ISSUES AT STAKE: Tertiary study confusion must be addressed

Recent coverage of disillusioned college graduates not being allowed to enroll directly into a degree programme at a university of technology, has highlighted the utter confusion that is South Africa’s tertiary education system.

Implemented by the Department of Higher Education, TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) colleges, of which there are nine in KZN and 50 nationwide, essentially equip students with practical knowledge and qualifications that will open the doors to employment.

TVET courses include both theory and practical aspects of their studies, concluding with an 18-month work placement component at a company with which the college has a partnership and within the student’s field of study.

Colleges, including our local Umfolozi TVET College, have a work-based education office which works closely with these partnered companies and ensures the student is progressing appropriately.

This practical approach to study is lauded among professionals across all spheres, as there are many students better able to learn through practical study.

Some subjects such as welding, plumbing, masonry, mechanics, fitting and machining are not adequately taught through theory alone.

The practical aspect of the courses offered by TVET colleges is crucial for students to earn their qualifications.

Furthermore, TVET colleges serve as a bridge for those whose matric results are too poor for university qualification.

A TVET diploma, equivalent to NQF level five, will catapult the student into a University of Technology (UoT) diploma programme, equivalent to NQF level six, and ultimately the BTech programme.


The confusion appears to have set in when students sign up for such courses as engineering, business studies and human resources, which are offered by both TVET colleges and UoTs.

It has become clear that prospective students must look further into their future than merely getting their studies out of the way so they can start earning. Those who are likely to embark on studies within engineering, business, human resources or anything else for which they may wish to eventually progress to degree level, are urged to thoroughly research the differences between TVET and UoT diplomas before embarking on their studies.

Tertiary education does not come cheaply and nobody wants to be in the situation where their diplomas cannot earn them entry into a degree programme. Higher education professionals agree that the Department of Higher Education, under which both TVET Colleges and UoTs fall, must put an end to this confusion by clearly stating when it would be beneficial for prospective students to sign up to a TVET College and when they should apply to a UoT.

In times like these when unemployment is rife and people are looking for cost-effective means of studying, TVET colleges and the vocational courses they offer definitely have their place.

But those looking to embark on a more academic career, or those looking to eventually rise up the ladder within their field, should perhaps consider a UoT from the outset.


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Tamlyn Jolly

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