As the latest batch of matriculants queued up to try to get a place in University to study I got to wondering whether the higher education systems in place in South Africa really serve our young people as well as they might. Will their aspirations be met ? Do they aspire to be heart specialists or to be able to afford their own home, a car and an annual holiday ?
When was the last time you picked up the Yellow Pages to look for an Executive trainer, Theoretical Physicist or Economist…, and when was the last time you picked up the yellow pages to look for a plumber, electrician or cook ?
Considering the plight of developing countries during the current economic climate –
- How many young people with University degrees are needed and how many with vocational education are needed ?
- How many with University degrees are in full time employment using their qualifications ?
- How many with Vocational qualifications are in full time employment using their skills ?
Are we playing with out-dated value perceptions ? Is a well-trained electrician considered to be worth more, or less, to society than an accountant ?
In South Africa where there is a desperate need for more housing, more electricity connections, better education, better nutrition and much more it seems that Vocational education would serve the country very well.
Of course a properly researched and well considered model is required. I am just questioning the perception of education that we carry with us. Does perception satisfy the demand, or does perception defeat the actual requirements ?
Example disguised as personal anecdote… or should that read, personal anecdote disguised as example…
I was trained as a programmer way back (1966) when steam was the primary energy source for computers. I had no degree and no higher education worth spit if you discount the Institute of Bankers qualification. Please note “trained as…”, vocational education not university education.
Now imagine if I had gone to university in a more recent time and got myself an IT degree. What would I likely be doing when armed with my degree ? Running training courses ? Working on licencing agreements or some other admin job ? Not at all what I had in mind way back then, I wanted to be a programmer. Aren’t I lucky that it was so long ago ?
One of the best project managers that I worked for in the 1970s had walked out of University to become a real programmer. He figured there was nothing of value that the university could teach him. Perceptive dude.
Are we living in a time warp when a University degree was considered to be de rigueur while to be ‘in a trade’ was somehow a bit lower down the social scale. University education is still referred to as higher education. What abject drivel. Isn’t it time to put away our prejudices ? My grandfather was a pattern maker in a factory and I worshipped the ground he walked on because of the man he was, not the clothes he wore.
So Quo Vadis higher education in South Africa ? What are we doing for our young people who have just left school with a spark in their eyes, a spring in their step and hearts full of hope ?