Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

CAPE TOWN — The Department of Higher Education and Training had set a target of enrolling 4-million students at further education and training (FET) colleges by 2030, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Wednesday.

An earlier target of 1-million students enrolled by 2014 has also been set.

The targets are part of a government turnaround strategy that also includes improving lecturer qualifications and student pass rates, which are currently below 50%. "The Department of Higher Education and Training … is now implementing a comprehensive turnaround strategy for all 50 FET colleges … in the country," he said

"The intention is to systematically address key challenges these institutions have been faced with over the years (and) to achieve sustainable improvements in the quality of teaching and learning."

As part of this turnaround strategy, the administration of the colleges and adult learning centres had been moved from provincial education authorities to the department, Mr Nzimande said.

The move follows the amendment of the FET Colleges Act.

FET colleges have battled to shake off their lowly status, with some labelling them "glorified high schools". Business has largely criticised them for not being able to respond to industry needs.

Since his appointment in 2009, Mr Nzimande has been on a drive to boost their appeal and turn them int o "institutions of choice".

Earlier this year President Jacob Zuma said R2.5bn would be allocated for the refurbishment and construction of FET college campuses over the next three years.

Mr Nzimande said support to colleges had grown significantly over the past three years and the number of students had also increased. State funding rose from R3.8bn in 2010 to R4.8bn this year, a 26% increase. Bursaries for FET colleges had increased from R318m in 2010 to R1.75bn this year, a more than five-fold increase. "While funding will remain a key priority for the department, it will also be closely tied to outputs," he said.

Mr Nzimande said that it was imperative to build a relationship among FET colleges, universities, as well as with industry. While the employability of FET graduates had been questioned, it had been shown that when there was a close relationship with employers, their employability "was good".

Higher education and training director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde said a recent pilot study had shown that "the employability of FET college graduates was above 90%".

"Industry has confirmed that the attitude (towards FET graduates) has significantly improved," he said.

The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday welcomed the turnaround strategy, saying the relationship between business and FET colleges had been generally "touchy".

"Generally speaking, there has not been a good relationship between business and FET colleges .… Mr Nzimande has identified this as a problem and we feel the relationship has to be improved," Peggy Drodskie, the chief operating officer at the chamber, said.

© BDlive 2012