of Cape Town, Boland College and South Cape College at first-year university level and continue the second year at UWC in 2011.

Needham said that currently there is minimal art iculat ion between FET colleges and universities.

‘This project is an attempt to put in place a course at first-year university level, quality assured and moderated by UWC and the insurance sector education and training authority,” said Needham.

The four colleges are part of 50 public institutions, which were formed from a merger of about 150 technical colleges and were recapitalised to the tune of R2-billion.

This was done in a move to address South Africa’s shortage of artisans and technicians.

The curriculum was also overhauled—14 new national certificate vocational (NCV) programmes were introduced in 2007.

Of three years’ duration, they include a workplace experience component.

The programmes include engineering and related design, electrical infrastructure construction and tourism.

The colleges are supposed to be a springboard for learners to enter university study.

But without any sector-wide recognition of FET qualifications by higher education institutions, the first group of students to graduate with three-year national vocational certificates at the end of this year will have almost no options to pursue university studies if they choose.

Meanwhile, the South African Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act of 2005 requires all financial advisers to comply with minimum qualifications in financial planning by the end of November 2008, which was extended to the end of 2009.

This affects about 15 000 professionals in the financial services field, such as banking, insurance and financial brokering.

According to Needham, the pilot programme he heads will be directed at ‘many existing financial brokers who have no relevant financial qualifications and the immediate need for these qualifications is extremely high.”

He said that historically most of these qualifications were offered as ‘in-house” training by companies and private institutions.

The Financial Planning Institute of Southern Africa (FPI) is keen to extend its programmes to public providers of education.

‘Of particular interest to the FPI is the need to create financial planners and advisers at entry level that can provide basic financial planning services to the majority of South Africa’s citizens,” said Needham.

Participating students will attend part-time lectures that will be the equivalent of a first-year BCom degree at the four FET colleges and the curriculum will be linked to the FPI board exam.

Students will proceed to study in the second and third years of a BCom degree at UWC and write an FPI board exam.

The final career-pathing qualification will be a BCom honours degree, which will enable graduates to write the FPI’s certified financial planner board exam—an internationally recognised qualification.

There is a worldwide shortage of this level of professionals, said Needham.

‘This pilot of a FET Higher Education (HE) institutional interface is being carefully documented to ensure that the learnings gleaned are instructive for future ventures of this nature,” he said.

There have been previous attempts at FET-university programme articulation, but problems have arisen.

This includes most of the HE-FET college collaboration projects being centred on individuals who have driven the process.

When these people leave the institution, the collaboration often falters and more often than not comes to an end.

Academic faculties, schools or departments of universities often present admission and other academic requirements that are way beyond those contained in the initial articulation agreement structured at institutional level, said Needham.

There have been cases of in-principle agreements on articulation frameworks between universities and FET colleges, but these were not implemented.

This was mostly because of a lack of funding and/or doubts within the university academic community on the feasibility of such articulation frameworks working in practice.

Existing collaborat ive programmes have not focused on building FET college educator capacity to offer programmes at HE level.

Because of the differing governance arrangements for HE Institutions and FET colleges, articulation agreements are not translatable across provinces or across universities.

This limits the extent of such agreements to the participating institutions only.

External funding to initiate collaboration projects appears to be necessary because neither FET colleges nor universities are prepared to commit their own resources to initiate such collaborative processes, according to Needham.

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