JOHANNESBURG, 18 MARCH 2021 – While the recent student protests over student debt are highly concerning, a solution to the problem does not lie in tapping into the National Skills Fund (NSF) to fund students through the National Student Finance Aid Scheme, the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa (SEIFSA) said today.
SEIFSA Human Capital and Skills Development Executive Sumaya Hoosen said the mandate of the NSF, which was set up in 2001 to fund the skills development of workers and unemployed youth in accordance with the National Skills Development Strategy, is critical and should not be tampered with. She said –improving skills planning is critical, considering South Africa’s lack of appropriate skills which are critical for economic growth and social development.
“This includes the National Treasury Economic Policy, which states that South Africa’s current economic trajectory is unsustainable: economic growth has stagnated, unemployment is rising and inequality remains high. Therefore, it is imperative for the Government to ensure that skills supply responds to skills demand,” Ms Hoosen said.
She said by redirecting resources away from the fund, the Government will hamper efforts to address an already acute problem of skills shortage, particularly in artisan and technical fields. She said it would  also hamper efforts to create jobs since d learnerships and internships are among the best ways to absorb unemployed youth into the workplace, while also giving them the experience they need to start their careers.
“The National Critical Skills List released by the Department of Home Affairs already lays bare the fact that we have to import skills that should have been developed in the country. It is unfortunate that the Department of Higher Education and Training concedes that it will likely have to cut back on initiatives such as the development of much-needed artisans and technicians,” Ms Hoosen said.
She said in times of crisis such as these, when COVID-19 has destroyed so many livelihoods and lives, it is important that business, civil society and the Government work together to increase access to funding for education and training at all levels, including post-school training.
“While we understand the tertiary education funding challenge confronting the country, nevertheless we   urge the Government to find a solution that will not impact negatively on the development of critical skills. To the extent that business can come to the party in these tough times, we urge businesses to continue to make a difference by offering bursaries to students keen on studying – particularly those who form part of the missing middle,” Ms Hoosen said.