Certificate backlog leaves thousands in limbo

Police in riot gear prevent protesting students from entering Ekurhuleni West College in Gauteng during a nationwide shutdown of TVET colleges. (Yonke Twani, GroundUp)
Police in riot gear prevent protesting students from entering Ekurhuleni West College in Gauteng during a nationwide shutdown of TVET colleges. (Yonke Twani, GroundUp)

Barbara Maregele, GroundUp   

Cape Town - Scores of disgruntled Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students have been protesting at colleges across the country this week.

They wanted better leadership, qualified lecturers, and for the long-standing backlog of certificates to be resolved.

Parliament’s higher education portfolio committee pleaded with students not to protest, but to allow the department to hold talks with the relevant institutions.

The departments of higher education and training (DHET) and telecommunications were called to Parliament in 2014, where they acknowledged the crisis at TVET colleges.

The DHET attributed the certificates backlog to a “lack of human resources capacity and technical expertise”.

The department had since taken over administration at some colleges. However, student leaders said there were critical, unresolved problems.

Following reports of sporadic protests at colleges this week, the portfolio committee’s chairperson, Connie September, said protesters should allow students to continue academic activities.

“Shutting down institutions denies the opportunity for engagement. It deprives everyone of the opportunity to further their much-needed education.”

The SA Further Education and Training Student Association (Safetsa) threatened a national shutdown of 50 registered TVET campuses, according to a statement it issued last week.

Siphosethu Mavundla, 27, is a student affected by the backlog. He graduated from Majuba College in Newcastle in 2014 and is yet to receive his diploma.

He said students regularly struggled to get their results, and the college always made excuses and was not very helpful.

“I was just told to register for the next year, without knowing my marks. I went back to the college seven times in the last three years and nothing helped,” he said.

Colleges blame DHET

Mavundla said he could not apply for a new position at work.

“My employers were audited last year and they asked for my diploma, which I didn’t have. I explained the situation, but they said it was very risky. There’s a post I wanted, but couldn’t apply for because I couldn’t produce the diploma. I’m worried they think I lied about my qualification,” he said.

Safetsa president Yonke Twani on Wednesday said more than 20 colleges in five provinces were closed due to protests.

Issues included poor infrastructure like hostels and workshop classrooms. He said the department was telling the public that National Student Financial Aid Scheme bursaries were available, but when they got to the colleges, there was no money.

“We are also concerned about the negative impact unqualified or poorly-skilled lecturers will have on students.”

Twani said Safetsa would continue its call for a nationwide shutdown until the department remedied their concerns.

GroundUp contacted several TVET colleges. All these colleges admitted to having students with outstanding certificates.

Zigqibo Kahla, marketing manager at King Sabata Dalindyebo College in Mthatha, said there were no major disruptions at the institution’s campuses. The backlog of certificates was an ongoing problem.

“The issue is at the department’s side. Some of our students haven’t received their certificates for the past three years. To help our students, we allow them to progress to the next phase while we wait for the results or certificates from the DHET,” he said.

Sharon Grobbelaar, marketing manager at College of Cape Town, said they were aware of the threat to disrupt colleges. Measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of staff and students, she said.

“We do what we can, but we know there have been problems in the past on the department’s side. We are in constant communication with DHET to fast-track the process. I know DHET and the certifying body have been doing a lot to deal with the backlog,” she said.

She acknowledged the college’s “isolated” cases of students who are yet to receive their annual results and certificates. Those students who qualified and graduated got a certificate and a letter stating that the student was still waiting for their diploma from the department.

“That’s all we can do for now,” she said.

'Considerable progress'

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said “considerable progress” had been made at the TVET colleges since the department took over about two years ago.

In a statement last week, Nzimande said government funded 256 904 students at TVET colleges at a cost of R2.3bn last year. A lot needed to be done to rectify the students’ concerns.

“We are aware that there is still a way to go until the institutions are at peak performance,” he said in a statement last week.

His department planned to open three new TVET colleges in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo this year.

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