Do Setas have a lesson for Higher Education?

By sylviahammond, 23 February, 2010

Strange as it may seem, given the regular media slating of Setas, it may be that their experience in providing work-ready graduates and learners, could benefit our tertiary institutions. In the HESA presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, the HESA delegates repeated the well-worn “problem statement” – school leavers are not adequately prepared to commence tertiary studies.

Now this is not new information. There can hardly be a citizen – or resident of South Africa legal or otherwise - who hasn’t heard about our problems in education. All of those working in skills development and education will agree that we need to improve both quality of, and access to, education - from pre-school, through basic education, to tertiary levels.

One argument is that it is not possible to quickly redress the effects of apartheid education. It is true for example, that achieving a professorship requires many years of study and experience – possibly as many as 25 years. Others argue that with all our well-intentioned teachers, trainers and educators we have still failed to make adequate or satisfactory progress. Our President believes so: new Ministries of Basic Education and Higher Education have been created, and our Finance Ministry has voted R165 billion to improve the situation.

Education is now our number one priority.

Against this background, the HESA delegation had returned to the Committee to respond both to the Soudien Report, which was prepared after Bloemfontein Reitz University experienced a serious racial incident last year, and to the Ministerial report on Transformation . The Higher Education Minister requested that each tertiary institution provide reports on transformation by the end of January 2010. Apparently of 23 institutions, only 7 have responded to date and one requested an extension. However, HESA itself has apparently received 12 reports and has engaged a researcher to provide a comprehensive analysis of these reports.

In response, Committee Chair Marius Fransman made plain his dissatisfaction with the lack of urgency and absence of innovation in the HESA delegation presentation. He clarified numerically the extent of the problem: in rounded figures there are 330,000 students who achieve results enabling them to enroll for tertiary education places, and of those 100,000 manage to achieve grade 12 results that qualify them to register for university degrees.

However, there are not enough places at the tertiary institutions offering degree courses for the 100,000!

Then, there is an additional problem of the subject mix, with a shortage of those able to do maths, science and technology courses – and of those entering scarce skills areas of IT and Engineering.

Of those who do gain access there is a significant failure rate, necessitating redoing the first year, clogging up the places of the next year’s applicants; and of drop-outs, for many reasons - but financial constraints has been identified as one significant factor.

Money was one of the requests made by HESA – in order to effect transformation. A request that received short shrift. Committee members and the Chair responded that there was no further money available – particularly in these economically difficult times.

The Chair asked what innovative solutions have been considered by HESA? There were none immediately offered. The Chair stated quite plainly that this is a year of delivery.

The Committee members were reluctant to have a debate on the meaning of transformation – they wanted to know what the tertiary institutions were doing constructively – what innovative solutions did they have not only to deal with non-transforming institutions, but also to creating access to tertiary education, to allowing disadvantaged students with potential to be able to remain at – or re-enter – their tertiary programmes.

Enter the Setas. They have considerable experience of dealing with students from grade 12, ill-prepared for tertiary study or the world of work. And what have they done about it?

Just to give a few examples:

  • the Fasset Seta has done sterling work in preparing graduates for the world of work, they have provided programmes to prepare those with qualifications to enter the world of work, how to apply, how to conduct themselves, and what is required to succeed - they have facilitated internship programmes, and had enormous success with their programme;
  • the W&RSeta ran a successful pilot programme preparing school leavers – before they left school – with courses on retailing, and ensured that they had places with top retailers once they completed grade 12, a project now further rolled out;
  • the Foodbev Seta for many years has sponsored employers to take diplomates with theoretical knowledge to provide them with the practical application of their studies, and experience in the workplace, to conclude their diplomas, and many students return to be placed within those organisations permanently;
  • the Construction sector has a “Go for Gold” programme, identifying students with maths and science potential, while still at school – providing them with the additional knowledge and experience to obtain better grade 12 results in these subjects and preparing them for further study or work within the construction sector; and
  • all Setas that have implemented Learnerships have introduced the concepts of coaching and mentoring to organisations, thereby enabling companies to provide the additional support that learners require to qualify.

Many other Setas have similar progammes, all dealing with young people inadequately prepared for study or work, and providing them with whatever is required to succeed.

What could the tertiary institutions learn from these interventions? Take the current situation and provide interventions that enable students to achieve better results than they otherwise would have, provide them with the “step up” that’s needed, and the practical support to succeed.

Marius Fransman concluded the meeting by confirming that the Portfolio Committee will continue their visits to tertiary institutions, and there will be a further meetings with HESA and the NSFAS, addressing innovative ways of utilising funds to improve student access and results, and dealing with transformation.

Prepared for the Skills Portal

By sylvia hammond

23 February 2010 and

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