Tuesday, August 3, 2010

south Africa | Analysis: Investment, better schooling will boost skills

By SLINDILE KHANYILE - July 23, 2010 - Business Report

A LACK of government investment, the poor quality of school education and limited capacity at tertiary institutions are some of the factors contributing to the shortage of skills in South Africa, particularly in the medical, legal, accounting and engineering fields.

This is according to professional boards, universities and a labour analyst.

Currently, these professions have 120 019 professionals, including those in training, who are registered with the different boards.

The Health Professions Council of SA said the number of medical practitioner students registered a year had risen from 211 in 1990 to 1 625 last year. The SA Medical Association said just more than 20 000 doctors were practising in the country. There were at least 140 000 nurses.

The School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) said it turned away many students who met the minimum requirements, due to limited space in the medical school building, lack of an adequate teaching hospital and a shortage of teachers. The university also said the school system produced insufficient numbers of qualifying African matriculants.

Interestingly, for UKZN's law faculty, the opposite is true as it has never had to turn away any eligible students. It says it has struggled over the past few years to meet its first-year entry targets as matriculants failed to meet the requirements for entry into the faculty.

To be admitted as a law student, you must obtain a minimum of 30 points in your final matric exam, excluding life orientation.

The matric pass rate in the country has dropped slightly over the past decade.

In 2000 the pass rate was 61.7 percent but last year it went down to 60.7 percent.

Last week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced changes to the heavily criticised outcomes-based education (OBE) system that was introduced in 1998.

Motshekga said OBE would be replaced by the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement. Learners would be able to learn in their mother tongue for the first three years as part of the new curriculum.

Economic and management science would be taught from grade 7.

Though there may not be enough new students who take up law, the Law Society of SA (LSSA), which represents attorneys, said there were currently 3 500 graduates a year and the society viewed this as sufficient because the profession as it stood could not absorb more candidate attorneys and ensure that they all received good quality training in all the necessary fields of practice.

LSSA director of legal education and development Nic Swart said the quality of law graduates was an ongoing concern and the society was co-operating with the Council for Higher Education in the review of the LLB degree.

"It's all about quality legal service, not necessarily quantity," Swart said.

Swart said 19 000 attorneys for a population of 48 million people was very low even for a developing country.

According to the Engineering Council of SA (ECSA), the country has one engineer for every 3 100 people. This ratio is based on a population of 45 million people.

ECSA chief executive Oswald Franks said: "The South African figure of one engineer per 3 100 population compares unfavourably with other developing countries like Brazil, which has one engineer for every 227 people, and India, which has one engineer for every 157 people."

Franks said the number of graduates who held a four-year engineering degree and who would be eligible for registration as professional engineers had increased from 1 300 in 2000 to 2 573 last year.

"Ideally, we should at least be doubling this output when comparing to countries like Brazil and India," Franks said.

Francis Petersen, the dean of the faculty of engineering and the built environment at UCT said the faculty received between 1 500 and 1 800 applications from students who were eligible but it took on only 620 a year because of an institutional capacity limit.

Carlos Correia, the acting head of accounting in the faculty of commerce at UCT, said it had a common matric score and subject requirement for all BCom programmes (excluding actuarial science) to enhance the flexibility of career choice.

"In order to facilitate access we do not require students to have studied accounting at school," Correia said.

Correia said in 2005 UCT entered 151 candidates in the professional examination and this had grown to 277 this year representing an increase of 83 percent in five years.

"Improvements in the South African school system would be expected to increase the number of qualifying matriculants," Correia said.

The SA Institute of Chartered Accounts has a skills development and transformation initiative, called the Thuthuka project. The institute is also working with historically disadvantaged higher education institutions to get their accounting degrees accredited for those who want to become chartered accountants.

Loane Sharp, a labour market analyst at Adcorp, said the government was partly to blame for the scarcity of skills, particularly in the medical field as it closed 28 government hospitals after 1994, forcing some professionals to emigrate.

Sharp said the government had also limited the number of professionals who could be trained by the private sector. He further highlighted that the Immigration Act of 2002 prevented foreign high-skilled medical professionals from working in the country.