By Lebogang Mokwena
This is the second installment in a series of articles on technical and vocational education and training in Africa.
Too often in discussions about the introduction or strengthening of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), the details around the best funding model remain scant. However, it is not from a lack of trying to solve this conundrum, but rather, the sheer size of the challenge. As support for TVET has gained significant ground among the post-2015 Education for All lobby, far less attention has been paid to its funding implications.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training is probably one of the most expensive components of any education system. TVET is more expensive compared to programs such as the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields as well as culinary and agricultural sciences. Quality provisioning in these contexts depends largely on quality instructors and training facilities procuring and maintaining cutting-edge technology and equipment through which students’ learning replicates (as closely as possible) what exists in the real world. This requires a smart combination of private sector partnerships that facilitate TVET institutions’ access to advanced technology as well as a sound funding framework in which the student tuition fee component does not become a barrier to entering the TVET stream. Such partnerships are rare in small, relatively poor countries without a sizeable formal economy, where the country’s fiscal capability is often so curtailed that optimal funding for technical and vocational training is limited.
The Rwandan government, in partnership with the Belgian government, initiated an education reform program from 2008 – 2013, that specifically aimed at improving TVET provisioning. The project registered a number of notable achievements, including subject-specific capacity building for TVET instructors, the establishment of three Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centres (IPRCs), and various support interventions for key government departments and vocational training providers. While this initiative is certainly commendable, important funding questions related to the long term sustainability of the regional centres and its feeder institutions have not been adequately addressed.
True, the project worked closely with vocationally-oriented schools to strengthen their strategic and operational planning. However, one wonders to what extent a system-wide bolstering of TVET funding in Rwanda could be formulated and implemented within a three-year project cycle. This is not to say that government-donor partnerships such as the Rwandese-Belgian partnership have no place in TVET reform. Instead, issues pertaining to the affordability of TVET education and the adequacy of funding arrangements must also feature prominently in such initiatives, recognizing that the formulation and implementation of robust funding channels must often extend well beyond the 3-5 year project horizon. Thus, a different kind of long-term thinking, guided by the principles of affordable access and quality industry-relevant training for students is necessary.
So how can African governments in the process of improving the performance of their TVET sectors expand their financial resources for this purpose? A few African countries have embarked on a number of initiatives:
- In Tunisia, the government has introduced a ring-fenced TVET tax; and Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have introduced a similar tax that is managed by a legal entity that is independent of the state. The legal entity is responsible for disbursing funds to support apprenticeships and continuing vocational training.
- In South Africa, state funding for TVET is complemented by a separate skills development levy, which is collected by the government from all public and private institutions and administered by Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) to meet the skills shortages identified in workplace skills plans. Although the SETA funds have historically benefitted training providers, there is greater urgency to have these resources redirected to state training providers to complement the country’s post-school education and training agenda.
These are just a few examples of how African governments are marshalling domestic financial resources to support the expansion of their respective TVET systems. In a world of fierce competition for local and foreign direct investment, increasing taxes to support any government program, including vocational education and training, is not without its risks, including capital flights to “less demanding” havens. That said, in a context where seven out of the ten fastest growing economies are on the African continent, many governments occupy a stronger bargaining position. By emphasizing the net benefit of a skilled workforce to investors, African governments can begin to negotiate tax regimes that support their preferred skills development trajectory.
Lebogang Mokwena previously served as the Director of Youth Development Programmes in the Vocational and Continuing Education and Training (VCET) Branch, South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training. A Mandela Washington Fellowship alum, Mokwena is currently a graduate student at the New School for Social Research.