The government is to increase funding for students at the country's Further Education and Training college students to R2-billion this year, as it moves to raise the profile of FET colleges and grow South Africa's skills base.
President Jacob Zuma made the announcement during his visit to the Tshwane South Further Education and Training College's Odi Campus in Mabopane on Tuesday.
In 2012, R1.7-million was allocated to students at FET colleges.
"This programme gives effect to the introduction of free education, whereby all qualifying National Certificate Vocational and the NATED students are exempted from payment of fees at all public FET colleges," Zuma said.
He visited the college in Pretoria to see first-hand how FETs are run and what students do. The President also took the opportunity to encourage students as the academic year gets under way.
The visit forms part of a community outreach programme designed to gauge the views of the public on a range of issues ahead of Thursday's State of the Nation Address.
First FET college visit by a President
"The visit signifies the importance which government attaches to FETs," Zuma said. "That's why I brought ministers, so that we can recommit government to provide full support to FETs countrywide."
The first ever visit by a President to a FET college follows a meeting last year in which Zuma met with FET college principals. During that meeting, Zuma told the principals that the government would do everything to improve FETs and make them centres of excellence.
He also ensured the principals that more funds would be allocated towards infrastructure at FETs.
Zuma was accompanied on Tuesday by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, his deputy Mduduzi Manana, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
National Skills Accord
He said the National Skills Accord, signed by government, business and labour in July 2011, committed them to a number of things with tangible targets.
"They agreed that training will take place both in colleges and in workplaces in the private sector, government and state-owned enterprises, and agreed to take more apprentice learners and interns and to train them beyond their own needs," Zuma said.
"All parties agreed to work to improve the role and performance of FETs. We are optimistic that this will pave the way to achieve the New Growth Path target of 5-million new jobs by 2020."
He added that companies had committed to make 12 000 vacancies for internships for FETs students, as well as to provide opportunities for work exposure in an industry work environment for 16 000 FET lecturers annually.
Zuma encouraged students to take full advantage of opportunities brought about by freedom and democracy. He said there were many opportunities created by the government's investment in student financial aid, including infrastructure programmes and other economic opportunities which required their skills.
'We want you to become change agents'
"We want you to become change agents that will break the cycle of poverty. Liberate yourself and future generations in your community. Work hard, stay focused and complete your studies in record time.
"Government is providing opportunities to all of us [you], even those who may not have means to further their studies. Take advantage of the opportunity," Zuma told students.
Nzimande said the President's visit to the college would help the department in its journey to transform FET colleges into institutions of choice for school leavers.
"This will help in sending a message to youngsters to take FETs seriously," Nzimande said.
The Tshwane South FET College has four campuses - Centurion, Pretoria West, Atteridgeville and Odi. They offer artisan training, electrical and civil engineering and motor mechanic studies, among others.