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The Durban University of Technology (DUT) hosted the Unfurling Post School Education and Training (UPSET) Community of Practice (COP) Meeting and National Stakeholder Workshop at the Coastlands Hotel on the Ridge on Thursday 22 February and Friday 23 February 2024. The workshop focused on bridging the divide between the Curricula and Qualifications of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

The purpose of the UPSET project is to strengthen articulation (flexible learning pathways) in Post-School Education and Training (PSET) in South Africa, through: establishing 9 provincial Articulation Hubs with Articulation Implementation Plans (AIPs); joint development and delivery of qualifications that support learning pathways (e.g. Higher Certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas); and tracking transitioning learners. UPSET has been funded by the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP) Collaborative Sub-Framework, of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) since 1 April 2021 is led by the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and supported by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

The first five Hubs were launched in 2022 and 2023-in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Western Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng; led by Durban University of Technology (DUT), Central University of Technology (CUT), Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), University of Limpopo (UL) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) respectively. The Nelson Mandela University Hub and the University of Venda Hub will be launched be launched in 2024.

The UPSET Leader and Programme Director, Professor Darren Lortan welcomed all participants and explained that the purpose of the workshop was to share and engage around national learning pathways/articulation policy and development and sharing and engaging around Hub successes and further plans. He also revealed that talks had begun in earnest about extending the Project to other HEIs across South Africa.

Day One entailed hosting the COP meeting, speaking on the work borne out by synergies and between Articulation Hubs, as well as sharing the successes and challenges experienced by the hubs and the feasibility of inter-hub activities. The day’s talks also focused on the potential dissonance between articulation and differentiation and the potential dissonance between NSFAS funding mechanism and articulation. In short the work of on the ground by articulation curriculum development practitioners from TVET Colleges and their HEI partners was celebrated.

Day Two comprised national articulation updates and discussions directed by a number of influential role players drawn from key national stakeholders who provided input on the potential coordinating roles their organisations could play in realising some of the goals of the UPSET.

“We are asking you (stakeholders) generally to bring to the party your perceptions of where we are now; those of us at the grassroots table who will be listening attentively and may have burning issues on their minds may raise these someone other than myself or the hub leaders. This panel of experts and thought leaders could help us determine whether the hub leaders are heading in the right direction, at the right pace, or should we be changing direction and/or accelerating the pace of realising the articulation imperative,” said Prof Lortan.

Elaborating on the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) qualifications progress were Dr Makhapa Makhafola, COO of SAQA and Dr Heidi Bolton, SAQA Senior Manager: Research.

Dr Makhafola spoke on the UPSET initiative, especially on the Articulation hubs per province/region, Articulation Implementation Plans (AIPs), HEIs and Colleges developing qualifications to offer jointly and HEIs and colleges tracking transitioning learners. He provided further insight into some key national initiatives and elaborated on the established hubs and emerging hubs, emphasising that hub leaders are champions and reported some of the challenges they had experienced.

He further outlined how Articulation is conceptualised, intimating that it can take place at different levels and that mobility of students can occur in different directions such as within and between sub-frameworks on the same NQF level, across NQF levels within NQF sub-frameworks and across NQF levels and NQF sub-frameworks.

Dr Makhafola gave insight into Articulation projects, saying that some of the challenges that were identified are meeting the 50% STEM targets in HEIs, through articulation, TVET Colleges looking to HEIs for leadership; and HEIs not always being ready. “TVET Colleges do not have curriculum flexibility and some TVET qualifications are also outdated,” he said.

In closing, he explained that the priorities for the future were to use provisions of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and improving it, to realise sustainable articulation by design. He also advocated for greater participation in cross-sectoral initiatives like UPSET and making systems more flexible and enabling through expanding the Communities of Practice (COP).

Giving a concise TVET update was Mr Thivhudziwi Vele, DHET Director: TVET Curriculum Development and Support. He provided an overview of the policy on Articulation into and within Higher Education, establishing that the purpose is to effect functional articulation within the post-school education and training sector in South Africa.

“To also promote partnerships and collaborations between institutions through the development of and adherence to, Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) to develop learning pathways and ensure that the learning that they offer is linked to these larger pathways,” he stressed.

He offered insight into the framework for the development of mechanisms for the recognition/accreditation of TVET colleges qualifications.  “The objectives are to develop mechanisms that will enable recognition of TVET Colleges Engineering qualifications for professional registration purposes. It also aims to create a clear process of recognising the TVET Colleges qualifications as benchmark qualifications aligned to the approved ECSA qualification standards,” he added.

Adding further to the conversation was Professor Ahmed Bawa, Chair: DHET Task Team on Articulation and leader of the team who assembled the Articulation Policy promulgated in 2017. In his address, he intimated that the economy needs people who are products of the TVET Colleges.

“We must make absolutely sure that that TVET sector is working well. That it is producing really good graduates who can enter the economy and be part of the economy. A big part of that is the idea that those TVET Colleges should be working integrally with companies. That’s how it works in other parts of the world. Generally speaking, in other parts of the world, when a student is at a TVET college – take Germany as an example – that student is already employed. There’s a partnership between industry and the college and the idea is that there should be much higher levels of collaborations.  And the point they are making is that when we think about articulation, it’s not simply about the political imperative. It’s also about the economic imperative and why that is important,” he said.

Prof Bawa commented that there has to be opportunities for young people and old people to be lifelong learners.  “What I’m saying is that by dividing the skills operations in South Africa from the education operation, we’ve basically created a system where you have two halves that are not only just not talking to each other – but they don’t have the ability to talk to each other. So there’s the challenge for us and we have to address that,” he added.

Prof Bawa posited that articulation is not just between the TVET Colleges and universities.It’s also about articulation between the private and the public good. It is articulation between this workplace learning and college learning and high education learning. It is also aboutskills training that has taken place in the workplace.

Mr Marco MacFarlane, the Director of Research at the Quality Council for Trades and Occupation, outlined the mandate of the QCTO and the suite of Occupations Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF) aligned qualifications that have been developed and those that are being developed, particularly those that will arise from the revision of the NATED qualifications that are presently being phased out. He was at great pains to emphasise that these be embellished by skills training and workplace-based experience.

Dr Phumzile Dlamini, Director: Management of the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework, delved into her presentation on the Update on Articulation: Council for Higher Education (CHE) Perspective. She spoke on the history of the CHE, the HEQSF as part of the NQF, how the CHE gives effect to articulation, the policies on recognition of prior learning and credit accumulation and transfer and the criteria for programme accreditation.

After a vigorous and fruitful question and answer session, Prof Lortan thanked all the attendees for making the event possible and for their robust engagement.

Pictured: Attendees at the COP Meeting and UPSET National Stakeholder Workshop.

Waheeda Peters

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