Varsities and colleges must join forces

A new ministerial committee on national qualifications should address the frustrations of many school-leavers. (Madelene Cronje)

A new ministerial committee on national qualifications should address the frustrations of many school-leavers. (Madelene Cronje)

The formidably dull and frequently opaque language in which government conducts much of its business sometimes situates very important developments well below the public radar.

This has so far been the fate of Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande's recent gazetting of a new "ministerial committee on articulation policy" among "the sub-frameworks of the National Qualifications Framework".

Not something to set the pulse racing, one might think. But this committee's work could well solve serious study barriers many school-leavers face annually.

The two largest institutional players in the post-schooling terrain are further education and training (FET) colleges and universities. Their respective qualifications constitute the "sub-frameworks" to which Nzimande's August notice refers.

It also says these qualifications must "articulate" with each other better, which amounts to a legislatively polite way of saying that universities and colleges had better start talking to each other – and quickly.

Shortly after Nzimande's notice appeared, the Mail & Guardian published a story that signalled the sheer human stress the lack of such dialogue is inducing among many of the country's youth.

The story concerned a huge backlog in the issuing of certain FET college certificates to students ("Blade leaves FET graduates in the lurch", September 20).

This backlog is not itself an "articulation" matter, but one of the affected students had an additional tale to tell that certainly is.
After completing a college qualification equivalent to matric, the student ran into a brick wall of ignorance about the qualification at several universities to which he applied for admission – and was serially refused entry.

Desperate, he approached Higher Education South Africa (Hesa), which, knowing the law better than at least some university leaders, issued him with a letter that won him admission.

Hesa's intervention happens to link with a notable shrewdness in the choice of committee members Nzimande's gazette announced: it is chaired by Ahmed Bawa – not only a vice-chancellor himself but Hesa chairperson too.

Considering that Hesa represents all 23 university vice-chancellors, who better to initiate a dialogue that is now as welcome as it is overdue?

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".   Read more from David Macfarlane

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