The number of further education colleges in South Africa is to be slashed from 152 to 50 through mergers that must take place within the next 18 months and are aimed at improving the sector's efficiency, the government has ordered.
Virtually all post-school education has now been reconfigured. Some higher education mergers were announced earlier this year and a working party is investigating more among universities and technikons. The aim is to raise quality, use resources more effectively and eradicate apartheid-inspired duplication. The working party will report this year.
Twenty-five teacher-training colleges have been incorporated into universities and technikons and another 23 other teacher colleges are becoming institutions such as community colleges.
Incorporation, though fairly smoothly achieved, was fraught with difficulties, including lack of state funding and labour relations issues.
Similar problems are sure to arise during looming further and higher education mergers, given the radical nature of education minister Kader Asmal's reforms.
The reforms, he said, are a "decisive break from the old apartheid system" in which further education and training (FET) was characterised by unequal access based on race, division between theory and practice, and unequal allocation of funding. The department has promised that job losses will be minimal, although some jobs will change.
New FET colleges will generally have at least 2,000 full-time students and will achieve significant economies of scale. Larger colleges will have enhanced capacity to respond to learner, employer, community and student needs.
Decision-making for colleges, which fall under the provinces, will be devolved and curricula driven by community needs.