The rôle of government in tertiary education : the case of South Africa since 1945
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Although the South African government plays an increasing role in tertiary education, its involvement has not received the attention that it deserves. The goals of tertiary education are multi-dimensional at the individual and societal levels, but the guiding paradigm was viewing it in relation to the manpower and socio-economic needs of the country. This meant analysing how the government attempted to deal with these needs, especially in certain key professions, such as engineering and teaching. The following hypotheses were tested: HYPOTHESIS 1 The prestige of the universities within the tertiary education system will persist for a longer period than the economic rewards of its graduates alone would justify. HYPOTHESIS 2 The expansion from elite to mass tertiary education will lead to greater dependence on government funding and increased need for control, co-ordination, and national standards. HYPOTHESIS 3 Governments will underinvest in technical education. HYPOTHESIS 4 In "bad" economic times tertiary education enrolments will decline. HYPOTHESIS 5 Continuing university prestige will cause the college of advanced technical education (CATE) and technikon enrolments and diplomas and certificates awarded to lag behind university degrees and diplomas. HYPOTHESIS 6 In "bad" economic times CATE and technikon technical enrolments will decline. HYPOTHESIS 7 Fears of surpluses of university graduates, especially in the arts, on the one hand and shortages of certain types of manpower on the other hand will lead to government efforts to redress the balance. HYPOTHESIS 8 There will be significant limitations on government efforts to create the desired numbers and types of skilled manpower, for interventionism of this sort will run counter to individual aspirations. Tertiary education for all of the population groups since 1945 was covered. Whilst there are some gaps in the available enrollment and expenditure data, they do not invalidate the conclusions. In a plural society with deep cleavages amongst the four main population groups and lesser intra group cleavages, separate education systems developed. All population groups value academic education very highly, especially the blacks. The biases in favour of an academic education are deep rooted and multi-faceted, going back to the colonial times. Within the South African context, there are also political, socio-economic, educational, and vocational factors reinforcing these biases. Ever since the creation of the Union in 1910 there has been an ongoing debate and controversy about the division of authority in education between the central government and the provincial governments. This has been especially the case with the colleges of education for the whites. It Will soon end, however, when the central government will take them over, as well as primary and secondary schools for the whites. Black education was taken over from provincial governments in 1954 up to the university level as part of the separate development policy. The same was done in the case of coloured education in 1967, and by 1970 with Indian education. In 1960 the University College of Fort Hare was taken over by the central government, and the University Colleges of Zululand and North were also created in 1959 for specific ethnic groups. Since then all of the non-white universities have experienced student unrest, especially the black ones. The government policy had the unintended consequence of contributing to their politicisation. The administrative structure is a complex one. There is one education ministry for each major population group, plus one dealing with general education matters. An elaborate statutory advisory system of boards, committees, and councils exists. There is, however, no body offering advice to the government on tertiary education as a whole for any of the population groups. The current expenditures for universities from 1953 until 1985 were under the Holloway formula, consisting of the basic subsidy, standard provision, cost of living allowance, free income, and capital expenditure. The new formula provides more emphasis upon outputs, with half of the funds being made available in June and the other half in December. Those in the natural sciences also receive somewhat more than those in the human sciences. University enrollments have grown much faster than the college of education, CATE, and technikon enrollments. Thus, the first part of Hypothesis 1 was substantiated. One of the consequences of •this phenomenal growth has been a significant failure rate, especially amongst first-year university students. This great expansion of tertiary education has led to greater dependence on government funding, as predicted by Hypothesis 2. Hypothesis 3 also holds true, for there was under investment in CATE and technikon education for a long time as opposed to university education, although this is no longer true for the non-whites. Hypotheses 4 and 6 lacked significant supporting evidence and thus they were not confirmed. Tertiary education overall enrolments are not normally economically determined to any marked degree. Hypothesis 5 was upheld, because CATE and technikon enrollments and certificates and diplomas awarded as contrasted to university enrollments and degrees and diplomas awarded have lagged behind total awards and constitute a declining proportion. The last part of Hypothesis 1 is confirmed; technicians earn almost as much as teachers and sometimes even more than university graduates. Yet, they lack their prestige. Human capital theory, beginning in the 1960s, provided the theoretical justification for the great expansion of tertiary education. It maintained that investment in education will yield rich dividends to the individuals and to the economy in terms of higher growth. Since the early 1970s, however, it has come under increasing criticism from social scientists. Many maintained that there might be a declining positive correlation between education enrollments and growth rates and even negative correlations. Some even maintained that there are social limits to growth, including in education. Developing surpluses of university graduates abroad, continuing shortages of engineers and technicians, and the rising number of secondary school graduates, most of them with an academic education, led to government concern and the creation of the De Lange Commission. The government tried to redress the balance between university graduates in general and the shortages of technical and teaching personnel in particular. The De Lange Commission maintained that education must be linked to the manpower and economic development needs of the country. Earlier government commissions addressed the problems of technical and teaching personnel shortages. Many of their recommendations were implemented, but shortages of technical personnel have remained. Hypothesis 7 was thus confirmed. The government has tried to pursue the goals of manpower and economic development needs of the country, but as hypothesised (Hypothesis 8) it has run into difficulties because its goals run counter to individual aspirations. Many students pursue tertiary education for purely utilitarian or socio-economic reasons. There is also a minority which desires it for self-development or the advancement of knowledge regardless of the economic consequences. Moreover, the prestige of university education creates a strong social demand for it. Supply and demand projections for engineers and technicians indicate continuing shortages in the short- range at least. As far as the teachers are concerned, there will be enough white, coloured, and Indian ones, perhaps even some surpluses in the medium-range. In the case of the blacks, shortages will remain. The number of non-white university students by 1990 might equal white university students. The white population alone is no longer able to provide sufficient numbers of high level manpower. In the short-range the demand for university graduates looks good, but this does not mean that there will be no problems in the long-range. Unemployment of university graduates has been low, but underemployment, especially in the arts, has been far more significant. There will be increasing numbers of underemployed university graduates, with the potential for political discontent amongst highly educated and frustrated people, especially the blacks. Possible solutions to engineer and technician shortages include the granting of degrees by technikons, validation of technikon courses, and the awarding of degrees by an external authority. In the case of teachers, increasing their renumeration and the merging of the colleges of education with the university faculties of education would result in increasing their prestige and attracting more men to the profession. As far as unemployment and underemployment of university graduates are concerned, the solution lies in relating individual actions to societal needs. Incentives or disincentives of one sort or another appear to be necessary, such as differentiated fee structures and the limiting of enrolments in those disciplines which produce labour market surpluses. The government could also provide employment for unemployed university graduates and encourage the private sector to do the same. All of these solutions have disadvantages as well as advantages, but in the long run they have the potential of avoiding even more serious consequences.
- Humanities