Govt to increase access to higher education

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cape Town - Government is looking at coordinated efforts as well as models across the world to ensure that the number of South African youth that have access to higher education is increased.

According to Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, the 18 percent of all students, who pass matric and get university entrance, was not a true reflection of the potential of South African youth.

Speaking to media in Cape Town, ahead of his Budget Vote on Tuesday, Mr Nzimande said that a low exemption rate meant that many young people could not access higher education, training and employment.

"This is why we are also asking universities to do something extra to identify students with potential but do not get exemption. Perhaps we could look at additional entrance exams for universities," the minister said.

Dr Nzimande added that 40 percent of the youth between the ages of 18 and 24 were neither in employment, education institutions nor in workplace training.

"This means that they are not productively engaged due to, among others, very limited access to post-school education and training opportunities, poor resources, the lack of financing and the restricted availability of jobs.

"This is a huge wastage of human potential and a squandered opportunity for social and economic development," he said.

Dr Nzimande said financial access to higher institutions was an important aspect for his department. A few weeks ago, a committee to review the National Student Financial Aid Scheme was appointed.

"The most important task of this committee is to produce recommendations to give effect to government's commitment to progressively introduce free education for the poor up to undergraduate level.

"The context of which we are talking about this is as far as it relates to the poor. No capable student should be deprived of access to higher education because of financial constraints," the minister said.

He said a more coordinated bursary and loan system was needed so that money was not wasted and many more bursaries could be given out.

Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA's) were also in the process from moving from the Department of Labour to the Department of Higher Education and Training.

"In my view, there is a need for an intensive assessment of the SETA's to ensure greater accountability, improved employment of resources better management of funds and streamlining and alignment of the operations in order that they fulfill their role as a central cog of our skills training and job creation machinery.

"We need a skills revolution in our country," he added.

With regard to higher education, the department's main aim was to improve access and success rates, particularly pertaining to black students.

While there had been an increase in enrolments of previously disadvantaged students, the overall participation remains very low, said Dr Nzimande.

The current enrolment and graduate output plan intends increasing graduates as a percentage of total enrolments to 22 percent by 2010, especially in scarce and critical skills.

Dr Nzimande said that given the enormous challenges facing the youth, it was important to strengthen the country's colleges and make them institutions of choice.

"It is our intention to increase the student enrolment at Further Education and Training colleges to at least one million by 2015. It currently sits at about 400 000," the minister said.