Speech by Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande on strengthening pathways between Colleges and Universities in Higher Education and Training, Birchwood Conference Centre
23 Apr 2012Chairperson
Martin Prew, Director of CEPD
Carolyn Williams, President Emeritus, Bronx Community College
Barbara Schaeir-Peleg, National Centre for Educational Alliances, Bronx Community College
John Butler Adam, Programme Officer for Ford Foundation, Southern Africa Office
Ladies and Gentlemen
As I looked over the attendance list for this conference, I was happy to see that so many Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and universities were represented here. I believe that Prof Ahmed Bawa, who is now the Vice Chancellor of the Durban University of Technology, initiated this project when he worked for the Ford Foundation and so it is particularly pleasing to see him here today.
It was Ahmed who first brought together the partners for this project, establishing the very appropriate team of the Centre for Education Policy Development (CEPD) CEPD and Bronx Community College. The CEPD has been one of the main contributors to education and training policy for post-apartheid South Africa while Bronx Community college is a leading community college in the United States. If there is one thing American that we can learn a great deal from, it is the community colleges which developed to expand opportunities for poor and working class youth and to provide them with workplace skills or the opportunity to further their education at university level.
This conference deals with one of the most important new policy thrusts of my Department, namely articulation between colleges and universities. The government’s intention is to establish a single, integrated, coherent and well articulated post-school system in which all institutions work in such a way that they strengthen one another and in which there are no dead ends for learners. In a way, this project of the CEPD and the Bronx Community College is a pioneer in contributing to this policy thrust which the new Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has made a central part of its new policies. I am sure that the experiences of the New Linkages project can help us to sharpen our own policies and practices and those of the individual institutions.
Our post school system must provide a range of possibilities for young people to qualify at various different levels. If they choose one path of study and later want to change to another or if they want to continue studying at a higher level on the same path, the knowledge and skills that they have already learnt must be recognised and they must be able to build on to it.
It is true that most students in FET colleges will most likely not go to university and most probably want to get their college qualification and start work to earn a living for themselves and their families. Colleges must prepare them for the workplace. However, a college career is much less attractive if it does not also offer the possibility of continuing one’s education at university level, either immediately on finishing college or in the years to come.
As a country, we are looking to dramatically increase enrolments in post-school institutions. The Green Paper on Post-School Education and Training projects headcount enrolments of 4 million in FET colleges and other non-university post-school institutions by 2030. In these circumstances we cannot afford to discourage young people, and especially not the brightest among them – from entering colleges. And we obviously don’t want to prevent them from studying further to upgrade their knowledge and their skills.
Reports that we receive suggest that college graduates find it very difficult to be admitted to certificate, diploma or degree courses in universities, including universities of technology. We need to identify what the blockages are – whether they are on the side of the colleges or of the universities – and attempt to tackle them in a systematic way. The kind of work that the New Linkages project has been doing can help in this regard and needs to be continued and expanded even after this conference.
Some of the blockages may be inherent in the college curriculum. Others may be in the quality of instruction in the colleges or in the lack of complementarity or correspondence between the college and university curricula. The kind of detailed curriculum matching that this project has been involved in is essential to the harmonisation between the college and university curricula.
Other blockages may have to do with prejudice in universities which prefer not to take students from FET colleges. It seems that some universities refuse to recognise the National Certificate Vocational (NCV) as an entry qualification. The DHET regularly receives complaints by prospective students that staff at university admission and application offices tell them that their respective institutions do not recognise the NCV at all. This state of affairs is completely unacceptable, especially as the minimum NCV admission requirements into all university types in South Africa were gazetted in November of 2009.
My department is planning to address this issue.
Universities will be required to amend their admission requirement policies before commencement of registrations for 2013 or, where the NCV is already included in their policies, ensure that all members of staff deployed for purposes of admissions and registrations are clearly informed that the NCV is indeed a recognised qualification. Universities will not be not permitted to reject outright the NCV as an NQF Level 4 qualification to be considered for admission to university, especially where performance in NCV meets the requirements for entry into particular university programmes. In any case we have to broaden pathways into university, and not only be determined by one route, that of the National Senior Certificate. In the same vein we will also have to look at articulation between NQF Level 4 learnerships and entrance into universities. I hope as you start this work you will also broaden it to look into this issue.
We cannot afford to close opportunities to young people and thus waste their potential. As I have noted, the lack of articulation possibilities makes colleges an unattractive option, even for those who may not have plans to move on to universities and it lowers the status of FET colleges in the eyes of the public.
Responses to the Green Paper have shown that universities are among the strongest proponents of expanding the size of the FET college sector, partly at least because it will ease the pressure on the universities themselves from the large numbers of students seeking admission. So helping to make colleges attractive would seem to be even in the more narrow interests of universities.
Creating articulation pathways from college to university requires lots of detailed work between college and university staff so that they can ensure that the curricula dovetail and that unnecessary obstacles can also be removed. This will assist in building closer relationships between colleges and universities and will increase understanding among staff in the two types of institutions. It should also fit into the goal of the DHET to train more and better college lecturers. Having university staff who have developed a deep understanding of college curricula and the college environment can only assist in the training of lecturers in both pedagogical and content knowledge.
The possibility for college graduates to move on to higher education possibilities, important as it is should not be confined to gaining access to universities and universities of technology. Upon the successful completion of NCV Level 4, alternative access opportunities must be provided to students who do not wish to go to higher education institutions, but into Level 5 learnerships that are work-specific – or into new qualifications such as the proposed NCV Level 5.
The completion of an N6, including the required practical experience, language achievement and successful completion of the trade test, does not grant a person automatic access to a National Diploma at a University. Our UoT’s and comprehensive universities are reluctant to admit these students to their diploma programmes primarily due to the absence of sufficient language and cognitive skills on a relevant NQF level. Universities are encouraged, in the absence of an official policy in this regard, to consider admission of these students into diploma programmes through language bridging programmes and recognition of prior learning (RPL). We will nevertheless develop policy in this regard and, if need be, appropriate legislative framework and instruments. The N-courses are in any cases outdated and the QCTO must update them.
Let me sound a word of caution. I have argued that articulation between colleges and universities is important, but we must not lose sight of another important form of articulation: between educational institutions and workplaces. If we don’t take this into account we risk shaping our college programmes as purely university entrance courses. They should not be this. They should primarily be vocational institutions which nonetheless leave the possibility for young people to continue – with some bridging if necessary – into university programmes. The colleges must do whatever is possible to assist those who complete their college education to gain work placement and must cooperate with employers to provide workers with the education necessary for apprenticeships, learnerships and internships.
I have recently been seriously considering another form of articulation between colleges and universities. I have appointed a task team, led by Prof Sizwe Mabizela, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, to develop a maths and science foundation programme for matriculants who need to upgrade their knowledge in these subjects before going on to further study in universities or colleges. The idea is to provide this programme in FET colleges and this should open up additional possibilities to those young people who have not obtained the necessary foundational knowledge at school level.
As we move forward to strengthen our articulation mechanisms, we must determine the role of student support services, and particularly career guidance, to ensure that students understand the options and pathways open to them and are able to make informed choices. The expansion and improvement of career guidance services is an important policy goal of the DHET. We have mandated SAQA to assist us by developing a very good website and producing other career advisory materials. The SABC is also already partnering with us in broadcasting a half-hour career guidance programme weekly in each of the 9 official indigenous languages. We would urge colleges and universities to use these resources and to develop their own, including materials geared specifically to local conditions and local opportunities in their areas. Collaboration with local employers in this respect would be particularly useful.
An issue that is not often taken into account in discussions about articulation is the role of the SETAs. I am not sure about the plans of the Ford Foundation with regard to this work. Of course we would welcome further cooperation with them, but we should, in the first place, be relying on our own resources for this type of work which is central to achieving our policy goals. It is essential that SETAs fund this sort of work which promotes articulation between colleges and the universities, not to mention funding college-employer partnerships. Colleges and universities should approach relevant SETAs to assist in this kind of work, not only with funding but also, where appropriate, by helping them to link up with employers who can help with their knowledge or other resources.
In conclusion, I want to congratulate Michele Buchler of CEPD and her partners from the Bronx Community College for organising this important conference and for the work they have done since 2003 on the New Linkages project.
I wish you all a very successful conference and hope that CEPD will send the conference report to the Department of Higher Education and Training and to me personally. The work that researchers do must feed into and enrich that of our educational institutions and our government policies and programmes.
Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training
23 Apr 2012
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