Two of the department of higher education and training's most important divisions have declared a temporary truce to simmering hostilities as they sit down to find ways to address the country’s skills and unemployment crises.
In the run-up to the skills summit that began in Pretoria on Thursday, the 50 public further education and training (FET) colleges and 23 sector education and training authorities (Setas) fully anticipated escalating their skirmishes over the use of billions of rands sitting in the National Skills Fund.
The situation was defused, however temporarily, when the department made it clear on Wednesday that the summit, convened by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, was intended solely to enable consultations between the two training bodies, as well as with the business sector.
The much-anticipated announcement of the third National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS3) and the future Seta landscape would only be made in the next fortnight, the department said. A draft framework for NSDS3, released for comment in April, proposes a far closer relationship between Setas and FET colleges than before.
Setas are responsible for establishing what the skills needs of economic sectors are and public FET institutions chiefly provide training in mid-level skills. Closer interaction between the two sectors would marry the demand and supply sides of vocational education.
This goal has eluded former incarnations of the NSDS, which until recently separated the two sectors: Setas fell under the labour department, FET colleges under education. A further refinement since last year has been to concentrate responsibility for the colleges in one national department -- higher education and training -- instead of among the nine provincial education departments.
The Setas are funded by skills development levies, which amount to about R5,3-billion annually. Twenty percent of the levy is channelled to the National Skills Fund -- widely lambasted for inefficient administration in the past 10 years -- which now stands at R7-billion.
Most of the remaining 80% is paid to the 23 Setas for disbursement back to member companies, either in the form of mandatory grants or allocations for learnerships, bursaries, apprenticeships, internships and skills programmes.
By contrast, the public FET sector has an ongoing funding and debt crisis. The NSDS3 draft has created an expectation among colleges that the bulk of skills development levy income earmarked for post-school workplace education and training will be funnelled its way.
JIM FREEMAN | JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Sep 10 2010 10:16