An open letter to the Minister of Education South Africa

Institutional inertia seldom brings progress although it may give the appearance of making efforts towards it. The entire policy of tertiary education system in South Africa seems to be mired in this inertia.

Consider the statistics.
Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) quotes in a 2005 study that SA has one engineer per 3166 of population compared to Brazil (227). In another statement the Minister for Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, admitted that South Africa produces approximately 1500 engineering graduates per year despite high number of students enrolling each year.
Compare that to about 1.6 million engineering graduates per year in China and approximately 800,000 engineering graduates in India every year.

How does the institutional inertia fit into these statistics.
Simple. The tertiary education system which includes the Universities were historically designed to be exclusive and the pattern of education strived to be elitist. This resulted in making these centres of higher education ” the centres of excellence” but priced them beyond the reach of average South Africans. The need for today is to make higher education universally accessible in terms of cost as well as quality.

How do we go about it, by making these established institutions of excellence downgrade their quality and price?
The answer is NO. But the inertia needs to broken by being creative and learning from our BRICS partners.

Currently, we are importing huge numbers of IT skills from India. It doesn’t require a quantum leap of imagination and funding to set up dedicated institutions to produce IT engineers.
India has maybe a dozen IT institutes dedicated to produce IT graduates. Then India has probably hundreds of other institutes who produce the 2nd and 3rd tier in terms of quality, IT graduates numbering hundreds of thousands. A company like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) campus recruits 50,000 fresh graduates every year.
The numbers are mind boggling.
South Africa must now give impetus to establish 2nd and 3rd tier of tertiary education. The graduates coming out of these institutions may not compare in quality to the graduates from the established centres of excellence. But they will have requisite skills to hone it when they join the work force.

We must move away from considering engineers the way Europe views them – as being exclusive. The Germans have a very exclusive Higher Education system, but they import more higher skills than they would like.
When I mention Germany, is because we must also learn from them. Higher education is heavily subsidized in Germany and the tuition cost for for an engineering degree is probably less than $500 per year.
The Germans also subsidise the foreign students which has resulted in an influx of admissions from even USA. Who is the eventual gainer? The Germans of course as can be seen by the strength of their economy.

Simple institutional changes will make South Africa go a long way.

Here are some things we can do:
1. Open at least 4 IT centres each in different province.
2. Allow foreign Universities to set up campuses here. UAE has followed the model very successfully and is earning huge foreign exchange. If we can have a Yale campus in South Africa, imagine how many foreign student from the African continent we would attract?
3. Open up 2nd and 3rd tier tertiary education where the graduating criterion would not be based on adhering to our notions of quality, but would be based on imparting enough skills which would enable these graduates to take back the skilled jobs which are currently being imported.
4. Have a National Goal of enrolling at least 90 percent of matriculants in tertiary institutes. The power and energy of the youth needs to be channeled into learning. Otherwise, these young and disheartened are only going to add on to the growing unrest and the restlessness of the population.
5. While the above measures are being implemented, subsidise the higher education. The subsidy needs to be drastic. When the higher education was being subsidized by the Government of India there were many criticisms. But the results are self evident 50 years down the line.

The sooner we break the inertia, the sooner we would have a more robust middle class and hopefully a more equal society.

Written by Carvak*
16 October 2015


The writer has used a pseudonym.

BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

It is my wish to see positive change in South Africa and this can only happen when proactive measures are taken to ensure growth in our people and the country as a whole.
We need Education to be an accessible right in South Africa.

Lets Do this SA!


Leave a Reply