On collegial collaborations
It is legitimate to ask why higher education, particularly in the form of the public universities, should feel the need to express a collective view on the expansion of the post-school system and the form it should take.
What are its interests in this regard? Higher education speaks from the experience of receiving many applications for university places from pupils who are perhaps not best suited to university study, but who have no other options.
But, more importantly, higher education has a public role and responsibility in relation to the sound intellectual health of post-school educational institutions and therefore of the nation. One of the primary roles of universities is to create new knowledge and ensure its incorporation in courses and curriculums so that students may proceed to the job market from a knowledge base that keeps pace with the demands of the changing knowledge economy.
The post-school education sector outside universities is not required to do research and produce new knowledge, but it is tasked to produce graduates with up-to-date, functional skills that are immediately useful in the economy. How are they to maintain the contemporary relevance of their course offerings?
In part it will be done through their industry linkages, but industry itself needs to be fed with new knowledge. To be vocational, further education and training (FET) college qualifications must develop employment-related knowledge and skills in specific occupational fields and provide access to the disciplinary knowledge that has been involved in the transformation of different occupations and sectors and in the development of new occupations.
Here the role of the universities becomes evident. It is the public responsibility of the universities, as society's primary new-knowledge producer, to be directly concerned with the health of the post-school sector as a whole, particularly with those institutions — the colleges — that require this assistance to remain renewed and viable on an ongoing basis.
The universities are, and should be, responsible for ensuring that the new knowledge filters down to the colleges in a way that can be assimilated by teaching staff and, through the curriculum, by students. The only way they can do this is by entering into strategic partnerships with colleges to safeguard the continuing probity of their qualifications, ensure that pupils are not locked into dead-end qualifications and the college subsector is appropriately linked into the post-school sector as a whole and, thereby, to the knowledge economy.
The form that a future post-school education sector might take is of a properly articulated system in which the university sector is a relatively small component in relation to a strong base that offers a wide range of education and training opportunities to school leavers, and is attuned to social and economic needs, particularly those of the labour market, in ways that are not apparent in the present configuration.
These could be offered in a variety of institutional settings, including colleges of different types, work-place training sites and universities.
Institutions in this system would be differentiated by level and purpose (single and multipurpose institutions). They could include technical colleges, specialised colleges offering intermediate qualifications for mid-level workers in a number of fields such as health, social work and education, and community colleges.
Synergy between FET colleges and universities cannot be assumed automatically, and even where the potential for such synergies is identified it has to be consciously developed, as the examples of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and others demonstrate.
There are three objectives that may be realised through appropriately targeted partnerships between universities and FET colleges.
The first is the building of academic capacity through mentoring roles. Here, comprehensive universities and universities of technology are likely to find a greater "fit" between their programmes and those offered in neighbouring colleges — although, again, this cannot be assumed and would have to be explored.
The second is the building of leadership and managerial capacity. In this respect, a wide pool of universities could be drawn into partnerships to share their expertise in building capacity and mentoring roles.
The third is the development of articulation and progression pathways between institutions, bearing in mind these considerations:
• Articulation is specific to know-ledge fields and qualifications. It is not across the board;
• The main articulation or pathway is from the national qualifications framework's level four in some FET college programmes to a level five qualification at a university, as the examples of Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan suggest;
• It rests on substantial prior work to match curriculum and admission requirements and accomplishments; and
• In some instances, tailored access or bridging courses could be developed, as at Cape Peninsula, to improve students' chances of success.
Not all FET colleges offer the kinds of curriculum matches that would enable smooth articulation. The ones that can, or have the potential to do so, should be identified as a first step. They should be partnered with a neighbouring university in a formal mentor-partnership relationship.
The mentor institution could also then develop qualification paths for FET lecturing staff to consolidate and develop their capacities while establishing articulation pathways for FET students that could include academic and career counselling.
When stable articulation routes have been developed, they can be transferred to other potential college-university partnerships.
In other words, successful partnerships can be expected to mentor new partnerships in their region on the basis of what works. In time, this should lead to the development of a national framework to regulate it.
These objectives should all be pursued in the context of a clear understanding of regional development priorities with other linkages developed to schools, skills education training authorities and local industries.
Training for teachers
In addition, university education faculties need to develop and expand specific training programmes for teachers for the post-school college sector in collaboration with faculties that have the specialised content knowledge — such as engineering, information and communications technology and business management — needed to augment existing capacity and provide a steady long-term supply of personnel.
There is no doubt that the universities can make a significant contribution to the new configuration and expansion of the existing post-school education sector. In part, however, it will depend on arriving at a shared vision with other role players and stakeholders, particularly the department of higher education and training, of the form that this sector should take in the long run.
The key objective is to enable many more young people to acquire the education and training qualifications that will allow them to become economically active citizens with decent life prospects.
This in an edited extract from Shaping the Future of South Africa's Youth: Rethinking Post-School Education and Skills Training, edited by Helene Perold, Nico Cloete and Joy Papier. The book was published in June by African Minds for the Centre for Higher Education Transformation, the Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit and the Further Education and Training Institute.
It can be ordered from [email protected] or downloaded at chet.org.za