SA higher education dept near collapse

Cape Town – The higher education and training department has predicted its own collapse, the Democratic Alliance said on Sunday.

“The department… has, in its annual report, made the startling prediction that unless something drastic is done to improve its own staffing situation, and particularly ‘if it continues to expand without due consideration for the need to recruit skilled staff, it could lead to a total collapse of the administration system of the department’,” DA spokeswoman Belinda Bozzoli said in a statement.

“Needless to say, the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) contains no indication that further funding will be made available to the department to enable it to avoid this disastrous situation,” she said.

This was a very serious matter.

The lives and futures of nearly two million young people, as well as the economy and society in which these young people were going to ultimately work, depended upon the efficient and effective running of this department.

Of particular concern were the one million students in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges – for, while universities ran themselves with broad departmental oversight, the TVETs were run by the department in a much more hands-on manner.

The department accredited all TVET courses, employed the staff at the colleges, and presided over the teaching and examining of all programmes offered, Bozzoli said.

Since 1994, overall student numbers had increased dramatically, putting major pressure on student funding and the administration thereof.

More recently, the department had had to absorb all 50 TVET colleges from the provinces, a process which had entailed taking on nearly 40 000 new staff as well as multiple administrative burdens.

“It is now also in the process of absorbing the adult education sector without any noticeable or substantial improvement in basic funding for operations,” she said.

The DA had pointed out how the TVET exam system was showing cracks, with “unprecedented and widespread cheating having occurred this year”.

Also, the long-standing certificate scandal, in which tens of thousands of students had been unable to find employment while they waited for their certificates to be formally issued, continued unresolved.

“But universities and TVETs are only part of the story. The department is also responsible for 21 sector education and training authority’s (SETAs), many of which are corrupt or failing, the unconvincing National Skills Fund, and numerous agencies which provide essential services such as accrediting courses, degrees, and programmes, evaluating and protecting quality, and… the profoundly inadequate National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) which is meant to provide students with funding.

“The higher education department has not, until now, suffered from the disastrous administrative weaknesses displayed in other key parts of the state. All the signs are that it is now beginning to do so.”

The role of the National Treasury in this and other serious problems in the field of higher education needed to be challenged.

For Treasury to expect the department to take on such huge new burdens with a minimally expanded administration had been reckless and thoughtless.

“Ultimately, it is the poor who will lose. A failing department of higher education will fail the poor above all. It is they who will bear the brunt of under-funding, whose applications will get lost, whose teachers and lecturers will not have the required qualifications, whose exams will be crooked, and whose certificates will never arrive,” Bozzoli said.


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