Restructuring the Ministry of Education

In his first day of office in 2009, President Zuma announced the creation of a Ministry of Higher Education and Training with Bonginkosi Emmanuel “Blade” Nzimande, also the secretary-general of the South Afrian Communist Party (SACP) as its head.109 The splitting of the National Department of Education into two ministries, not just one for both K-12 and higher education, was expected. In December 2007, at the ANC national conference, policy priorities in higher education were identified, including the creation of such a higher education ministry. This new ministry would oversee all universities and colleges and encompass 1.5 million people including students and staff.110 Other policy priorities highlighted at the time included reopening teacher colleges that were incorporated into universities, revisiting institutions that were merged during the 2005 restructuring process, and offering free undergraduate education.111

Public reaction to the creation of a Department of Higher Education and Training was mixed. Some people welcomed the division of basic and postsecondary education, given that the size and complexity of each sector had made it extremely difficult for one minister to effectively run both. In addition, they believed that a Department of Higher Education would bring more attention and management to skills training.112 Other observers were concerned about the lack of planning related to the split, the cost of creating a separate department, and the ability to staff the department with qualified people—which had been difficult enough under a single ministry of education.

The new department takes responsibility for higher education, colleges, and all postliteracy adult education, including workplace skills development. Workplace skills development includes the infrastructure of the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) the National Skills Authority, and the National Skills Fund,113 which was transferred from the Department of Labour to the new DHET.114

The Department ofLabour had been trying for quite some time to identify the critical skills needed in the South African workforce. The preference was for developing these skills within the country and to only go outside the country when needed. The sense was, according to Yvonne Shapiro of SAQA, that they have been “chasing their tails for a very long time.”115

Interestingly enough, the original macroeconomic policy of the ANC, the RDP, envisaged the combination of education and training to redress some of the practices under apartheid, which relied on unskilled labor. Many South Africans were never formally trained or had formal qualifications under the old system. With the split of the education department, the RDP’s original plan for aligning higher education and training will finally happen. If business and industry need particular skills, they have to come to higher education. The hope is that the move will give universities and the higher education system in general a way to ensure students are acquiring the skills needed for industry and economic growth.116

During a public lecture at Wits School of Public and Development Management, Blade Nzimande stated that people should stop thinking about education and training as two separate things and recognize they are part of an integral whole. He explained why the ministry was taking over skills training from the Ministry of Labour: in essence the two departments could not get along, respective institutional interests clashed, and each department thought too narrowly—leading to a lack of cooperation between the two. Minister Nzimande went on to say DHET is the “glue”117 that will hold everything together. For him, the goal is to prepare post-school youth for the labor market and to help them to further develop the “skills, values, and ethics needed to participate usefully in the social, political, and cultural life of their communities and society as a whole.”118

Nzimande believes one of the key obstacles to the country’s development is the shortage of skilled workers. He sees higher education and training playing a critical role in helping with economic growth and the creation of more jobs. He acknowledges that much improvement is needed in the quality of education and the capacity to educate and train more young people.119

Nzimande referenced a recent report, commissioned by former Minister of Education Naledi Pandor, which looked at post-compulsory school provisions. The report showed that 2.8 million (41 percent) of the country’s 18- to 24-year-olds are neither employed, enrolled in educational institutions, nor participating in a workplace-training program. Nzimande attributed this to “very limited access to post-school education and training opportunities, poor resources, the lack of financing, and the restricted availability of jobs.”120 He referred to the situation as a “huge waste of human capital.”121

Nzimande believes that workers’ prior learning, and not just formal university entrance qualifications, should be taken into consideration during the admissions process. He also has stated that experienced workers should not have to take metric exams, as this barrier doesn’t allow young people to reach their full potential. And he is has called on universities to modify the tests so that more students might gain access.122

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