/ 2 April 2015

Blade looks to university campuses to house community-based colleges

Blade Nzimande wants communication to flow through the respective vice-chancellors.
Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande.

The department is looking at placing the colleges, which would target an estimated 18-million unskilled and without matric adults, at existing structures such as functioning university campuses, technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and old teacher colleges no longer used. 

Nzimande told journalists of this novel plan at a press briefing on Wednesday. He spoke at the Molapo, Soweto campus of South West Gauteng College, where he officially welcomed TVET staff as employees of his department. The employees, including principals, lecturers and campus managers, were previously under provincial education departments. 

“At the moment we’re auditing usage of existing infrastructure, because we need to be creative. You don’t have to have a new building if you want to provide a community college learning site,” Nzimande said. 

“We may want to say ‘why can’t we locate that at this [existing] college at particular times [of the day]’, for instance. How are our institutions being used? 

“We know at some of our universities there’s hardly anything happening after two o’clock and why can’t [we] use that to actually offer adult education and training centres.” 

He said the department actually advocates for “multi-purpose educational centres”. This would see institutions “offering university programmes, TVET college-tiered programmes and community college-tiered programmes at the same space”.

“So we’re looking [at things] very creatively. That’s why we’re doing this audit. “As a matter of fact some institutions have started doing that. I was very impressed when I visited the University of Venda, and to find that they’ve got a community learning centre inside the university catering for the local community in Thohoyandou.”  The plan indicates their commitment, he said. 

“As a country we have no choice. We may not be able to have the money and the human resources all at once, but we have a plan.”  Gwebs Qonde, the department’s director-general, said the audit is focusing on facilities that are “either under-utilised or not utilised at all” across the country.  

“For instance the former teacher training colleges, we find that others are utilised as offices by some provinces. So we’re engaging in order to release these facilities.  “We’re not talking about going around just massively building structures, though that is not ruled out. But [we’re looking at] how we can maximise impact with what we have.” 

Nzimande said they are currently “piloting with nine community colleges this year, so as to test this thing. This is new by the way. It’s never been done [before]. “Our committed timeline is that by 2030 we want at least a million [headcount enrolments] in community colleges. Of course, resources permitting and capacity, we’d like to do more.” 

But the target million headcount is only a fraction of those without skills. Nzimande said their estimations are that there are 18-million South Africans “who require some form of adult education”.

“That is something not on the radar of South African society on a daily basis that we actually have so many people who actually need one form of further education or another.  

“It is indeed big. It’s bigger than the schooling system. It’s certainly bigger than the university system, [in which] hopefully we’ve reached a million this year.  

“There is a huge need, and our own research tells us that these South Africans do need opportunities to equip themselves with skills or further education. Our plan is that we must expand provisioning, that’s what the National Development Plan and our white paper [on post-school education] says.”

This group was discouraged from attaining skills by the fact that the country’s education system is academically oriented, said Nzimande.  

“Again we’re not saying that academic orientation is not important, but we’re excluding a lot of people who may require a while range of skills in communities. Some may require both academic progression and particular skills.” 

The higher education and training department was also pushing hard to attract more students to the TVET colleges.  This is a task Nzimande has embarked on since coming into office in 2009. It appears to be partly meant to ease pressure on universities for placement demands.  

“We’re seating at the moment now the university sector is larger than the TVET college sector. We want to reverse that, in fact to a point that by 2030 we’re looking at the very least three TVET college students per one university student,” said Nzimande.

“We’re not saying universities are not important. They are very important. We still need to get more students especially from poor backgrounds to universities and certain professions, but it can’t be the only route.”