09 November 2015 | Beatrice Watermeyer | Opinion
The #FeesMustFall campaign that swept across South Africa at the end of October 2015, in response to huge tertiary tuition fee increases, opened many wounds.
In an ironic twist, the students weren’t the ones to blame for the suggested hike in fees – but the class of 2015 would literally have been the ones paying for it.
A 0% increase in fees has now been clarified and confirmed by President Jacob Zuma, and the Department for Higher Education is facing a long task of truly providing free tertiary education for everyone. But are we looking at this from the wrong angle: can the private sector help solve the problem?
Tshikululu Social Investments – through its exposure to corporates on a daily basis – has noticed a significant shift to increased buy-in from the private sector into the learnership model. And there is ample justification for this. Through the path of learnerships, companies (which have to pay a monthly skills development levy) can access the billions of rands made available annually for sector education and training authorities (SETAs) as these students can qualify for SETA funding and stipends.
This means that for those companies that provide learning and development this comes at no cost to the company. This is above and beyond the tax benefits and broad-based black economic empowerment points that a company can score through the skills development element of the scorecard.
The 21 SETAs in South Africa were established in 2000 with the purpose of improving people’s skills increasing employment and ensuring that people learn the skills needed by employers and communities. One of the major mandates of a SETA is to work with companies to ensure that they are offering learnerships.
When one thinks of a learnership, it is generally a low-skilled worker that springs to mind. This has a critical place in our society – especially in reducing our unemployment – but learnerships are so much more.
There are an ever-growing number of mode 2 institutions in South Africa – these are institutions that require work-based learning as part of their course; that is, students must carry out a learnership as part of their qualification. These institutions are providing the exact equivalent in qualifications to a traditional undergraduate degree, masters and PhD, but the difference is that they are built on the standards of work-based learning and not the traditional theoretical learning carried out by universities.
As the qualification is based around a learnership, these students qualify for SETA funding and stipends – a benefit to the company – but, most importantly, the business will have the advantage of growing a pool of talented future managers who understand the intricacies of the company.
For the student themselves it is a win-win situation. They are far less likely be a dropout due to receiving a working stipend, having the opportunity to put theory into practice, and also being exposed to all types of mentors in the private sector who can have a huge influence. In effect, the company is a university campus for them. They are also getting critical work experience and, in all likelihood, they will end up being absorbed by the company on a permanent basis; and, if not, they come away with the experience that so many companies require to secure a job. In this respect they are leagues ahead of their university counterparts.
An urgent societal shift is required around the perceived standard of a mode 2 institution and the perceived level of a learnership. There are many available opportunities available in South Africa for our youth but these are not being explored sufficiently. One of our priorities should be meeting and negotiating with companies to broaden their viewpoints.
With grateful thanks to Mr Tony d’Almeida for his insights.