Address by Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande at the Umgungundlovu Further Education and Training (FET) college graduation ceremony, Pietermaritzburg
25 July 2009
Members of the college council
Staff members of Umgungundlovu FET College
Students and parents
It is a great honour and indeed my pleasure to address your graduation ceremony today and I thank Umgungundlovu FET College for affording me this opportunity.
Graduation ceremonies signify the culmination of a long journey of hard work, dedication and often much sacrifice both personal and shared. The successes rewarded at a ceremony such as this go beyond being testimony to just academic achievement. Indirectly, it also recognises those who have triumphed over adversity to succeed, it recognises those who have taken responsibility for their hopes and aspirations, it recognises those who have prepared themselves to make a meaningful contribution to their loved ones and to the country.
Government regards the education of our people as one of its most important responsibilities. President Jacob Zuma demonstrated this commitment when in May this year he declared two Ministries tasked with education. Colleges, as you might already know, will now become the responsibility of the Department of Higher Education and Training. Government remains committed to providing quality education to all who need it.
This means catering for different education and training needs. To this end the mandate of FET Colleges will be expanded to cater for a wider spectrum of students. Among the many needs are those who require education and training for entry into the workplace, those who want to pursue self employment, those who aspire to higher learning through higher education studies, those who need re-skilling or up-skilling from present competency levels and even those who need to start a new career pathway for personal or circumstantial reasons. Whilst funding, certification and quality assurance are complex issues that have to be dealt with before such provision becomes a reality, I am confident that the location of colleges with higher education institutions and Sectoral Education and Training Authority (SETAs) will enable the process.
I am aware that currently colleges offer noted programmes, which are in the process of being phased out; the national certificate (vocational) qualification with a menu of 14 programmes already on offer and others in the process of development in response to requests from industry and government departments; Learnerships and skills programmes under the Department of Labour (although these will soon be transferred to the Department of Higher Education and Training), as well as other South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) registered programmes in response to specific stakeholder needs. This indicates that there can be no doubt that college’s play a pivotal role in addressing the skills needs of this country. I am confident we will achieve that sooner rather than later. Our target for student enrolments in FET colleges is one million by 2014. Whilst part of this number will be located in private FET institutions, at least 600 000 will be in the 50 public colleges.
Parents and students must not look down on FET colleges as they important vocational centres. We must also not equate higher education only with universities look broadly at an array of other opportunities such as colleges.
Whilst there are diverse education and training needs we must make sure that the programmes and qualifications on offer are, firstly, responsive and secondly, of very high quality both in policy as well as in institutional implementation. We also need to guard against providing education and training that is so narrow that it restricts our people to highly circumscribed job descriptions, denying them lateral and upward mobility in the workplace. Such workers are extremely vulnerable in the workplace, particularly in times of massive retrenchments such as we are currently experiencing. Sometimes the inability to re-skill and up-skill commits workers to lowly paid jobs throughout their working lives. The saddest of all is that many will be doomed to a working life of exploitation!
People need to be equipped with those skills and competencies that enable them to upgrade quite easily should circumstances dictate it. This means every person must have, first and foremost, a solid foundation that enables lifelong learning. This foundation involves reading, writing and calculating. It is from this foundation that every one of us launches our hopes and aspirations for the future, whichever way we may choose to go.
Some will excel through progressive academic study, others through advanced vocational study, and still others through widening their occupation specific competencies and work experience. The paths may be different but the strong educational foundation required for each of these remains the same. It takes conscientious, if not hard work, to achieve good levels of literacy and numeracy. If one takes into account 21st century workplace demands, add to this computer literacy.
It is not surprising these days to have a mechanic arrive with a laptop to diagnose the fault in your car! The point is that those skills that were good enough to perform in a given job 10 years ago are no longer good enough to be highly efficient and competitive today.
It is for the reasons above that government invested R1,9 billion in FET colleges over three years. The three years ended in March this year. The recapitalisation programme was intended and has achieved the aim of repositioning these colleges into modern and responsive institutions for skills development and advanced learning. Workshops and laboratories with hi-tech equipment, information communication technology (ICT) centres, student resource units and internet cafés are but some of facilities now evident at almost all colleges. As a result of this investment Umgungundlovu FET was able to upgrade classrooms, establish laboratories ICT training and establish student support facilities.
To date government has invested R600 million in bursaries for FET college students the largest bursary allocation ever made for FET colleges. Between 2007 and 2009, Umgungundlovu FET college was allocated R6,8 million to ensure that poverty and the resultant inability to pay college fees do not constitute a barrier to education opportunities for our youth.
The 129 students currently enrolled in the information technology and computer studies programme and the 450 student in the NCV engineering programmes indicates the contribution of the college to those skills desperately needed in the labour market for the country’s economic advancement. The college is strategically positioned to command the entire KwaZulu-Natal midlands region in providing valuable skills and training. The region has vast rural settlements; therefore it is important that access to college sites is made possible for these students through bursary funding. The opportunity also exists and I know this has been exploited by the college, for successful partnerships with industry.
We also need to look into strengthening community based campuses, including other modes of community-based delivery. In rural areas in particular, some community programmes can be delivered through existing infrastructure like schools and community centres. FETs college capacity must be built such that they become institutions closest to the people and become central to community development.
Whilst government will continue to strengthen the FET colleges and indeed all other colleges and improve the quality of education, I also ask of students to commit to studying hard so that you pass. To parents and guardians, I applaud your efforts. I also appeal to you to support and encourage your children to achieve, through hard work, to their maximum potential. Do not set minimum pass requirements or mediocrity as the highest aspiration for these young people. The challenges they will face along the way and throughout their adult lives will demand much of them it is our responsibility to prepare them now as best we can for that.
Education is at once the most empowering and liberating asset that one can acquire for oneself. You already know that therefore you committed to your studies. Now that you have come this far it is extremely important you also commit to continuing further. Research has provided evidence time and time again that in general the education that you step out with into the working world usually determines the quality of life you will lead not just as an adolescent or young adult as you sit here today, but it also determines the quality of life you will be able to provide for your family, over the 30 to 40 years of your working life. I leave you with this as you ponder your future.
My heartfelt congratulations to every student who graduates or receives an award today you have worked hard and reaped your just rewards. To the parents, guardians, brothers and sisters whoever was instrumental in ensuring your success your efforts too are commended and you are justly party to this shared glory. May you all enjoy the sweet fruit of your hard work.
I thank you.
Issued by: Ministry of Higher Education and Training
25 July 2009