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Post-16 shake-up proposed

A massive new further education and training system for South Africa - incorporating the last three years of schooling and business-based training, state and private courses and colleges - looks likely to be proposed by a government-appointed committee when it reports in July.

The system could be controversial if it includes schools: most countries distinguish between senior schooling and FE. There could be a battle over who controls colleges that offer both further and higher education, as FE in South Africa is a provincial and higher education a national responsibility.

The new system aims to expand and improve the country's inadequate skills pool and pull together highly-fragmented clusters of courses currently sandwiched between nine years of compulsory schooling and higher education.

FE courses, defined by the National Committee on Further Education as all learning programmes between levels two and four of South Africa's new national qualifications framework, are already bigger and more costly than higher education Currently, there are FE level programmes at around 7,000 schools with 1.8 million pupils, and at 144 technical colleges, 140 colleges, 28 industry training boards, six training trusts and nine regional training centres. There are a further 400 providers including for-profit colleges, and large numbers of courses run by companies and state departments.

The committee outlines its vision of an FE system that offers "flexible, diverse, accessible and high quality education and training", responds to individual and socio-economic needs and meets demands for democratisation.

The committee deliberately avoided outlining formal proposals in the report. However, the preliminary report suggests that the advantages of a single FE and training system outweigh the disadvantages. The plan is to increase government direction of FE.

Glen Fisher, joint convener of the committee's focus group on governance, policy and planning, said: "The thrust of the work is to achieve a system that is more responsive, accountable, efficient and more in tune with the social and development needs of South Africa."

He stressed that it was not possible for the government directly to control FE and training, but that it could create a regulatory framework using financial incentives, quality assurance, reporting and other mechanisms to ensure that FEcourses were more efficient and responsive to needs.

South African pupils currently sit one school-leaving exam, called matric, after 12 years. There are plans for pupils to write a general education certificate after nine years of compulsory education, and an FE certificate (a matric equivalent) after three more non-compulsory years. These three years could slot into the new FE system.

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