A draft policy by the government to reclassify agri-colleges has been welcomed by some agricultural heavyweights, and others have scrutinised the move as counter-productive and unwise.
South Africa’s department of higher education and training has been working through a draft policy for the recognition of South African higher education institutional types. The bill, which contains a number of proposed changes, includes a widely supported recommendation that the department oversees agricultural colleges in the country.
If implemented, agri-colleges will no longer be managed by the national department of agriculture but by the higher education department. According to some, this means that mismanaged and neglected agri-colleges stand a better chance.
Elijah Ramafoko, retired deputy director in the Northern Cape department of agriculture, land reform and rural development responsible for farmer training, believes the policy needs more time to muse over. Ramafoko cautioned that much more than a loss of identity and culture is at stake.
‘Counter-productive and unwise’
“Transferring agri-colleges from the department of agriculture can be counter-productive and unwise,” he said.
“This all means scientists, agricultural economists, engineers, and veterinary scientists must all be retrained and acquire new teaching methods. This might cost the country millions to do that, while such monies could be used to upgrade the very same colleges.”
As it stands, agricultural students enjoy access to industry players thanks to partnerships formed by the colleges and the sector. Ramafoko fears that the new policy direction could potentially disrupt the long-standing relationships between agricultural colleges and members of the agricultural sector.
“For example, the Potchefstroom College of Agriculture [avails] maize-producing farmers with students who are also in need of exposure [and on-farm training],” he said.
Ramafoko also pointed to the Grootfontein College of Agriculture – one of the oldest agricultural colleges in South Africa – and Elsenburg Agricultural Training Institute as colleges to drive similar initiatives.
“So if that is broken, it’s a problem,” he said.
It is not all bad though…
According to Thapelo Mokodue-Qomiane, spokesperson for the South Africa Agricultural Graduates Association, the sooner the policy is implemented, the better.
Mokodue-Qomiane believes under the department of higher education and training there would be sound oversight and clean financial audits.
“This migration will also help colleges to not only rely on AgriSETA funding that is limited to a few groups of students. It gives a range of options such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding and private bursaries to assist students who are disadvantaged.
“We urge the government to visit these colleges and look into finding a solution for all students who are academically excluded due to financial constraints at these institutions,” Mokodue-Qomiane said.
Mulweli Phaswana, president of the Student Representative Council at Madzivhandila College of Agriculture in Limpopo, shares similar sentiments.
Opening doors for students
“Students are funded by AgriSETA and the department of agriculture. Both of these bursaries are not reliable for 100% free education for our students. They still must pay for some of the services at the college and at the external service providers.”
Phaswana added that the migration to higher education would really upgrade the status of the colleges and bring about dignity.
Meanwhile, Setjhaba Ramabenyane, a former student leader at Glen Agricultural College in the Free State, said more funding needed to go to colleges to attract teachers. It also should ensure other necessary activities like research critical for students, he added.
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