Finance minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: SARAH PABST/BLOOMERG
Finance minister Tito Mboweni. Picture: SARAH PABST/BLOOMERG

The government’s hopes of expanding student numbers at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges are being stymied by the weak economy and the tight fiscal environment, parliament heard on Tuesday.

The National Development Plan positions Technical Vocational Education & Training (TVET) colleges as vital for tackling SA’s skill shortage and suggests reversing the current situation in which more school leavers enroll at universities than colleges. In line with the plan, the government’s 2013 white paper for post-school education and training proposed expanding enrolment in the TVET college sector to 2.5-million by 2030, but the number was capped in 2015 at 710,535 due to funding constraints.

That threshold has yet to be reached, and preliminary figures presented to parliament indicate enrolments for 2019 stand at only 436,525.

Though additional funding was made available to the sector in the wake of former president Jacob Zuma’s announcement of free higher education for eligible students in 2017, historic underfunding meant the extra money was not enough to increase student numbers, Thema Msipha, the department of higher education and training’s chief director for systems planning and TVET colleges, told parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology.

Worse still, no enrolment growth would be possible over the next three years unless there was an increase to the TVET college budget allocation, which was unlikely in the current fiscal environment, he said.

The medium-term budget, tabled by finance minister Tito Mboweni on October 31, set out the dire state of the economy, with growth far weaker than expected and a reduction in medium- and long-term growth forecasts.

Economic growth is projected at 0.5% for 2019, down from the 1.5% forecast in the February budget.

As a result, the government’s revenue projections have been sharply reduced, and spending on goods and services is under increasing pressure from the state’s growing wage bill and the crisis in state-owned enterprises. 

The department’s CFO, Theuns Tredoux, said the medium-term budget policy statement indicated that the government spending on goods, services and infrastructure is to be reduced by 2% a year over the next two years, but it was not yet clear how this would affect higher education.

The department would strive to prevent a reduction in student enrolments and in the subsidies given to public entities, he said.