F. Nieuwenhuis

University of Pretoria (SOUTH AFRICA)
The Department of Higher Education released its Green Paper on Post-School Education and Training in 2012 setting out its policy objectives for the development of post-school and higher education over the next decade. This paper critically analyses the Green Paper indicating the disjuncture between some of the objectives set and the current higher education realities in South Africa. In doing this, the paper takes into consideration the plethora of strategic plans and policies that have been developed by government in recent times to address the unemployment and skills shortage problem in South Africa. The strategic plans and policies propose bold steps to be taken to create job opportunities and educational opportunities. In analysing these documents the paper expresses concern that these documents will remain barren unless government succeeds in addressing the fundamental challenges of educational underperformance, unemployment and poverty reduction faced by our country. Using a meta-interpretive design research design, the paper argues that solving the challenges in higher education must not be seen in isolation from the broader context of the national and international scientific and technological playing field. Four salient points will be made in this regard.

First, economic development must be prioritised. Without economic development there can be no sustained job creation and this must be achieved in a context of an ongoing recession and nervousness in international markets. Secondly, economic development internationally is driven by innovation and high technology skills that require an education system that can produce people with these skills. Thirdly, quality education that is focused and relevant to the economic and development needs is an essential foundation to economic development and growth. This quality must span the total education system from foundation phase to the highest level of the system. It should not tolerate mediocrity but should enable the best minds to develop their potential to the fullest, whether that is in academic or vocational skills. Finally, any policy changes and plans must take into account the economic and financial resources of government. The paper provides data indicating that it is unlikely that the tax base of the South African economy would be able to support all the plans and ideas forwarded in the documents released in recent times.

Some of the salient issues analysed in the paper include the target set in the Green Paper of growing university enrolments. The Green Paper indicates that universities are in general characterised by low success rates and therefore low throughput rates. It indicates that the number of overall postgraduate qualifications obtained, particularly PhD graduates, is too low and must be increased. In the paper it is argued that policy makers should, however, not be blind to the poor quality of education provided at school level and unless the problem of quality is not addressed at school level, the higher education sector will continuously find it unwieldy to meet the expectations of government. Whether the government can achieve all the noble ideas and plans discussed within the existing financial constraints is questionable. The paper posits that the government should rethink its stance on numerous aspects to ensure that policy intentions are aligned with educational realities.