South Africa: Very Little Beats Tertiary Education As a Poverty-Reducing Investment, but It Needs to Be Done Right


Achieving the National Development Plan's higher education targets could lift more than 20% of the population out of poverty by 2030. But the extra resources can be understood as an important investment only if there is a dedicated commitment to enhancing four performance areas.

In the drive to eradicate poverty and inequality in South Africa, nothing could be more important than better economic chances for the youth. Education, employment and rising incomes are very close relatives. Tertiary education is the most critical asset that opens up opportunities for low-income households to lift themselves out of poverty.

There is a two-way relationship between quality education output and job creation. A growing economy will absorb a more qualified and capable labour force. And a more qualified and capable labour force creates a greater incentive for firms to invest in labour-absorbing activities.

The National Development Plan (NDP) set targets for education to put South Africa in line with other middle-income economies. It proposes that, by 2030, about 400,000 university degrees be produced annually so that one in six of the population has a minimum bachelor's-equivalent degree.

The NDP did not propose a vocational education target, but the Department of Higher Education, Science and...

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