One of the entrances to the University of Johannesburg’s Bunting Road campus is named Gloria Sekwena Gate after a mother who died there in 2014. Sekwena was crushed to death when thousands of parents and prospective students pushed their way towards the university for last-minute applications.
Even though higher education institutions have discouraged walk-ins following Sekwena’s death, scenes of snaking queues outside universities at the start of an academic year are not unusual.
It is also not unusual for the 26 public universities — some of which have space for just 5 000 first years — to receive hundreds of thousands of applications each year.
This occurs even though there are other options for post-school education, such as Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. There are 50 TVET colleges in South Africa with more than 200 campuses. But still, young people scramble for space at the 26 universities.
This is despite the fact that government has, as far back as 2012, been preaching that young people must look to colleges as the “institutions of choice”.
But how then can you continue to preach this message when those who did choose these institutions — and toiled for a year or more to get their qualifications in order to enter the job market — still have no certificates to show for it?
This is the situation that we report on this week, where years- long backlogs in issuing certificates means young graduates cannot take that final step into the world of work.
Some of them have been waiting more than a decade!
Why should young people — many of whom want to help their families out of poverty — waste their time studying at these colleges when they could wait years for their proof of completion?
This matter has been on the agenda of the portfolio committee on higher education 13 times since 2015. It is a stench that refuses to fade.
The longest-serving minister in that department, Blade Nzimande, recently said that he was “ashamed” that he has not been able to resolve this issue. That is all he could say.
Meanwhile, there are young people who heeded the government’s advice and who are now watching their dreams fade away with each day that passes.
They look at their peers who studied at universities with envy and they have run out of excuses as to why they cannot help their families, despite putting in the hard work.
Before Nzimande or anyone in government thinks of telling young people to “choose” TVET colleges again, they need to fix this sector and make it attractive enough for prospective students to actually consider it.