The government has conceded that the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and sector education and training authorities (Setas) face dire financial difficulties, saying it will soon approach business for help.

The auditor-general’s 2016-17 report on the Department of Higher Education and Training has raised concern about the sustainability of tertiary education after it incurred nearly R1bn in irregular expenditure. According to the report, nearly half of all 50 TVET colleges received a qualified, adverse or disclaimed audit opinion.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said on Wednesday that his department had been perversely underfunded for a long time and that this had affected the ability of the department to carry out some of its mandated responsibilities.

"We can’t give money to TVET colleges, train college lecturers or open up regional offices because we don’t have money to do that," he said.

On Thursday, a declaration was signed by the department, labour unions and the business community, committing stakeholders to resuscitating TVET colleges and ensuring students are employable by the time they left school.

Business Unity SA (Busa) skills policy manager Sino Moabalobelo said that once the final version of the declaration was available, Busa had to circulate it to members "to enable us to obtain a mandate". Deputy director-general of TVET colleges Firoz Patel conceded that the country’s colleges had been neglected in the past, leading to a number of compounding issues such as insufficient lecturer training, poor infrastructure maintenance and an outdated curriculum.

He said this was why the department requested the auditor-general to come in and help officials assess the extent of the harm.

Through the declaration, the department has called for a co-ordinated funding mechanism across higher education institutions and greater participation by business.

"Business must be able to get involved in the development of the curriculum," Patel said. "It must indicate to us what kind of student it wants us to produce."

Nick Joubert, the national training manager at the Institute of Plumbing SA, one of the signatories of the declaration, said the effect of technology was often left out in the training of plumbers and was a challenge at colleges, especially with technologies being introduced all the time. A pilot project would be launched in January at two colleges over three years in which artisans would be trained and linked to employers.


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