The need to come up with a better plan for TVET colleges

Anele Mtwesi | Mar 24, 2017
TVET colleges ought to be an integral part of post-schooling in South Africa. This brief explores the current status of these colleges and the environment they operate in.


Educational performance is largely linked to a learner’s socio-economic status. Learners from middle income and rich families are helped by the solid pre-school and foundation education they receive. Better educated parents help. Those who come from low-income and poor families are disadvantaged by the inadequate or poor primary education they receive and lower levels of household support. These factors show up in National Senior Certificate results.

Table 1 – National Senior Certificate results, 2016: percentages of those who wrote

  Quintile 1 - 3 schools Quintile 4 - 5 schools
Bachelor's passes 19.1 42.7
Diploma passes 27.8 33.0
Certificate passes 19.1 10.9
All passes 66.0 86.6
 Source:  National Senior Certificate Examination Report
Additionally, there are differences in school dropout rates.

These results, coupled with an inability to afford high university fees, perpetuate a system where Training and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges - previously known as Further Education and Training (FET) colleges - are viewed as ‘poor people’s universities’. TVET colleges become their best chance if they plan to further their education or change their economic status.  
TVET colleges should play a critical role in addressing the country’s skills technical and vocational shortages and students who enrol in them should be committed to a future in technical and vocational occupations. Enrolments arising from failure to progress in the school and university system or from an unfocused desire for further education are problematic.    

TVET College programmes

Public and private TVET colleges provide education in four broad categories and qualifications:
  1. National Certificate Vocational (NC(V)). This is provided at three levels (L2- L4) of the national qualifications framework. The programme is open to learners who have completed grade nine. The NC(V) level 2 is an equivalent to Grade 10, level 3 to Grade 11 and level 4 to the National Senior Certificate. The NC(V) was introduced in 2007.
  2. Report 191 National Technical Education (NATED). This offers certificates at six levels (N1 – N6) for engineering studies and three levels (N4 – N6) for business studies. N6 is the equivalent of a national diploma if students are able to accumulate the required applicable work experience. The NATED framework dates from the early 1990s and has been updated several times since then.
  3. Occupational qualifications. These are on the job-related learning programmes.
  4. Other programmes. These include preparation for the National Senior Certificate.
Enrolment statistics for 2014 are set out in Table 2.

Table 2 - Enrolment Statistics. TVET Colleges 2014

  Public colleges Private colleges
NC(V) 166 433 3 928
NATED 486 933 29 700
Occupational 19 825 23 128
Other 29 192 22 239
Total 702 383 78 995

Student enrolments, learner/ teacher ratio and completion rates 

In 2010, there were 358 393 enrolments in public TVET colleges. Enrolments nearly doubled over the following four years, though the rates of increase were erratic. The Medium-Term Strategic Framework 2014-2019 envisions a further increase in enrolment numbers to 1.238 million students in 2018. It rightfully notes that “access is not enough if the probability of completing the qualification is not increased”[1]. Digesting the rapid increase is no easy task. Table 3 shows that the enrolments weren’t matched by educator numbers for the period 2011 – 2014. Government expenditure on TVET increased by an average of 5.8% per annum between 2013/14 and 2016/17, roughly the rate of inflation over the period, implying that real expenditure remained constant.

Table 3 – Learners and educators in public TVET Colleges

Year Learner Number %Increase Educator Number %Change L/E ratio Colleges
2010 358 393   8 126   44.2 50
2011 400 273 11.7% 8 686 6.9% 46.1 50
2012 657 690 64.3% 9 877 13.7% 66.6 50
2013 639 618 -2.7% 10 106 2.3% 63.3 50
2014 702 383 9.8 10 842 7.3% 64.8 50
Source: DHET, Statistics on Post-School Education and Training in South Africa (2010 to 2014) 
This increase in enrolment numbers has come with multiple challenges, including a downward trend in actual completion rates. Completion rates for NC(V) Level 4 have decreased from 42.8% in 2011 to 39.3% in 2012, 37.1% in 2013 and 34.5% in 2014[2] . Completion rates for Report 191 N3 and Report 191 N6 varied from 47.0% and 61.3% in 2011, 37.5% and 33.2% in 2012, 39.8% and 35.7% in 2013 and 47.9% and 42.3% in 2014.[3] These low completion rates can be attributed to pressure on resources and unqualified educators that aren’t adequately trained and don’t have a good grasp of the curriculum. 


The sector is currently plagued with issues ranging from a lack of accountability from accounting officers and poor governance in general; underfunding; poor infrastructure with no plan or funding model for capital infrastructure grants; and the delay in releasing of completion certificates and results. These issues have resulted in a bumpy start to the 2017 academic year with the South African Further Education and Training Student Association (SAFETSA) threatening and shutting down colleges across the country. 
All this takes place while governments across the globe are moving towards making technical and vocational training more responsive to the labour market. Producing much need skills to increase economic competitiveness and enhance social cohesion. 
TVET colleges ought to play a pivotal role in addressing issues of a chronic deficiency in technical skills, the crisis of youth unemployment and closing the gap of access to post-school education. TVET colleges have a crucial role to play in a context of stubborn youth unemployment and the huge number of not in education, employment or training. Youth NEET’s are just over 7 million, compared with estimates of those in education and training ranging from 5.5 million to 6.3 million and those in employment ranging from 5.6 million and 6.8 million are in employment.[4]  The poor outlook for youth is a looming disaster with tragic ramifications for both the economy and our young democracy.   


TVET colleges are overstretched. They cannot expand effectively with constant real resources, educational and administrative staff upgrades are badly needed and better alignment between education and training and the needs of the world of work is crucial to their success. Simply expanding enrolments rapidly without attending to resources, human capital and relevance is a recipe for failure. TVET Colleges cost the government just 18% of the expenditure on universities. The problems are large, but not insurmountable. They need urgent attention.
Anele Mtwesi

[1] Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) 2014-2019,
[2] Statistics on Post-School Education and Training in South Africa: 2014
[3] ibid