Pretoria — Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande says the department is starting to meaningfully address the challenges faced by the country's Further Education and Training (FET) colleges through the implementation of its multifaceted turnaround strategy.
The strategy aims to solve the key challenges faced by the institutions and to turn them into sustainable environments where the quality of teaching and learning produces a skilled workforce.
The turnaround strategy covers all 50 FET colleges, which have 264 campuses, countrywide.
Nzimande said the ultimate goal was to have the colleges "claim their rightful place in contributing to driving the country's economy, thereby reducing unemployment, especially among the youth".
"We are turning our FET colleges into institutions of choice," he said on Wednesday.
Some of the key challenges facing the FET sector include:
- Teaching and learning - low throughput rates, inadequate lecturer qualifications and industry-linked experience and a limited programme qualification mix, with insufficient programmes relevant to local communities and industry.
- Poor financial management systems. Currently there are 20 colleges that received qualified audits in the 2011 financial year.
- Lack of or limited capacity in relation to the functions of qualified Chief Financial Officers. In some instances, there is limited oversight of college management and governance.
- The majority of colleges lack the ability to generate and manage reliable data.
- FET college examinations and assessment system continue to be a challenge.
- Managing change: For example, through the function shift process of migrating FET colleges from a provincial to a national competence, it would be important to maintain an environment of order and focus, while ensuring compliance with emerging legislative and policy changes.
- Institutional differentiation: A generalised approach for FET colleges will not serve national interests the best. The turnaround strategy requires individualised assessment and tailored interventions to respond to specific strengths and weaknesses of each of the 50 colleges.
- Movement from current to desired status: The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) is repairing and building to solve immediate problems, while simultaneously laying out a developmental agenda that will be sustained beyond 2030.
- Renewed focus on student performance and success is core to the mandate of colleges; everything else is in support of teaching and learning.
- Strategy-led approach: coordination of the implementation of the strategy is key, and will drive and determine annual operational plans, budgets and priorities.
- Accountability for performance: no change can be guaranteed unless accountability is assured. Council charters, performance contracts with principals and all the way to campus levels will be used to measure performance.
In addressing these challenges, Nzimande said the strategy was anchored in principles, including:
The focus areas of the turnaround strategy are teaching and learning, through improving lecturer qualifications and student pass rate; institutional management and government; administration, curriculum delivery; improving quality of teaching staff and systems and student support services.
The focus areas also include infrastructure, facilities and equipment management as well as partnership, linkages and stakeholder management.
Financial assistance to poor students in FETs, through the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), has increased four-fold from R318 million in 2010 to R1.7 billion in 2012.
In August, Nzimande signed agreements with all FET college principals for the allocation of R2.5 billion from the National Skills Fund (NSF) for the expansion and capacity building of FET colleges.
Earlier in April, President Jacob Zuma announced a R2.5 billion allocation towards the refurbishment and construction of new FET campuses over the next three years.
These are some of the key interventions government has made to ensure that FETs are strengthened, the quality of teaching improved, adequate facilities and equipment is made available and student support services are augmented.
Alongside these investments, FET college enrolments have increased from a headcount enrolment of about 327 000 to about 550 000 in the last three years.
Through a partnership with the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants, the department has already started a process of ensuring that all FET colleges have chartered accountants as Chief Financial Officers to improve financial management, good corporate governance and accountability.
While a lot more achievements have been notched up in the process of turning around FETs, Nzimande acknowledged that there was still more that was in the planning stages, while some challenges still remained in pursuing the goal of turning these colleges into institutions of choice in South Africa.