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Date: 06 Jun 2012
Title: Higher education looks to ICT for transformation
By Gabi Khumalo
Johannesburg - Scaling up and modernising the higher education system through ICT infrastructure and increased effectiveness of higher education planning, were some of the recommendations made in a report which was presented to Ministers of Higher Education and Training from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at an extra-ordinary meeting on Tuesday.
Presenting the report on Higher Education in the Southern African region, CEO of the Southern Africa Regional Universities Association, Piyushi Kotecha warned that without significant change, the SADC region was projected to achieve a 16.3% higher education enrolment rate by 2050 - compared to the current global gross tertiary enrolment rate of 30%.
"Southern Africa has an enrolment rate of 6.3%, which compares poorly with tertiary enrolment in other parts of the world.
"Higher education enrolment just managed to keep pace with population growth, apart from Mauritius and South Africa, where tertiary enrolment increased by 20% and 15% respectively over the last 20 years," Kotecha said.
According to the report, between 1990 and 2010, SADC was spending more on education than any other region in the world, however, spending was very uneven and today, SADC countries spend between 4.5% and 5% of their GDPs annually on education, which is on par with UNESCO's recommendation of 6% of the GDP.
The report further noted that higher education outcomes reflected poorly on the investment in education and increased demand had not been met by increased levels of funding. The number of academic teachers has declined, consequently, higher education systems in Southern Africa are elite systems.
Other recommendations made in the report include the development of staff and students across the region, increasing the number of doctoral graduates as well as strengthening governance leadership and management in higher education.
Sharing his country's experience, Zimbabwe Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Senator Lutho Tapela highlighted that the country had made significant strides in creating opportunities for students trying to obtain higher education.
Zimbabwe is second in terms of literacy rates in Africa with 12 million population.
Zimbabwe has adopted a strategy to cater for students produced by secondary schools, but can't be absorbed in higher learning institutions. The strategy includes long distance learning, which Tapela described as the most appropriate with three teacher colleges offering degree programmes in maths and science through distance learning.
"The University of Zimbabwe has established a stellar education programme through Indian government assistance, over 15 colleges could at some point become institutions offering degrees after being mentored by well-equipped institutions.
"We also offer bridging courses for students who don't meet some higher education requirements to enter certain programmes. The technical and vocational training participation in higher education by the private sector is critical in national development," Tapela said.
The country further participates in intergovernmental corporation, taking part in exchange programmes where science teachers are trained in Namibia and doctors in Lesotho.
Further to this, universities and teacher colleges are to be established in each province. "This is incorporated in the higher education ministry's five year strategic plan. We also encourage the setting up of private university and currently we have six run by church organisations."
South African Higher Education and Training Deputy Minister, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize highlighted the need to explore new ways of funding education such as graduate work schemes which allows for students to repay the costs of their studies through work after completion of their studies.
"We also need to examine differentiation of our higher education system in order to meet the different needs of our people, a differentiated system ranging from research universities of technology and technical and vocational education and training colleges, with diversified programmes will go a long way in meeting the diverse educational aspirations of our communities," Mkhize said.
African Development Bank representative Frank Boahene warned that government cannot do everything on its own and challenged parents and the private sector to assist.
"If you believe that education is the key then invest in your child's education," he said, adding that the private sector often complained that it did not get the skills it required.
The two-day meeting held on Monday and Tuesday was aimed at formulating a clear policy vision for higher education.
The SADC ministers were expected to set a policy for higher education in the region by discussing the status and challenges of the sector based on the work that has been undertaken by SARUA.
SARUA was established to assist in the revitalisation and development of the leadership and institutions of higher education in the southern African region, therefore enabling the regional higher education sector to meaningfully respond to the developmental challenges facing the region. - BuaNews