Neo-liberal approach restricted access to education post 1994 - SACP

Party welcomes Nzimande's move to establish committee to drive university transformation


The SACP notes and welcomes the Green Paper on Higher Education and Training released by the Ministry of Higher Education last week for debate and welcoming inputs from the public. The task of education transformation and the creation of a single post schooling education system that responds to the developmental needs of society is paramount and must be dealt with as such.

Whilst the SACP will discuss in detail the proposals in the Green Paper, our initial thoughts are that as a country we need to accelerate the pace to radically break with a post schooling system and training system bequeathed upon us by an apartheid era which sought to maintain racial, class and gender segregation on the one hand; and the neo-liberal approach to education transformation on the other that formed the basis of a government that pursued a macro-economic strategy called GEAR from 1996.

Despite the many advances made by government since 1994', following a neo-liberal approach made access to post school education a preserve of fewer students, and exclusion of many black and working class children especially in critical areas like science, engineering, accounting and medicine. The neo-liberal approach watered down the role of FET colleges in providing skills that enhance manufacturing and productive capabilities of our country, thus severely constraining our capacity to place our economy on a new growth path. Standards were set not to measure achievement but to enforce exclusion and opportunity hoarding with professional bodies often playing the role of gate keeping.

As we welcome the debate initiated by the launch of the Green Paper, the SACP is of the strong view that at the centre of the debate must be a creation of a system that breaks with the barriers of apartheid capitalism and neo-liberalism that sway hold over a period of time in society. The SACP calls for a vision to expand university education by building new universities and expanding the capacity of the existing ones. In this regard, it is urgent that government put plans for the Universities in Mpumalanga and in the Northern Cape to start with admissions in the beginning of the academic year 2013. Any further delay in this area will be unacceptable.

Expansion of the universities should not just be in numbers of admissions but must also collapse artificial barriers to access like rigid entry requirements, high fees, costly processes of applications and reviewing the role of professional bodies in the production of much needed skills. Making post school education and training free for the poor will be an important goal that our government must work towards.

Whilst we welcome the emphasis on FET colleges, the SACP believes that this should not be done at the exclusion of making university education accessible to the children of the working class. Universities as well must respond to the issue of redress in so far as the question of those who have been historically excluded. In this regard flexible learning programmes for adults, recognition of prior learning and workplace training recognition for degree qualifications remains an urgent task. FET colleges must be directed in such a way that assists to skill young people in order for them to lead sustainable livelihoods and be self-driven in intervening.

The SACP further believes that the debate must be freed from what is commonly referred to as 'human capital theory'. The fact that we have thousands of young people with qualifications that are unemployed is a sign that whilst it is critical that young people are educated and skilled, capitalism severely restrict opportunities to reach their full potential. Capitalism benefits from creating unemployment and social exclusion. Therefore the struggle to defeat capitalism is an integral part of education and skills revolution.

On its part, in the context of the 2011 Red October Campaign, the SACP will in its structures debate the proposals contained in the Green Paper and engage with the Ministry during the public consultation phase. We will urge our provinces and districts to convene red fora for strengthening the capacity of our FET colleges in partnerships with local industry.

The SACP, working with our provinces, the YCL, trade unions and interested parties in 2012 must use the provincial skills fora to drive skills development from below. SETA's will be critical in this regard. It is for this reason that SETAs must be transformed and move from air-conditioned offices in upmarket suburbs and go to where the people are, in the townships and impoverished rural areas. The campaign for the establishment of SETA offices in each district municipality and metro will be critical to make sure that we tap into the huge resources to train and skill our youth and our communities for self-sufficiency.

The SACP fully supports the intention of the Minister to establish a Ministerial oversight Committee to monitor and drive transformation in the university sector. Its role must be broadened to ensure that our universities become an integral component of our overall development agenda.

Statement issued by Malesela Maleka, SACP Spokesperson, January 16 2012

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