South Africa: Higher Education and Training Stakeholders Present Inputs to Taking Parliament to the People Delegation

The 2016 Taking Parliament to the People (TPTTP) programme began with an interactive session on higher education and training at the Walter Sisulu University Campus, Potsdam, East London. This in keeping with the TPTTP programme's focus on education, bearing in mind that education is one of the strategic objectives of the National Development Plan (NDP).

Mr Khaya Maphinda, Walter Sisulu University Registrar and Acting Vice-Chancellor, said the TPTTP oversight visit to could not have come at a better time and congratulated the student leadership for their role in ensuring that exams are completed without disruptions.

The Chief Whip of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) and the leader of the TPTTP delegation on education, Dr Hunadi Mateme, stated that the delegation was on a fact-finding mission and to engage constructively with higher education stakeholders in Buffalo City Metro.

"The Eastern Cape produced two democratic presidents, but when the Grade 12 results come out, the province is rock bottom," she said. "We have inspectors, teachers, professors, whose task is to ensure that this sector does well, but there is no correlation between the resources invested here and the results."

The first institution to make a presentation was Buffalo City Public Further Education and Training College. Its principal, Mr Dharamchand Singh, contextualised the presentation within the NDP.

"We work closely with the office of the Premier to assist with the demand for critical skills in the province's vocational market as stipulated in the NDP. We also have relations with the Sector Education and Training Authorities to determine what skills are needed to close the skills gap in the province. To achieve that, we work with businesses to train students to get work-related skills by involving them in learnerships and workplace practical training as a prerequisite for their diploma qualifications."

However, Mr Singh said their efforts are hamstrung by insufficient placement opportunities. "There are no adequate businesses opening their door for the students. Some universities and industries don't recognise NCV qualification and this hampers students' progress and employability."

Mr Singh said that Buffalo City Public Further Education and Training College's mechatronics programme sets it apart from competitors: "This is a high-cost programme, but it is also a major feeder for the mechanical, electrical and electronic industry, so its costs are outweighed by its worth to our mechanical industry."

According to NDP, economic growth is dependent on training 1.25 million artisans by 2030 and Mr Singh claimed that the college was on course to achieve this.

Mr Singh's presentation was followed by one from Lovedale College, one of the oldest colleges in South Africa. Its Vice-Principal for Academic Affairs, Ms Juanita Verster, said many of the college's teachers are not suitably qualified. "Nonetheless, we have managed to improve our results. Of those who wrote exams last year, 85% passed and of 90% assessment, there is 51% progression. Our 45% for certifications is higher than the national target.

"Our budget makes provision to upgrade teaching skills. Hence, we have resolved to take lecturers back to universities and the work place to upgrade their knowledge, but business does not understand the importance of this exposure and is not willing to give our teachers practical exposure to cutting-edge technology. Many companies think these teachers will mitigate their competitive advantage.

"The public needs to be introduced to this sector. There should be exposure on TV and other communication platforms so that people can know more about it and appreciate its contribution to our country's economy."

The Dean of the Faculty of Management and Commerce at University of Fort Hare, Dr Ntombovuyo Wayi, said that in celebrating its centenary, Fort Hare is reengineering its curriculum to align it with the developmental needs of the country.

"We have skills training for high school teachers in the areas like economics and accounting to improve learner preparedness for varsity. There are also various initiatives to improve research and ultimately postgraduate success rates.

In its presentation, the Institutional Strategic Planner of Walter Sisulu University, Mr Siyabulela Mnyaiza, stated that merging homeland institutions was not ideal for the establishment of a 21st century university model as envisaged by the NDP. "Such a merger was not going to bring a level of competency we could all be proud of. Hence, some mergers ended acrimoniously, but we resolved that we would work hard to ensure that it is functional."

"One of the major challenges is to manage the 11 campuses that constitute the academic footprint of this university. That has made it difficult to heed the call of the NDP. This difficulty is mirrored by the calibre of students we produce. Academically, we need to develop areas of expertise and there is a good financial support from higher education Sector Education and Training Authorities, which currently stands at R27m.

Student accommodation is a challenge for a rural university like Walter Sisulu, Mr Mnyaiza said. "Students housed at university tend to pass, compared to those who are not. Those who squat are exposed to unsafe conditions and that affect their learning abilities. Currently, we have less than 5 000 beds while we have 28 000 students. We rent other beds to accommodate the rest. As such, we are subjected to private rates that are often too high and unaffordable."

He contextualised the current culture of political intolerance and violence pervasive on campuses. "What is happening on academic campuses mirrors the prevailing culture of national politics, part of which emanates from the culture of political intolerance. Now more than ever before we see alliances between students and political parties. This has contributed to an increased culture of violence and political intolerance on campuses."

Source: Parliament of South Africa.

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