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ANC breaks promise of 1.5 million vocational college students by 2019

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South Africa's ruling African National Congress’s (ANC) 2014 election manifesto was littered with reflections on past achievements and commitments to future progress.

“Further education and training (FET) college student headcount enrolments doubled from 345,566 in 2010 to 657,690 students in 2012,” it said.

These figures were from public institutions. Looking forward, the party committed to more than doubling the number of students.

“We will enrol more than 1 million students in FET colleges in 2014 and enrol an additional 500,000 students in the next five years.”

If the ANC delivered on its election commitment there should be close to 1.5 million students enrolled in public colleges. Do the numbers reflect this?

2014: 702,383 students in public TVETs

The FET colleges were renamed technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges in 2013.

The first part of the ANC’s commitment – to enrol “more than 1 million students” in 2014 – was ambitious. The manifesto was released in January 2014, giving the party less than a year to increase enrolment significantly from 639,618 students in 2013.

Audited statistics from the higher education and training department show that the goal was not reached. In 2014 just 702,383 students were enrolled in public TVET colleges.

The department has said TVET enrolment plans were “derailed” in 2014/15. It highlighted physical infrastructure, teaching capacity and funding as reasons behind the low numbers.

Department lowers target for 2020

Audited numbers are not available for this year but the department’s 2017/18 annual report shows there were 703,705 students enrolled that year. This is an increase of just 0.2% since 2014.

The department has projected that enrolment will stay flat at 710,535 until 2020. This figure has been revised down from the department’s previous target of 1,238,000 students.

Promise was ‘clearly unrealistic’

The ANC’s commitment was “clearly unrealistic”, according to Heleen Hofmeyr, a researcher at Stellenbosch University’s research on socioeconomic policy unit. She co-authored a 2018 World Bank report on education in South Africa, which looked at the challenges the TVET sector faced.

“A possible reason for the relatively low growth in TVET enrolment is low demand to attend TVET colleges, possibly due to the programmes offered by TVET colleges not being perceived as optimal for obtaining jobs,” said Hofmeyr. “Universities are perceived to offer better labour market prospects at this stage.”

The report described the TVET system as “wasteful and not very effective” and suggests it may need a “complete redesign”.

Quality first, numbers later

Dr Charles Sheppard, director of management information at Nelson Mandela University and a consultant to the department, points to funding shortfalls as another cause of low enrolment.

“I think it is very important that we get more enrolments in TVET colleges but the problem is that funding didn’t keep up with enrolment growth,” said Sheppard.

“They had to backtrack because the quality of the teaching and learning in the TVET colleges was severely affected by the lack of enough subsidies to keep up with the numbers.”

He said the goal should be to increase the quality of education first.

“It would have been ideal if TVET college enrolments could have been that high but passes must also be good and they’re not at the moment.”

Conclusion: Ruling party failed to deliver on election promise

The ANC’s 2014 election manifesto committed to enrolling 1.5 million students in TVET colleges by 2019 but the latest data from the department shows that this has not been achieved.

Just 703,705 students were enrolled in 2017/18 and enrolment is expected to stay flat until 2020.

Experts point to weaknesses in the TVET system and funding shortfalls as factors contributing to low enrolment numbers.

(Note:The ANC was approached for comment but had not responded by the time of publication.)

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