‘No to central control of colleges’

2010-06-29 00:00

THE DEMOCRATIC Alliance is actively opposed to the government’s decision to centralise Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, describing the move as a “grave error to undermine what has been a carefully considered provincial system of education”.

However, the Further Education and Training Department (Dohet) says the decision to seek a constitutional amendment to make these colleges part of the national post-school education and training system has been supported by all provinces in the council of educational ministers, as well as all MECs, who themselves have urged minister Blade Nzimande to hasten the process.

Cabinet recently gave Dohet the go-ahead to start amending the Constitution so that the control of about 53 FET colleges can move from the control of the provincial education departments to the national government.

But the DA’s Wilmot James believes provincial staff are much closer to the ground and have the capacity and personal “connectedness” to support the colleges, while the national department lacks the capacity to deal with the 23 universities countrywide already under its control.

Explaining the move, Dohet director-general Mary Metcalfe said there are a number of advantages associated with designating statutory powers and functions of FET colleges as an exclusive national competence.

She said these include planning, communicating with the university and skills development sectors and the development of a clearer mandate for the delivery of intermediate skills for young people.

Professor Volker Wedekind, the deputy dean of the education faculty at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said he believes centralisation is a logical move and should be seen in the context of the changes it will bring, including the fact that colleges will be gaining more autonomy and responsibility.

This means the college councils have become the employers of staff, which will put greater demands on college managers to ensure viability.

“The real question for me then is not whether the national department has the capacity to take this on, but whether the colleges themselves have the capacity to take on the level of autonomy that is envisaged.”

Wedekind said the big function the national department will be taking over is the directing of funds. He said he believes this should spell out good news for the colleges since previously, depending on the provinces, the process was usually marred by delays, inefficiencies and at times non-payment.

“Perhaps the biggest shift will be the clarification of the role of the colleges as primarily a post-school institution … Under the previous system the colleges were effectively parallel to the last three years of high school and there was a gap between schools and universities. Now the colleges will focus increasingly on post-school youth and on the training of specific technical and occupational skills.”

However, Wedekind said, a possible negative outcome would be that the new model assumes that the college councils and management are strong enough to run the colleges and manage the finance and human resources systems.

He said that in some provinces, the colleges receive good support from the provincial administration and this fruitful link might now be lost in the restructuring. “The major risk is that colleges with weak councils and poor management systems will not be able to operate,” he added.

 

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