More South Africans in higher education

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pretoria - Since 1994, the headcount enrolments at the country’s universities have approximately doubled to almost one million students.

“University enrolment has almost doubled in size, increasing from 495 356 in 1994 in universities, including technikons and teacher training colleges- to 938 201 in 2011 in public universities and universities of technology,” says the 20 Year Review, realeased on Tuesday by President Jacob Zuma, which illustrates what has been achieved in the country over the past twenty years.

President Zuma said the Twenty Year Review was packed with facts and figures to support its analysis, and where the facts indicate that the country has made progress, the Review says so, and where they indicate that "we have challenges and have made mistakes, we also say so."

By 2011, women made up 54% of all students enrolled in contact university programmes, according to the Review.

However, the analysis, which tracks South Africa’s development since the attainment of democracy, notes that participation rates are still skewed in favour of White and Indian students.

“Only 14% of African and 14% of Coloured students are enrolled in [higher education institutions], as opposed to 57% and 58% for White and Indian students respectively. Black and female students are under-represented in science, engineering and technology as well as in business and commerce programmes. While postgraduate studies are dominated by white males.”

In the post-school arena, the focus was the consolidation of institutions, and increasing access. Between 2003 and 2005, the original 36 universities and technikons were merged into 23 institutions. 

Two new universities in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga commenced with their first intake this year.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was established in 1999 and since then its growth has been phenomenal and has assisted 1.4 million students in total, according to the 20 Year Review.

The number of NSFAS beneficiaries increased from 41 600 in 1999 to 77 000 in 2008 and about 430 000 in 2014. Between 1999 and 2008 the funds managed by NSFAS grew from R441 million to R2.375 billion. In the last five years, the amount further increased by more than 300% to more than R9 billion.

Releasing the Review, President Zuma said investment in education is significant because education is central to development.

“It is the primary vehicle by which children of the poor can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate meaningfully in the economy and in society,” said President Zuma.

The President said government has also been working on challenges in the FET sector to improve pass rates and change industry perceptions about the colleges.

Enrolments have also been stepped up from 271 900 in 2000 to just more than 400 000 in 2011 in FET colleges.

While bursaries at FET college students increased from R100 million in 2007 to R1.7 billion in 2012 benefiting some 237 908 students between 2009 and 2011.

The Review notes that the FET college sector in the 1990s was a neglected sector - colleges lacked infrastructure, governance and management structures, administrative and organisational systems; quality training of trainers; linkages with industry; quality assurance and management information systems.

But by 2004, the merged institutions had CEOs and councils in place and established unified budgets. An important intervention, is that the infrastructure in many colleges has improved and management has been upgraded to strengthen the colleges.

In the vocational training sector, the occupationally-directed programmes at an intermediate level skills started improving around 2006. The number of apprentices that entered training in various sectors through the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) increased from just over 4 000 in 2006, to over 17 000 in 2009.

The Review notes that a challenge has been access to ABET.

“Annual enrolment at Public Adult Learning Centres (PALCs) has averaged just below 300 000 annually between 1999 and 2011. Whereas Census 1996 recorded 19% of the population aged 20 years and older as having no education, this had dropped to 9% in the 2011 Census,” it says.

According to the Review, the country still achieves a low average in mathematics and science performance, meaning that learners are performing below the level expected for Grade 9 learners.

With regards to National Certificate Vocational NC(V) - success rates have improved from a rate of 10% in 2009 for NC(V) level 1 to 43% in 2012.

The report also notes that success in artisanal training has also been a challenge. Between 2000 and 2006, 3430 artisans successfully completed the trade test, while just 2303 qualifications were recorded by INDLELA between 2005 and 2009/10 (the period of National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS) II.

But the recent push to increase these intermediate trade-related skills is paying off. 

“Between 2007 and 2008, there were 6030 artisans qualified and funded by the various SETAs. The figure jumped to 11 778 qualifications between 2010 and 2011.”

Looking ahead, the report recommends that the quality of FET colleges needs to be strengthened to become the “number one choice” for training.

This, through the administration, lecturer quality, throughput rates and placement of students, needs to be strengthened to improve the low quality perception of FET qualifications. It suggests that government needs to build on the stronger working relations between industry, FET colleges and SETAS in order to release more funding to FET colleges.

The role of private FET colleges needs to be clarified in meeting the country’s skills needs.

“The dropout rate at FET colleges and throughput rates remain a challenge because learners leave school poorly prepared to enter FET institutions and if the quality of lecturing is also weak it compounds the challenge of increasing performance. The management of FET colleges needs to be strengthened in order to increase value for money invested in these institutions.”

According to the report, FET college lecturers should have technical knowledge, pedagogical training and current industry experience but rarely do. Improving the quality of FET college lectures will go a long way to improving the performance and quality of FET colleges.

With regards to the funding of universities, the report recommends incentivising graduation rates while still promoting research.

Concerted efforts are needed to increase the qualifications of lecturers, replenish the stock of lecturers, and encourage more female and African lecturers especially in the science fields. For some time universities will have to provide classes to deal with underprepared learners entering the HEI. Funding should incentivize those universities who successfully carry out this work.

The academic staff at most universities remain largely white and male despite progress since 1994.

In this light, the report says there is a need to take steps to increase the number of lecturing staff from other race groups, and to replenish the aging academic staff. Like in FET colleges there is a need to support the remedial work that universities have to embark upon to prepare learners for university academic life.

To improve the numbers of those completing their studies, funding should reward graduate output without reducing the attractiveness of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report says the department has to provide and raise the status of an alternative pathway to the labour market for those who do not attain matric.

“We cannot realistically aim for near universal completion of matric. Post-school education and training is affected by the quality challenges of basic education. Consequently, there is a need for developing and supporting remedial courses at post-school training, to increase performance of institutions like the FET colleges and universities.”

There also needs to be a stronger alignment between SETAs, education and training providers and companies in determining and regularly updating curricula frameworks and assessment standards so they match industry demand, and particularly, to keep pace with shifting global technological developments.

Institutional and structural arrangements between education and skills development, the labour market, the production system and other social and economic institutions do not always facilitate appropriate, responsive and up-to-date development of skills and capabilities.

The report notes the limited geographical spread of learnership and apprenticeship opportunities, concentrated in metropolitan areas means the most vulnerable are disadvantaged.

While the SETA learnership system was celebrated at its introduction as one way of improving work readiness and skills development, many of the learnerships are of dubious value. The skills transferred tend to be narrowly focused driven by the need to produce qualifications for jobs, rather than being underpinned by a broader set of vocational skills. –