Inclusive education for growth
A comprehensive article in Friday’s edition of this newspaper outlined the reasons behind protest action by students at the Nelson Mandela University last week.
In the article, many students explain their frustrations at not being able to access the necessary funding that would allow them to further their education at the university.
Education remains an emotive issue in the country, because of its clear link to opportunity and development.
Over the years, our late former president, Nelson Mandela, has been quoted on many occasions and topics, but perhaps none as frequently as on his views on education.
Madiba believed education was the key to the future, even to changing the world.
But the world is already changing and rapidly at that.
With new technologies emerging and improving constantly, education must now be the key to securing SA’s future in the evolving global community.
In this context, education is as much an economic issue as it is a social one.
A recent Economic Update report by the World Bank Group highlighted the need for increased participation in tertiary education, to combat the ever-present problem of unemployment and to grow the economy at a faster rate.
Specifically, the report emphasised the importance of ensuring inclusive education and economic opportunities.
“These negative developments [in the global and national economy], however, do not conceal the fact that South Africa’s growth challenge is deep-seated and largely structural,” the researchers note.
“To grow faster and sustainably, the economy will need to be more inclusive, requiring the participation of a greater share of the population mainly through job creation.”
In the report, post-school education and training (PSET) is identified as “the best guarantee of escaping poverty”, adding that a PSET degree in SA increases incomes by an average of 85%.
On the other hand, jobless residents who did not complete matric made up about a third of the country’s unemployment number in 2017.
More controversially, the research team posits that access to free higher education for financially needy students is not the right solution for the skills and unemployment crisis.
Rather, they propose the following solutions:
● Diversifying the PSET sector;
● Encouraging private sector participation;
● Strengthening quality assurance mechanisms;
● Improving resource mobilisation; and
● Ensuring greater equity in supporting students.
Most of these tasks would fall to government and academia to implement, but if these recommendations are to be followed, the private sector has a significant role to play as well.
The government has already taken steps towards promoting inclusive quality education.
In his budget speech in February, finance minister Tito Mboweni announced the allocation of R1.2-trillion towards learning and culture in the medium term.
He also reconfirmed the government’s commitment to improving education and planning for the provision of skills that will be needed by the labour market in the future.
At provincial level, MEC Oscar Mabuyane last week announced that the education sector and provincial government were partnering with industry organisations to identify critical future skills and include these in tertiary education curriculums.
This is a prime example of the collaboration on which the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber has built its strategy and the inter-institutional relationships that will be key to developing an inclusive economy underpinned by a diverse workforce.
The private sector must work with its partners in government and academia to ensure that the skills being produced match the future requirements of our increasingly digital industries.
The World Bank report suggested the private sector could also complement the funding provided by the government towards improving education infrastructure and, as employers, improve their links with academic institutions.
These are all valid pursuits towards achieving inclusive growth, but as the Business Chamber we want to take it one step further than the report.
Not only should the private sector take part in creating opportunities for graduates, it should also empower citizens to become business owners so they, in turn, can provide further opportunities.
The Business Chamber has been shaping entrepreneurs and their businesses for years through our enterprise development programme, which is wrapping up its fifth phase this month.
Our SME task team is also keenly focused on developing small businesses through various initiatives.
As the private sector, we must join hands with the government in creating opportunities that serve to better lives and economies – but let us also create a culture of entrepreneurship, so those who are not given opportunities may create their own.