Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has highlighted a number of government initiatives to boost the number and quality of university and college graduates and artisans in South Africa.
Briefing journalists in Cape Town on Tuesday, Nzimande said a shortage of skills remained one of the country’s biggest hurdles to economic growth and job creation.
The government’s new economic growth path, launched last week, highlights the shortage of skilled artisans, workers and professionals as a key constraint to reducing South Africa’s unemployment rate from 25 percent to 15 percent by 2020.
Nzimande said key initiatives of his department to tackle skills included:
* A review to improve the country’s Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.
* A career guidance programme for students.
* A standards body to improve the quality of artisans.
* Improved funding for disadvantaged students.
* A new strategy for teacher training and development.
Flanked by the department’s newly appointed deputy minister, Hlengiwe Mkhize, Nzimande told journalists that he had signed off the new teacher training and development strategy, which was crafted from resolutions made at a teacher training summit in 2009.
The strategy was now available for public comment, he said, adding that increasing the quality and number of teachers was a key focus area for President Jacob Zuma.
Turning to South Africa’s Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, Nzimande said these had to become into colleges of choice rather than “dumping grounds” for those that could not make it into technical universities or universities.
Nzimande said a key obstacle was that a FET college qualification did not guarantee entrance into a university.
“We are going to be intensifying this, because fly-by-nights are exploiting the desperate needs of the majority of our people for access to education and training, and then giving them courses that are of such low quality.”
He said the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) had set up a helpline to advise students on career guidance. The department was also in discussions with the SABC on the possibility of setting aside certain time slots on their radio stations to offer career guidance sessions.
He said he had also asked the SAQA to work more effectively with schools to publicise the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and to look at ways to assist with career guidance.
He said one of the reasons for the high drop-out rates was that the scheme often did not cover enough students or all the needs of students. An announcement on the review would be made later this month, he said.
He believed that such a system, coupled with career guidance centres, would help to see more university and college students complete their studies.
To address the quality of artisans, the Department of Higher Education would set up the National Artisan Moderating Body.
The problem was particularly pressing, as the average age of an artisan was now 50 years old, and in little over a decade most will have retired, he said.
Student community service
Commenting on the proposal to have students complete community service before graduating, Nzimande said he expected the bulk of this review to be carried out next year.
He said that, following the resolution of the ANC’s national general council to look into the proposal, the department would study the community service in place for doctors, as well as best case practices from across the world.
While it could help to provide work experience for the some 50 000 unemployed graduates, it could also address the shortage of skills, particularly at rural municipalities, he said.
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