Why are TVET colleges so underfunded?

“TVET colleges still remain severely crippled…even culminating in a name change from FET to TVET to change the perceptions people have of these institutions”

By Simamkele George

Asemahle Zenzile (18) has just graduated from Alberton high school, a prestige school situated just outside the East Rand, Gauteng. She was on holiday during the December festive season, away from home, and has been waiting patiently for her university application results. She says she wants to be at a place that has ‘good, quality education’ and will increase her chances of obtaining employment.

She comes back from vacation and anxiously waits for her results. Despite her academic potential, University of Johannesburg rejects her application, because of the “limited space available”. She is distraught, but her devotion to education never deters as she files her application to other local ‘trusted’ universities.

Her application is unsuccessful though and she has rushed through her application process and now faces the inevitability of spending another year of sitting at home until she returns back to tertiary education. No one has suggested alternative forms of tertiary education besides mainstream universities though, such as TVET colleges. The idea has not crossed her mind. “They just don’t give the same quality of education as others”, she says.

She is however one in a thousand youths in South Africa who face the same dilemmas’ every year; that with universities now accepting more students than they are capable of, and students not seeing other alternative forms of tertiary education besides mainstream universities. More specific to the dilemma is the deteriorating state of TVET colleges and the stigma that surrounds them.

TVET colleges were introduced to the South African education system with the purpose of making them as the mainstream form of tertiary education with a vision of having more students enrolled in them than universities, according to the Department of Higher Education and Training’s vision 2030. They are seen as being critical to the growth of businesses and expanding the economy, and they seek to address the challenges of shortage of mid – level skills in the country. Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande stated earlier in the year, in a post school education and training briefing in Tshwane, that the department as well as government wants to prioritise the production of employable young people with high quality occupational and vocational training skills.

“The national development plan requires that by 2030 at least 30 000 qualified artisans be produced per year” he said.

“To this end learners must continue to seek and utilise sector education authority (SETAS) or the national skills fund, funded artisan learnerships or apprenticeships opportunities to access artisan training in the various fields of engineering and services areas,” he added further.

Considering all these factors, TVET colleges still remain severely crippled and underfunded and face stigma from the general public and students,

However, there still remains a sense of reasoning behind those attitudes.

TVET colleges face many legitimate challenges with even the Minster admitting earlier in the year that they are a “mess”. Challenges such as outdated curriculums, poor infrastructure, corruption, weak leadership, allegedly unqualified lectures and a lack of certification have virtually collapsed the sector.

One such case of these problems is an incident experienced by Umgungundlovu TVET College graduates, Pietermaritzburg. They were delays in handing out certificate to the graduates. One graduate, Emmanuel Ndlovu, felt that the government was letting them down.

“After finishing our N6, the campus administration told us to submit all our verified work experience and academic information for the issuing of our diplomas,” Ndlovu said.

The information would then be sent to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

“After six months our documents come back to the college for more information. This is confusing because the exam officer at college checks if we have filled everything in correctly before they accept it. It is a complete waste of time,” he said. Some said that they had waited for their certificates for more than 2 years.

It is these problems and many that have crippled the sector, and eventually culminated in students threatening to protest and shutdown all 50 TVET colleges in South Africa earlier in the year.

The main instigators of the protests, South African Further Education and Training Student Association (SAFETSA) and their president‚ Yonke Twani‚ told journalists that their repeated pleas to the DHET had fallen on deaf ears. He had said that they had no choice but to shut down the colleges.

Considering all these factors, it remains relatively unclear as why the colleges are underfunded and how these issues can be solved.

Minister Nzimande suggested earlier in the month there the reason that there is less funding available for these institutions is as a result of student Fees Must Protests that were so prevalent in recent years.

“They (university students) raise the right issues on Fees Must Fall but the unintended consequence of this is that we have released billions of rands more only into the university system and virtually very little to TVET college”, he said.

With a recent calm in Fees Must Fall protests this year, it remains to be seen that these massively important institutions can stay in existence any longer.


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