The National Skills Fund and the Sector Education and Training Authorities are to allocate R2.5-billion towards the refurbishment and construction of new further education and training (FET) college campuses over the next three years, President Jacob Zuma announced on Wednesday.
The money will be used for expanding and improving the FET college infrastructure, in keeping with the strategic priorities of the National Skills Development Strategy III.
“This is yet another demonstration of the value we attach to FET colleges,” Zuma said at a skills development summit with FET college principals, near Pretoria.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande will provide further details of this project at a later stage, Zuma added.
The high-level summit with FET college principals was meant to send out a strong message that universities, universities of technology and FET colleges are equally important to develop a strong economy.
The country has a network of 264 campuses in 50 FET colleges nationwide, including rural towns.
The President pointed to the example of Germany as being a successful industrial economy, highlighting the importance of vocational training, rooted in an apprenticeship model that enables the building of a strong manufacturing base and productive economy.
“To achieve prosperity for all, we need to tackle head on, the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Education and skills development are the most powerful tools we can use to achieve this goal,” he said.
Government already had plans in place for meaningful economic development and job creation, Zuma said, pointing to Commitment 2 and Commitment 8 of the National Skills Accord, which directly relate to FET colleges.
In the accord, companies commit to yearly make available 12 000 placements or internship spaces for FET college students. They also commit to provide yearly opportunities for training in a work environment to 16 000 lecturers.
Further, as part of the New Growth Path framework launched in 2010, creating decent work opportunities was announced as the central economic goal of government.
Government identified sectors where jobs can be created on a large scale, including infrastructure development, mining and beneficiation, agriculture and processing farm products, manufacturing, the green economy, tourism and high-level services and the knowledge-based sectors of the economy.
Zuma added that government would single out infrastructure this year as a significant job provider.
He said 17 large integrated projects have been finalised and that implementation will “now commence”.
Infrastructure projects included the expansion of ports and rail lines, modernising the road networks, building dams and irrigation systems, power stations, as well as renewable energy plants, laying of transmission lines and broadband inside the country and expanding the construction of schools, hospitals and universities.
“The relevance of FET colleges in the infrastructure development project cannot be overstated. The construction, maintenance and operation of infrastructure, as well as the operation of assets require the kind of skills that FET colleges are well-equipped to provide,” he said.
But, for FETs to succeed, they should be more effective and better performing and graduation rates will need to rise, he cautioned.
He also asked the FET colleges to absorb as many young people as possible.
“We want school leavers, including disheartened ones, some of whom stand in street corners daily with no hope for the future, to be able to come back to the education and training system, and benefit from vocational training,” he said.
Zuma also pointed to a lot of work already done by government to expand access to higher education by expanding available options for students.
Examples of this were the introduction of the National Certificate Vocational system last year, and the Department of Higher Education and Training releasing the Green Paper on Post-School Education.
Among other provisions, the paper sets a target to raise enrolments in FET colleges and other post-school institutions, to four-million students by 2030.
“This is in addition to the 1.5- million students we expect to have in universities,” Zuma said.