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Address by Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande at the Further Education and Training College Summit

At the outset, let me express my sincere appreciation to the FET Steering Committee, led by my Director General Professor Mary Metcalfe, assisted by my advisors Mr Gwebs Qonde and John Pampallis, for the excellent work they have done over the past four months to prepare for this summit. I am aware that extensive work has been undertaken under the leadership of the Steering Committee and that many difficult issues have been confronted in the preparatory processes.

This summit has the challenge to critically examine the issues and recommendations presented by the Steering Committee which would lead to the stabilisation of the college sector in the short term and the creation of a sound platform for the development of the colleges as pillars of skills development across the nation. Today we begin a new journey in which we commit to making public FET colleges institutions of excellence and to challenge the widespread perception that they are poorly resourced, second-choice institutions.

The FET Colleges are a critical component of my department, are a key performance area for my work and are a focus point of this administration.

There are several key areas of focus for this government in respect of Colleges:
• The shift of the function of managing the college system from provincial to national government
• Quality improvements including increased success and throughput
• Increased enrolment of youth and adults
• Closer alignment with skills development strategies and funding including training partnerships and work placement
• Increasing apprenticeships and learnerships
• The production of quality artisans as one of the key goals of the FET college sector

The President’s 2010 State of the Nation Address reiterated these themes with particular emphasis on the expansion of access in the context of the need to develop a skilled and capable workforce to support growth and job creation.

A key challenge is for the sector to grow as rapidly as possible to be accessible to both young people and adults, but to drive that growth on a firm basis together with increasing quality in provision. Colleges are well positioned to contribute to the acute middle-level skills crisis – this is precisely the domain of FET colleges. They are currently distributed across all nine provinces and have wider geographic reach than universities. The lower unit cost of FET college education means that a significant increase in access can be achieved with less investment than a corresponding increase in university enrolment.

Increased FET access would have the social benefit of including young people currently not in education, employment or training in opportunities to participate by studying in work-oriented programmes. As we all know, the dimensions of this challenge are enormous. Of the 2.8 million South Africans between the ages of 18 and 24 who were (in 2007) not in employment, education or training, two million (71%) had not achieved Grade 12. Of these 0.5m (18%) had not progressed beyond primary school.

The college community therefore, in my view, must expand its horizons and see the world beyond individual institutions and campuses, whilst at the same time not losing sight of building each institution as a centre of excellence. As an integral part of the Department of Higher Education and Training family, the FET college community must understand that our broad goal is to develop the economy in a way that responds to the needs of all South Africans, especially the poor. That is why it is also important to locate our discussions today against the background of an urgent necessity to contribute towards a new economic growth path for our country. It is also important that we all study closely government’s Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) 2, as well as the Human Resources Development Strategy for South Africa (HRDSA), as critical guidelines for the further transformation of the FET colleges in particular, and the revitalisation of the college sector in general. In other words, the transformation of the FET college sector must not only be guided by these key broader commitments and policy documents, but are a critical component in the realisation of a new, more inclusive growth path and our industrial policy.

Within the context of the above, I would like to urge this Summit to also locate its discussion against the background of a new necessity that is now at the centre of some of the global discussions, and a critical component of IPAP 2 – that of greening our economy. The central question is how do we also build the capacity of FET colleges to build skills for a green economy?

For all this to happen, we must widen our scope and see the challenges in the FET sector, no matter how complex, as part of a multifaceted process to revamp and rejuvenate the entire post-school education and training system. We cannot deal with the challenges in the colleges in isolation from the challenges in the rest of the system. For this reason, the cross-section of stakeholders who are present here today and who have been working exhaustively behind the scenes, have an important role in moulding the differentiated and integrated post-school education and training system our country so desperately needs.

The question of FET colleges’ articulation with the rest of the post-school system is one of the key priorities for our department. This is indeed a multi-faceted task but which this Summit must also reflect upon. For instance, the FET college sector also has to ask itself how it must compensate for some of the weaknesses in our schooling system. For instance one of my commitments is that of repositioning the FET college sector to provide quality foundation programmes for access to scarce skills programmes both in colleges and universities, with a particular focus on strengthening maths and science foundation programmes.

I would also like this Summit to focus on strengthening the relationship between FET colleges and employers, both in the public and private sectors. The question of facilitating work placement for college students and graduates must be at the heart of our skills development strategies. In this regard the role of the SETAs, and their relationship to the public FET college sector, is a critical issue that must be addressed here as well as in the Skills Summit we are holding next week. Therefore the National Skills Development Strategy III becomes central in our deliberations and way forward. Increasing placement of college students and graduates in workplace will also go a long way not only in improving the quality of college programmes, but also in making FET colleges institutions of choice!

The very processes we have undergone since our April roundtable, including the holding of this summit, is part of the very important task of the mobilisation of all stakeholders in building a strong, high-quality FET college sector. For example we need to further reflect at this Summit of how we improve the participation of employers, communities, students, lecturers and experts in building a strong FET college sector.

When we gathered at the round table of key stakeholders in April, we identified the challenges in the FET sector and set in motion a process of defining what needs to be done in the immediate, medium and long term to support FET colleges to function as high quality institutions that can respond to national education and training challenges. We know that stakeholder participation is one of the key ingredients in the transformation of the FET college sector. As stated above, if the strategies and solutions we wish to adopt are to succeed, both those who are expected to benefit and those who are expected to implement the strategies must be persuaded that these strategies are sound, necessary, and feasible.

We are aware of the many difficulties that have been experienced in recent years in the FET college subsystem as a result of a complex and incomplete transition, with multiple and overlapping changes of a profound nature for which many were ill-equipped. These difficulties have affected the colleges as institutions in different degrees. They include:

• Loss of lecturers from the colleges, low morale and a high vacancy rate
• Poor learner performance, with low pass rates and high drop-out rates
• Increasing reliance on the private sector for skills training, coupled with growing loss of confidence in public sector provision
• Institutional instability and labour instability
• Severe financial difficulties
However, these challenges and complexities must not lead to further lamentations, instead they should make us to focus on practical and concrete solutions to these problems. The principal task is that of growing a quality FET college sector; and this is a NON-NEGOTIABLE. Part of this is curriculum transformation to produce college graduates that do not only possess quality technical skills, but also to introduce civic education as a critical component of the curriculum. I would like this summit to particularly reflect on the latter, as part of discussions on curriculum transformation.

We were also pleased with the conclusion of a salary agreement by the Further Education and Training Colleges Bargaining Unit in the Education Labour Relations Council. The agreement establishes parity in salaries of lecturing staff and office-based lecturers employed in public FET colleges with salaries of educators in public schools. This is an important breakthrough to address the salary disparities among college lecturers and is a significant step towards stabilising the sector.

We also have to respond to the challenges of providing resources for both quality improvements and higher enrolment in colleges, and closer alignment with the funding arrangements contained under the skills development levy was required. This means that SETA programmes and collaboration with public FET colleges must no longer be ad hoc, but be mainstreamed into the very work of the SETAs

FET colleges are pivotal in our mission to address skills shortages and mismatches, as well as helping young and less skilled workers access jobs. We must ensure that further education and training programmes provide the real-world skills needed by public and private sector employers, and support sustainable livelihoods for many who are not employed and are not participating in education and training programmes. A huge mismatch that we must address is that most of our youth in casual jobs are not enrolled in any colleges, yet those in colleges do not get the kind of workplace exposure they desperately need. This has to be corrected.

Key activities over the next five years to improve responsiveness to the needs of the economy will therefore include the following:

• Significant expansion of the FET college sector

• programme offerings will be expanded, not only strengthening the NCV programmes, but also expanding the N type programmes, especially to absorb matriculants without university endorsement

• training partnerships with industry will be funded through SETAs,

• partnerships with employers will be established,

• a work-placement programme for graduates of FET colleges will be established, and

• quality interventions will include initiatives to improve management capacity, materials development and the introduction of formal qualifications for lecturers.

Our greatest challenge perhaps, which this summit must confront, is how to expand the sector in the context of limited exchequer funding. We believe that state funding of Colleges must increase as this is a key government priority. In order to meet our skills development challenge and high unemployment rate, the sector must grow in order to train and educate more people to join the workforce and to sustain themselves and their dependants.

The FET college system currently carries about 220 000 students in the public colleges and under 100 000 in private colleges. The target enrolment in the 2008 National Plan for Further Education Colleges was one million by 2014 – certainly a tall order to meet in less than four years. We therefore have to address the financial risk facing many colleges as an urgent matter going into 2011. We must consider innovative solutions to this problem, an innovative mix of occupational programmes as well as part-time and short-courses, so that this necessary expansion meets the needs of as many young people as possible in skills provisioning. It is important, as we work to stabilise the sector, that we identify not only those colleges with capacity to grow, but also identify potential for growth in particular programmes for all the colleges.

One of the vehicles for skills development is the National Skills Fund, which will allocate resources to increase access to quality assured education and training for the unemployed through partnerships with especially the not-for-profit skills centres, Public Adult Learning Centres, FET colleges with the necessary capacity as is proposed in the draft framework for the National Skills Development Strategy III, and, where appropriate with private providers where the public system is weak. We must also expand the programme offerings through training partnerships with industry and the Sector Education and Training Authorities. All possible sources of revenue must be accessed to address the challenges that we face.

In this regard, it is essential that FET Colleges increase their responsiveness to the needs of their local economies and communities. We must work to initiate a further menu of programmes that provide relevant and accessible education and training opportunities for young people and adults in addition to the NCV and N programmes. These livelihood programmes could supplement and work in a continuum with the workforce development programmes for the otherwise ‘marginalized youth’.


South Africa is a country committed to the equality of all, but too many still suffer unfair exclusion. We are committed to ending all forms of discrimination in the further education and training sector, including in colleges. When this goal is analysed, it transpires that there are at least six such forms of exclusion, which too often compound to create insurmountable barriers for many. These have been used to frame the National Skills Development Strategy and its targets and include:

Class
South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Great poverty and great wealth co-exist side-by-side. Our social and economic history created this reality but it has no place in our future. This means that we must change our practices now. We need to actively interrogate every opportunity to ensure that many more of those who currently or historically suffered from poverty and disadvantage are assisted to participate.

Race
Apartheid’s legacy of racial discrimination remains with us – and must be challenged continuously. The call for broad-based black economic empowerment remains a matter of national urgency as all too frequently the poor are black with too few prospects for improvement.

Gender
Women remain vulnerable in spite of many advances made since democracy. The gender profile of too many of the most prestigious and rewarding occupations remains male – and where this is so, change is needed.

Age
Ours is a young society and yet far too many leave school with few prospects of finding decent work. Skills development, including induction to work, is a vital bridge from youth into productive and satisfying adulthood and needs to be facilitated. Young people are an important focus and a priority, but we must remember that older people may wish to enter educational institutions too.

Disability
Those with disabilities are too often excluded from contributing to society and its work. And yet if our growth path is to be genuinely inclusive this cannot continue.

HIV/AIDS
I have said repeatedly that we need to train for the future not for the grave. The scourge of HIV/AIDS is eroding our efforts and it must be confronted at every turn – including in all skills development interventions.

Ladies and gentlemen, this summit is clearly a turning point in the area of further education and training. We are prepared to acknowledge that some of the planning assumptions in recent years have been erroneous – for example, it is clear that the assumption that college autonomy would produce a responsive college system was false. It is also clear that some of the assumptions behind the design of the NCV were not adequately considered and canvassed. Therefore, as part of a developmental state, government and its stakeholders need to play, beginning with today’s deliberations, an increasingly proactive and supportive role in the management of the public FET college system.

Powerful support mechanisms are required to stabilise the sector and improve the capacity of colleges to achieve the expansion that is needed while continually increasing the quality and relevance of their programme offerings. We must avoid the mistakes of the past. Previous initiatives were hastily introduced, superficially explained and communicated, and imposed on the system with limited understanding of the consequences at college level, and without the necessary resources and support. This summit must consider how the change process should unfold, what support colleges need and how this support must be channelled.

The post-summit processes will be critical. The DHET is planning to inform all colleges of the recommendations of the Summit, and of my subsequent decisions, and will work intensively with provinces and prioritised colleges and programmes to provide support for their operational planning for 2011 and for the implementation in the longer term of the summit outcomes.

The outcomes of this summit will ultimately inform a Green Paper which will survey the post-school education and training landscape and set out the policy and legislative changes needed to support our strategic objectives.

I therefore thank you for being part of a process that will set the college sector on the path to recovery and on the path to excellence. We are very optimistic about the prospects for the sector and are determined to build the confidence of industry and of the public in the capacity of FET colleges to help shape the future of our society – a society free of discrimination – and of our economy – an economy in which all our citizens will be free from poverty.

Working together we can achieve more! It will be a long haul, but today we can begin the journey together.

I thank you.


See the Summit website for more