New Linkages I: 2003-2006
Funded by the Ford Foundation
Bronx Community College (BCC) and the Centre for Education Policy and Development (CEPD) proposed to address two significant needs of the Further Education and Training (FET) sector: (1) to offer FET students increased academic opportunities beyond the technical college and (2) to foster greater cooperation between FET colleges, technikons, and universities. During this project, teams representing FET colleges, technikons and/or universities designed and implemented joint plans to encourage student movement from one institution to another and to promote inter-institutional cooperation.
We began our work in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The recent mergers, the broadened mandate for universities and technikons (now universities of technology) and curriculum revisions offered a timely opportunity to begin facilitating new institutional connections. To capture this momentum, the two organizations adapted a process that worked well in the States—bringing diverse educational institutions to plan and problem-solve together. At the outset, we met with key administrators to secure their interest in participating and supporting this project. We then convened KwaZulu-Natal institutions at a regional workshop, oversaw a limited grants competition for participating institutions, and worked with grantees to support and expand their work.
Based upon lessons learned thus far, we have developed initial recommendations about curriculum development and articulation that will guide future efforts to create and strengthen linkages between the educational sectors.
New Linkages II: 2005
Funded by the Ford Foundation
During New Linkages II, inter-institutional teams from KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape developed FET college-university partnerships charged with implementing pilot, curriculum-based initiatives to create student pathways from FET colleges to universities and/or universities of technology. The project’s more long-range strategic goal to build relationships between college and university faculty from similar disciplines will lead to a better understanding and acceptance of the FET college as an important access point for students to higher education. Prior to the New Linkages work, faculty from different sectors had little, and in most cases, no history of working together. The review of business and engineering curricula by faculty from both sectors to assess the compatibility between the content, level of instruction, and assessment criteria form the foundation for new curricular-pathway opportunities that will enable students to access higher education from the FET colleges. Clearly, broader policy changes are necessary if FET colleges will become a flexible access point for substantially increasing the numbers of low-income and first-generation college students who enter into higher education programs and degrees. The New Linkages work as it offers groundbreaking examples of possible articulation points. The need for greater integration with an improved student support services program at the college level is also important.
As in the first stage of the project, New Linkages II began with provincial meetings in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and the Eastern Cape (EC) that took place after the Centre for Education Policy Development (CEPD) and NCEA raised the possibility of developing articulation teams with FET college and higher education leadership in cities in both provinces. These meetings were followed by pilot grants that were offered to inter-sector teams. Over the past year teams have worked to implement the plans, and NCEA and CEPD have partnered to provide support when appropriate.
As a consequence of the participating institutions’ efforts, three partnerships brought faculty, staff, and administrators together in KwaZulu-Natal. The Umgungundlovu FET/UKZN team from Pietermaritzburg has signed inter-institutional working agreements in two areas—business and commerce, and in engineering. The Thekwini FET/Mangosuthu University of Technology/Durban University of Technology (DUT) team made progress establishing articulation agreements, producing a joint brochure and sharing information during New Linkages I, but personnel changes and some institutional resistance have slowed their work in New Linkages II. More recently, Thekwini and the DUT have been exploring a joint marine engineering curriculum. The Umfolozi FET/University of Zululand also focused on information sharing and producing a joint brochure among the institutions to prompt student interest in moving from one sector to another.
In New Linkages II, in addition to the ongoing work in KZN, partnerships have been encouraged in the Eastern Cape. A Port Elizabeth College/Eastcape Midlands College/Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University/Rhodes University team received a planning grant to undertake a survey of the aspirations of FET students interested in university-level work. But after meeting with the KZN teams in Johannesburg this past October, they redirected their work and have just submitted a proposal to focus their efforts on developing modules in mathematics, language and life skills to help bridge the gap in academic preparation between FET colleges and the university. Engineering faculty from both sectors have been meeting to review and identify specific skills needed by FET students to continue their studies at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
The steady progress of the New Linkages partnerships encourages leaders from each sector to support the importance of curricular pathways between colleges and higher education institutions. In particular, the collaborative work between business and engineering faculty from the participating institutions demonstrates the feasibility of inter-sector articulation and also that capable FET students with the proper support can be offered the opportunity to pursue a university education. Most importantly, New Linkages promotes the development and sharing of inter-sector, pilot articulation initiatives among the participating institutions as well as the Department of Education and the Matriculation Board at HESA (Higher Education South Africa).
The evolving status of the FET college curriculum created an unavoidable challenge, but also offers an opportunity for the articulation effort with the implementation of the National Curriculum Vocational (NCV) over stages. Since the partnerships began their articulation work based upon the NatEd curriculum, the agreements will have to be revisited, especially once the NCV is fully implemented. The expectation is, however, that the initial pilot projects will lay the groundwork for broader and more sustainable agreements. The introduction of Level 5 (L5) to the FET colleges offers new systemic opportunities for strengthening the FET college-HE pipeline.
We continue to encourage inter-sector partnerships. The current focus on a more flexible educational system by the new Department of Higher Education and Training in South Africa is facilitating broader engagement within the country in facing this challenge.