“South Africa and its neighbouring countries must urgently develop and implement higher education policies aimed at expanding student enrolments, strengthening the qualifications of academics, doubling the production of postgraduates, developing research capability, and changing how universities work including improving governance and planning.”
–The Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA), a research and advisory body representing public higher education institutions across the region.
Below are several highlights of recent developments to spur the expansion and improvement of higher education across Southern Africa, with key areas of opportunity in the online sphere, vocational studies, and teacher training.
New committee to drive higher education development
South African higher education ministers have resolved to establish a technical committee to drive the implementation of policies aimed at developing higher education across the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
They are formulating a regional plan and policies to tackle the many challenges facing universities in the SADC in order to meet their target of 30% tertiary enrolment by 2050 (it is currently at 6.3% in the SADC countries, and if significant changes are not made, it is projected to only reach 16.3% by 2050). As a side note, this goal still falls way below the 2010 average of 22% tertiary enrolment for North Africa, 22% for East Asia and the Pacific (which shared comparable enrolment figures with SADC in 1970) and more than 70% for Western Europe. But on a bright note, one of the most successful SADC cases is Mauritius, which has raised its tertiary enrolment rate by more than 20 percentage points over the past 20 years to just more than 25%. This is about 10 percentage points above South Africa, about equal to China’s rates and 10 percentage points behind Brazil.
There are three themes for advancing higher education in the SADC:
- access and participation;
- funding and capacity-building over the next 10 to 15 years;
- research output and monitoring of institutions across the region.
At present, universities do not have enough academics, and those in place are not adequately trained. In South Africa, for example, only 33% of academics have a PhD and are able to produce research outputs and supervise postgraduate students. In order to change this, the country will focus on building stronger partnerships between universities in the region, and promote student and staff mobility, as well as joint research programmes.
One phenomenon which ties South Africa to most other countries in the region is cross-border higher education. In 2010 there were 66,113 foreign students in South African universities of which 70% (46,200 students) were from SADC countries.
Those of you interested in reading more can dive into a recent publication from SARUA titled “Building Higher Education Scenarios 2025: A Strategic Agenda for Development in SADC” or read up on their ten strategies for higher ed transformation.
Going the distance
In the past decade, distance education accounted for nearly 40% of all public university enrolments. Student enrolments need to increase from about 900,000 to 1.5 million by 2030 to meet the growing demand for higher education, and the key way to do this seems to lie in online learning, according to Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. Recently, he has thrown his weight behind the “progressive development” of South African distance higher education as an “indispensable and integral component of [our] national higher education system.”
Nzimande has prioritised the following issues for the expansion of distance education:
- Growth of distance education units at higher education institutions other than Unisa where it is justified and carefully planned. The role of Unisa as South Africa’s dedicated distance education provider needs to be more clearly defined, as it cannot bear the brunt of the entire region’s demands.
- A small suite of high-volume programmes, which can be delivered at a lower cost than traditional face-to-face alternatives. There may be a need for small-scale niche programmes at a national level, but these will have to be funded differently because they will not benefit from economies of scale.
- Programmes that will give candidates meaningful opportunities for employment after completion.
- Collaborative development and the use of common open-education resources to service these programmes.
- Support strategies, including multipurpose centres, that take into account the challenges many students experience in coping with distance education and address the unacceptably low number of students who complete their studies.
- Financial rewards for traditional universities to develop online learning and teaching, and offering niche programmes to those who are unable to attend full-time programmes.
- A recognition of the growing potential of digital resources and online support in general, and therefore the need to lobby for more affordable and collaborative access at a national level.
For more information on ICT-enhanced learning and training across 41 different countries on the continent, we recommend reading The eLearning Africa 2012 Report.
One key area of opportunity for growth in South Africa is quality teacher education. The government has set aside R450 million for the 2012/13 to 2013/14 funding cycle to expand university infrastructure capacity for teacher training.
There has been a 15% increase in full-time equivalent (FTE) enrolments in initial teacher education programmes from 35,937 in 2009 to 41,292 in 2010. Likewise, the number of new teachers who graduated increased by 14% from 6,976 in 2009 to 7,973 in 2010.
Particular attention is being paid to the development of foundation phase teachers, especially African language mother-tongue speakers.
In order to expand capacity to produce new teachers, the former Ndebele College Campus in Mpumalanga for foundation phase teacher education will open in 2013. Nzimande has also announced plans to open one former teacher training college each in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Further education and training (FET) colleges
South Africa has 3.5 million unemployed people between 18 and 24 years old. For many of them, education is the key to advancement.
Over the past two years, enrolments in FET colleges have been rising dramatically. In 2011 South Africa had projected a headcount enrolment of 359,000 in all programmes, but the actual enrolment reached 437,060, exceeding projections by 24%.
This year they are expecting a further increase to 550,000 enrolments. Over the 3-year period starting in 2012/13, R15-billion has been set aside to ensure enrolments continue to increase in FET colleges. They aim to have 4 million enrolments in FET colleges and other non-university post-school institutions by 2030.
During the course of this year, Nzimande has pledged to introduce legislation to establish a South African Institute for Vocational and Continuing Education which will provide professional support to the colleges and possibly also the SETAs (Sector Education and Training Authority).
Editor’s Note: In December, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) announced their new partnership with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) – 42 chief financial officers have been appointed to establish sound financial systems that match the scope of individual institutions. The process will also include the appointment of financial managers at FET colleges.
State funding to FET colleges between has been progressively increasing, from R3.1 billion (US $35 million) in 2009 and expected to reach R5.2 billion by 2014. Bursary support has also increased, from R312 million in 2009 to R1.7 billion this year. The minister said that by 2014, a total of R1.9 billion in bursaries will be provided to poorer students.
South African private education giant expands into 4 African countries
Private education giant Educor is set to become the first South African institution to set up branch campuses outside the country as it expands its operations into Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana.
Julian Kannigan, chief executive officer of Educor Africa, the new African arm of Educor, said that the absence of a serious further education player in Africa – apart from public distance education providers such as the University of South Africa – would make Educor the first real continental player in further education and training.
The ZAR100 million (US $12.2 million) venture would comprise the establishment of new colleges, but Kannigan indicated that Educor Africa was “receptive” to overtures from credible and relevant organisations for potential collaborations.
“Over time, we will set up training facilities within West African countries with qualified trainers and material that human resources require,” he said.
The group already has a physical presence in Namibia and Botswana, and distance learning colleges currently enrol students from various African countries. It has some 2,000 staff members and over 70,000 students in more than 30 sites in South Africa.
He said the African continent was “beckoning for the arrival of accredited private education” as it had a robust economy and required skills to complement rapid expansion.
He said countries like Nigeria actually encouraged private enterprise, specifically in education.
“Nigeria has a robust economy, which provides a large, aspirational market with an established IT infrastructure. English is the main language of tuition, and our engagements with relevant government bodies have proved that there is a demand for quality training in Nigeria.
Educor’s brands include Intec, Damelin, Lyceum, Durban Correspondence College, City Varsity and Icesa.
South Africa and EU sign joint education cooperation declaration
South Africa and the European Union have signed a Joint Declaration on Cooperation in Education and Training, the formal endorsement of years of intensifying collaboration between the two partners.
Among the first focal areas for intensified collaboration will be mobility and postgraduate education and research, equity and quality in education, quality assurance mechanisms and stakeholder involvement.
Other fields that are explicitly mentioned in the agreement are recognition, credit transfer and accumulation, qualifications frameworks and the transparency and transferability of qualifications, teacher education, benchmarks, lifelong learning and vocational education and training.
South Africa and Germany team up
In keeping with current STEM appeal, Germany and South Africa’s research ministers launched a Year of Science 2012-13 in mid-April, aimed at strengthening higher education and science collaboration between the two countries and kicking off 41 joint research projects.
South Africa and Cuba strengthen exchange ties
Education ministers from South Africa and Cuba have signed an agreement boosting tertiary-level exchange between the countries. The agreement will establish new exchange programmes for academics and students, and mutual recognition of qualifications.
Nzimande said the agreement would build on longstanding collaboration over the training of South African medical professionals in Cuba: “We will now build on the work that is already underway, and actually take it to a higher level which will include lecturer and student exchanges, as well as research collaboration, amongst our higher education institutions.”
The Cuba-South Africa partnership also promises collaboration on models of university delivery, teacher training and specialist subjects such as agricultural studies. It will also promote multicultural curricula; Spanish language and Latin American history will be encouraged in South African institutions for example, while Cuban universities will strengthen their African studies departments.
Crack down on foreign white students
Sadly, all is not rosy; officials for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have urged that “more acceptable ratios” be established at university campuses, in order to “ensure that spaces for deserving African students are not filled by foreign white students.”
This announcement – interpreted by some as a push for race-based quota controls on international student intakes – has not unexpectedly received criticism from a number of sides.
Meanwhile, other bodies are also describing the move as unnecessary, considering the amount of foreign students (of any race) actually attending the nation’s institutions. According to South Africa’s Higher Education Department spokeswoman, Vuyelwa Qinga, the number of foreign students currently studying at SA Universities at the undergraduate level is in fact very small.
“Under the SADC Protocol, the SA government has agreed that 5% of enrolments should be for SADC students,” she explains, referring to students from the community’s 15 member states across Southern Africa, “and [our] universities implement this.”
“Statistics show that 94% of undergraduate enrolments in our universities are South Africans, with 5% from SADC countries and 1% from other African countries. All students from overseas in SA universities are either enroled as occasional students… or are in post graduate programmes,” she added. And according to her department’s statistics for 2010, 38% of these international students were not even attending classes in person, but through Unisa.