Reforming tertiary education in South Africa could reduce the inequality of opportunities, alleviate poverty and boost growth in the country, say World Bank officials.
South Africa’s skill gap was at the forefront of a media briefing held by the National Press Club which hosted the World Bank South Africa economic update at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
World Bank country director for South Africa, Paul Noumba Um, whose top priorities include providing strategic leadership for formulating programmes that support the eradication of poverty and improve shared prosperity said that an increase in tertiary education enrolments and graduation rates were essential in addressing South Africa’s skills gap.
“The importance of acquiring skills to enable South Africa’s youth to find jobs and earn higher wages thereby alleviating poverty, income inequality and joblessness makes the policy to enrol more students in tertiary institutions a must,” he said.
World Bank programme leader for equitable growth finance Sébastien Dessus reiterated these views.
“There is a legitimate demand to acquire skills and something must be done to accommodate it. The skills of the youth need to be raised because higher education skills are the best guarantee for a brighter future,” he said.
According to the report, there was growing recognition in South Africa to expand the post-school-education-training system to enrol prospective students in higher institutions of learning including technical and vocational education and training colleges and sector community colleges.
According to minister of basic education Angie Motshekga, a total of about 312 700 candidates (equivalent to 78.3%), who achieved bachelor and diploma passes, were eligible for studies at higher education institutions. The 86 790 candidates, equivalent to 21.7%, who obtained certificate passes, could register at a college or other skills training institutions.
A 2015 overview of post-school education and training institutions and student enrolment by the department of higher education showed a total number of 150 higher education institutions in comparison to 311 colleges, including technical and vocational education and training institutions.
The number of enrolled students at both public and private higher education institutions at the time was about 1.1 million while those at colleges was more than 2.2 million.
Dessus, a programme leader in charge of macroeconomic, governance, poverty, trade and competitiveness in at least seven countries, including South Africa, said that a large number of students eligible to study at an institution of higher learning did not enrol because the system was not engaging enough for them to do so.
“As of today we have a very large reservoir of youngsters who are eligible to go to or enrol at a college or university but are not. To understand this, one of the things we looked at were the costs and risks versus the opportunities of actually going to a [college] or university under the new [National Student Financial Aid Scheme],” he said.
Dessus explained that this meant exploring the cost of the investment one made by actually being at an institute of higher learning against the expected returns after completion.
“The expected returns down the line should be higher than the cost of going to a university or college. The costs that students incur include tuition fees, accommodation transportation and the cost of not working in the field which you studied. Opportunities down the line include getting a job once you graduate and the money you will make,” he said.
Dessus said that, at the moment, the costs of attending a college outweighed the opportunities.
“Eventually when one graduates and the number of skilled graduates in the economy is low then the opportunities are high. Even if the costs of tuition were high at a university, what you could make down the line would be much higher. And that’s based on the fact that a majority of the students who embark on a graduate or undergraduate degree do not graduate,” he said.
With registration currently under way at a number of institutes of higher learning, last week City Press reported on the scores of prospective students queued outside universities hoping to be admitted at the last minute.