Understanding the TVET College Crisis

The latest TVET college crisis may have been confusing for some, here Johann breaks down the protests, issues and possible solutions.

On the 19th of January, students peacefully shut down 15 public technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges. Government quickly took notice and began meeting with student leaders. Many of the issues facing these colleges have been thrown into the spotlight, particularly the poor quality of facilities and even worse administration. Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande has committed to address the issues facing TVET colleges, and we have already seen some positive results.

What are TVET colleges?

There are 50 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges in South Africa. These colleges provide theoretical and practical training for jobs that require a certain level of skill, but not university-level training. They prepare students for careers as engineers and electricians, as well as in industries such as tourism and hospitality, primary agriculture, health, information technology and computer science.

The skilled workers these colleges produce are critically lacking in South Africa. The government supports TVET colleges through the National Skills Fund, which allocated R626.795 million in 2016 (up from R66.7 million the year before) towards supporting TVET college students. This makes these colleges more affordable than universities such as Rhodes University and the University of Cape Town.

Protest and response

On the 19th of January, students shut down 15 of the 50 public TVET colleges throughout South Africa. Unlike the Higher Education protests of 2015 and 2016, the TVET protests went off without any reports of violence or intimidation.

“We are not going to tamper with property during our programme of action because we are going to need these institutions when our programme becomes a success.”                                                 

SA Further Education and Training Student Association (SAFETSA) President Yonke Twani

The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, has been meeting with students across the country since January. He tasked his director-general with establishing a TVET intervention task team and met with members of the SA Further Education and Training Student Association (SAFETSA) over the weekend of the 27th of January to discuss a number of “critical issues”.

“The future of young people in the (TVET) space is at risk. We are saying it is at risk because many young people who exited the colleges between 2010-2014 have not received their certificates.”      

SA Further Education and Training Student Association (SAFETSA) President Yonke Twani

Student issues and how we got here.

Speaking to journalists in Pretoria at a briefing hosted by the National Press Club, SAFETSA president Yonke Twani outlined several critical issues facing TVET colleges:

  1. Tens of thousands of graduates are still waiting for their certificates — some since 2010.
  2. Unqualified lecturers and claims of corruption.
  3. Inadequate funding for students from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS);
  4. Delays in the payment of accommodation and transport allowances.
  5. Inadequate learning facilities.

Ndzimande has stated that public colleges face “many more challenges than we are facing at our universities”. He has attributed this to mismanagement when colleges were not a national government responsibility, as well as a lack of funding.

Twani agrees that funding is a large problem, but also points to mismanagement of the colleges.

“We are fighting for more funding for the colleges but what is the point because these funds will be mismanaged by councils. They must be taken to task for their squandering of the funds.”                                              

– Mani Hulisani‚ Chairperson of SAFETSA

Incompetency and corruption at TVET colleges, students claim, have enabled poor leadership and a lack of accountability, leaving colleges unable to deal with the problems raised by students.

Solutions

Following the meetings between representatives of students and government, the Department of Education (DOE) agreed to resolve the 2016 certificate backlog, release the pending 2016 results by March and extend the deadline for NSFAS applications.

Bringing the sector into a centrally managed and guided framework was a very important step towards ensuring that we create and sustain real and viable alternatives to a university course for those young people who want to gain a post-school skill‚ but who may either have not achieved a university pass‚ or who may not have the inclination to pursue a course of academic study.” 

– Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training

In response to the good faith shown by government, TVET students called off the nationwide shutdown on the 28th of January. While students have returned to class, eyes are still on the DOE to make good on their promises to address student issues.

“This week the department will communicate with vice chancellors to give priority to TVET College graduates applying [for funding], particularly those who could not apply because of pending results.”                 

– SAFETSA president Yonke Twani

The Minister has said that government will begin taking greater responsibility for the resolution of student issues. He has suggested looking at partnerships with universities to train college lecturers, hoping to address the issues of incompetency and unaccountability.

While the divide between students and government is still wide, there are signs of improvement. Peaceful student protest, swift government response and the addition of R5 billion to the R32 billion Higher Education and Training budget are a very different image from 2015. Hopefully this points to a better relationship between students and government in future.

Latest update: Nzimande stated that all outstanding result issues would be resolved by the 28th of February and all certification from the November 2016 exams will be processed by 31 March 2017. The issue regarding the lack of accommodation has been combatted by Nzimande informing of us of his 10-year plan to provide 300 000 beds. 

All eyes on you, Nzimande. 

EduConnect 2Cents

While the TVET may be going through struggles, steps are being taken to resolve the issues. EduOne looks upon the way the TVET students are handling the protests in a peaceful manner and we salute them. They are actively working to bring about change, in a respectful manner. TVET colleges are a great alternative to more traditional studies, especially for those who do not have the option of university.

*Please note: the above image was taken by Wellington Makwakwa from the Zululand Observer.

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