Background / process
Following the introduction of ‘free higher education’ in 2018, there have been several quite fundamental shifts in REAP’s external operating context which catalysed a major strategic rethink. Following discussions at our April Board and Board Exec meetings, the Director conducted a literature review and also convened a series of conversations / interviews with relevant informants with a view to charting a proposed way forward for REAP. The following was signed off by the REAP Board in August 2020.
- REAP’s ultimate goal remains the reduction of rural poverty. Therefore any education paths supported must have a reasonable chance of leading to employment / economic self- sustainability.
- The primary target beneficiaries remain rural youth from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
- The work must be fundable by donors – therefore geographical focus for student recruitment is likely to be determined by where the money is.
- REAP is committed to supporting all current students through until graduation, provided they perform academically and comply with programme expectations.
- The project design for new developments should build upon REAP’s previous experience / expertise and allow REAP to add value in terms of holistic support.
- Wherever possible, core student costs (e.g. tuition, accommodation) should be state funded.
- REAP values and is always open to collaborative partnerships, be that in student career guidance, preparation and selection, holistic (including academic) support while studying, and movement into employment.
- We need to take account of the key drivers of youth unemployment and the potential impact of Covid-19.
A shift in the REAP funding model
- Some of REAP’s core historical donors are exiting whilst others are experiencing financial hardship, exacerbated by Covid-19. Whilst 2020 funding is secure, from 2021, funding for our university work is likely to be substantially reduced and replacing it in the current economic climate will be challenging. Nonetheless there should be sufficient funds to at least support our current university cohort to completion, even if there is minimal new intake moving forward. This may involve a ‘lighter touch’ or possibly a more virtual, support model for senior students.
- Recommendation that REAP supplements current funding with, and over time transitions to accessing its primary funding from BBBEE schemes focused in rural areas, especially in the renewable energy, mining and agriculture sectors. Their interests in commissioning REAP would be in benefitting a particular rural community which, in this case, would be in the form of supporting success in vocational education with a view to employment/ income generation.
- NSFAS student funding would remain a primary source, for administrative ease and simplicity.
REAP staff passing the Lesedi Power Project in the Northern Cape
Working in designated communities / catchment areas
Two models of how REAP might work in targeted communities will depend on the funding and the funder’s mandate. They are:
1. Holistic model – based on a large budget for the development of the youth generally in the catchment area.
2. Partial Post School Education and Training (PSET) model – which has a limited budget which will be dedicated to school leavers accessing PSET institutions.
Beneficiaries and support
- If the primary funding source for REAP’s student support and core costs are likely to come from renewable energy, mining & agriculture BBBEE schemes, student recruitment will mainly be focused on specific rural communities.
- This also opens up the possibility of enhanced preparation in terms of psychometric testing, career guidance and navigating application processes to NSFAS and institutions. This process also provides an opportunity for more informed student selection.
- Our interventions will also need to involve building relationships with employers to ensure TVET students can secure practical placements in order to gain full certification, and also to maximise their chances of finding a job post-graduation.
- This will require a different skill set (i.e. community development, stakeholder management, learner preparation/career guidance/psychometric testing) to REAP’s traditional expertise in student support & development. It will also require a dedicated physical presence in those target communities, which may be achieved in partnership with existing local entities.
- Given that student recruitment will probably be focused very locally, all levels of TVET study may need to be considered, including pre-matric /schooling. (There is no intention that REAP provides support to youth at local schools, however, except in the enhanced preparation described above.)
- Student support may need to be spread widely depending on which institutions are selected. This can be limited by working geographically in communities whose youth could attend similar institutions – and this may need to inform which sites to work in / where funding is raised.
- Community development projects rely on building trust and typically need long lead times (6 – 7 years) to detect positive changes. This is only likely to be feasible in partnership with long established local entities.
- Whilst we cannot discount the informal economy, we are wary of supporting entrepreneurship projects given the high risk and failure rates of news businesses, especially by recent graduates.
Institutions and courses
- TVET and state vocational colleges (e.g. Agriculture, Police, Forestry, Nursing) are preferred to private vocational colleges and training providers. Focus on the most functional colleges and avoid those that are dysfunctional. In order to determine which these are, scrutinise:
- the DHET annual report which gives a comprehensives overview (two years retrospectively);
- individual college annual reports; as well as
- anecdotal input including from regional managers.
- Choosing the best colleges needs to be considered alongside choices of courses.
- Some TVET’s offer a programme of career guidance and psychosocial support which aims to help student make better choices. They are small and not evenly spread across colleges however. Academic support is also unevenly available. Extra support (from REAP) would contribute to promoting success.
- The accommodation available – and the cost of this – may also be a consideration.
- Courses must ideally lead to the possibility of employment in the first instance. (For instance, while ICT is available at TVET colleges, diplomates tend not to be able to compete with graduates from universities and universities of technology.)
- DHET’s Centres of Specialisation – which focus on producing qualified artisans in 13 priority trades through TVET colleges – probably the best guide to the identification of priority vocational streams. Need to be wary of promoting self-employment – rather aim for employment after which people can develop own business once they have experience.