Crisis at TVET – 20 colleges shut down as students wait years for diplomas

Tens of thousands of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college graduates are still waiting for their certificates — some since 2010. Angry students shut down at least 20 colleges this week in protest against the lengthy delay by the higher education department in issuing certificates to graduates, among other things.

Riaan van Greuning has been waiting for his certificate for two-and-a-half years. Determined to become an electrical engineer, even if it meant going back to school at the age of 40, he enrolled for a diploma in electrical engineering at the Ekurhuleni East College in Gauteng.

Ekurhuleni East is one of 50 TVET institutions in the country. These colleges are aimed at producing employable young people with occupational and vocational skills to qualify as engineers, electricians, plumbers and boilermakers.

Students graduating from TVET colleges may also qualify for admission to the country’s 26 universities and universities of technology.

Van Greuning said: “It wasn’t easy going back to study after 20 years, but I was hoping to achieve my personal goal of becoming an electrical engineer. It’s very disappointing that I have not yet received my certificate for my diploma.”

The father of two has had to settle for the post of operations manager at an animal feed manufacturing company instead.

A lecturer at the Ekhurhuleni East College, who wished to remain anonymous, blamed the delay in the issuing of certificates on “sheer incompetence” on the part of departmental officials.

“It’s come to a point where something needs to be done urgently,” he said. “Lecturers are fed up with the department. Morale among staff is at an all-time low.”

Yonke Twani, president of the South African Further Education and Training Student Association (Safetsa), described the department’s delay in issuing certificates as “a serious crisis”.

“When you complete the process of being registered [at a college], you tell yourself that in three years’ time you will be successful and be able to put bread on the table. But this delay is crippling the lives of students.”

He said some of the students who had not yet received certificates completed their studies as long ago as 2010.

“Some of them [graduates] are battling to get into universities because many institutions don’t accept a student’s statement of symbols. They want an accredited certificate from Umalusi.” Umalusi is the Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training, which is responsible for issuing certificates.

Umalusi spokesperson Lucky Ditaunyane said one of the reasons for the backlog was that not all candidates passed all their subjects in one year and that some repeated subjects the following year or later.

“At present, the DHET [department of higher education and training] and its service provider have not developed a fully effective module which allows for these combinations to be submitted to Umalusi for certification. What this means is that students end up with two subject certificates [or more], which have not been converted into a full qualification as they ought to be.”

He said it was clear that the colleges had not been diligent enough in submitting accurate and correct marks timeously, adding that “this also affects the speed of certification, as these discrepancies result in administrative queries”.

Ditaunyane said that before Umalusi issued certificates it needed to receive the individual candidate data in the correct format from the assessment body, which in this case was the department.

“If the information submitted is correct, Umalusi will then request the printing of a certificate. Umalusi has a turnaround time of seven working days from the time that the data set is submitted to the certification unit.”

Nadine Pote, chief director of national exams and assessment in the department of higher education, said applicants also had to satisfy workplace experiential requirements, namely, the practical execution of two N6 subjects in a relevant commerce or industry environment.

“There is currently a backlog in the process as the issuing of the National N diploma requires a rigorous verification process. The verification of experiential training is a time-consuming process.”

Note, January 26: Comment from Nadine Pote included in the article.

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