By: Munyaradzi Makoni
Universities in South Africa have higher enrollment and participation rates than the further education and training sector, and not nearly enough appropriately skilled and qualified people in disciplines central to socio-economic development are being produced by the post-school system, says the country’s third National Skills Development Strategy.
Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande (pictured) unveiled the new five-year strategy this month. It will be implemented largely through the country’s skills development structures – 21 sector education and training authorities, SETAs – in the coming months, but universities will have important roles to play.
The National Skills Development Strategy III, NSDS3, aims to support the integration of workplace training with theoretical learning, and to facilitate the transition of young people from school to college or university and then to the workplace.
It also focuses on problems faced by individuals who have been unemployed for periods, to assist them into sustained employment and in-work progression in order to improve HR in South Africa.
The strategy says a major challenge is access to higher education – lack of availability of places in relevant programmes and the social constraints and academic, geographical and financial problems faced by the majority of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Public further education and training institutions as well as universities and universities of technology should have the capacity to deliver skills for the new economy,” says the plan.
It says the university sector must also find ways to identify and help address national development and economic needs, including engaging in government processes such as the National Human Resources Development Strategy and the NSDS.
While the emphasis is on people without relevant technical skills or adequate literacy and numeracy skills to enable them to access employment and to improve HR in South Africa, the plan also tackles perennial problems such as lack of synergy between post-school institutions like universities, further education and training (FET) colleges and SETAs.
There is lack of clarity regarding the roles expected of the various parts of the skills development system, and the objective is to improve effectiveness and training.
“The extent to which employers and workers benefit from the knowledge economy will be determined by our capacity to conduct innovative research and apply new knowledge in the workplace,” says the plan, adding that this requires the development of research capacity, which is related to building new knowledge linked to sector and national industrial plans.
South Africa has numerous universities of technology and FET institutions with structured learning-at-work programmes involving professional placements, work-integrated training, apprenticeships and learnerships.
According to the plan, these programmes have been aided with a 10% professional, vocational, technical and academic (Pivotal) grant to ensure greater employer participation. Employers who provide workplace-based opportunities can supplement the cost of the programme with the grant from the SETAs in South Africa.