Education, it is often argued, paves the way for a stronger economy by developing skills and creating opportunities. On top of that, it also enables research and development to be conducted on a level that allows South Africa to compete on an international plane, in a number of fields and industries.

The current, widely present crisis of underfunding at a tertiary education level is undermining our ability to compete in this regard, resulting in low quality research output from South Africa and a subsequently poor international reputation.

One such means of rectifying this, according to the authors of the article published on GroundUp.org, is to provide for more masters and doctorial students; a solution with no straightforward means of being achieved due to poor funding opportunities for students once they have completed their undergraduate studies.

But what are the events that have led up to this point, and what can be done to fix the problem, or at the very least, to alleviate its pressure?

The National Development Plan 2012-2030

Established in 2016, the National Development Plan aims to have 5000 doctorial graduates each year by 2030, and as of 2016, has been able to reach 2727 graduates. While at face value, this looks like progress, a distinct lack of funding for doctorial students means that there is a strong likelihood that unsustainability will eventually doom the project.

Each year, the demand for funding through the National Development Plan grows, but the supply of it simply doesn’t, making its long-term aims little more than a thought that doesn’t count.

Did #FeesMustFall Really Work?

Fees Must Fall marked an interesting time for the South African tertiary education system, and with regards to students, small victories have been won in terms of providing free-education for those who cannot afford the substantial cost of an undergraduate programme.

But all is not quite well in this regard, as the same courtesy has not been extended to postgraduate skills development, meaning that many current students will have their development cut short when they find an honours, masters and doctoral degree inaccessible due to a complete absence of funding.

The Struggles of the National Research Foundation

The National Research Foundation (NRF) funds both masters and doctorial students, though they generally don’t cover the full cost of attendance. The results of this are that students often need to take up part-time work to support themselves, commonly leading to a lack of focus in their studies, and an inability to complete them.

To make matters more complicated, the NRF itself is facing a crisis of funding. It is worth noting that its budget has only grown by 1% over the last three years.

The number of scholarships offered by the NRF has also dropped by half since 2015, limiting themselves to a single bursary per grant, leading to fewer available bursaries, and less provision for students’ cost of living.

The Competitive Programme for Rated Researchers

Additionally, the NRF will, as of this year, no longer allocate funds to researchers. Instead, researchers will need to apply for funding through the Competitive Programme for Rated Researchers (CPRR). The reality of this is that none of the funds previously allocated to the NRF have been transferred to the CPRR, meaning that they have a remarkably restricted budget, and therefore a waning ability to actually fund research on a beneficial scale.

The Department of Higher Education and Training

The Department of Higher Education and Training, previously a supporter of scarce-skills development funding, are also in a crisis in terms of their available budget, seeing a remarkably worrying dip in their funding over the past few years. Their available budged has fallen in recent years from an originally underwhelming figure of R250 million, to an even more devastating R100 million.

How Will This Impact our Way of Life?

All of these factors conspire together to put South Africa in a difficult situation with regards to skills and technological development. It has a wide-reaching impact on the future of our development potential and workforce, and even has a direct effect on the economy.

The South African Economy

Our current educational prowess (or lack thereof) will almost certainly lead to a shortage of specialised skills, creating a wider divide between those who can afford to take opportunities, and those who cannot.

Our potential for research and development will also be a problem, and one that will struggle against at least two mitigating factors:

Firstly, a shortage of qualified researchers who have developed their scarce skills to the benefit of development, and;

A complete lack of funding for research projects to benefit professional, social, pedagogical, technological  and economic fields in our country.

Current and Future Students

Financially needy students will be able to source funding for undergraduate courses but not those relating to scarce-skills. Those that can secure funding, will likely only inundate the job-market with soft-skills; the kind obtained from a humanities degree.

This will lead to a complete shortage of crucial professional roles at a later stage. We need more doctors, lawyers, tradesmen, engineers and the like. We have enough literary theorists, art and film students and philosophers who cannot find meaningful work related to their chosen career paths.

Implications for the field of Digital

Moving a little closer to home, we want to take a look at how this unsettling trend may impact the digital marketing sphere. Sure, we may not be doctors and engineers, but the skills needed to engage in the digital industry are hard-won; or should be anyway to protect the integrity of the field.

Skills for Research and Development

The digital marketing industry is in constant flux. It evolves alongside the technology and trends that it is reliant on, and as such, requires impeccable research capabilities to be entered into properly. These sorts of skills are typically only developed at a tertiary education level; a level that is largely out of reach for the general population of South Africa, for financial reasons, amongst others.

Informal Training and Self-taught Skills

This has led to an overwhelming influx of marketing professionals who have developed their skills on the job, and more still who have taught themselves the skills needed to engage in the industry; whether they be campaign managers, web designers, graphic designers, writers and even CEOs.

This leaves gaps in the knowledge of those who are expected to be professionals. Best practices, processes, procedures and a host of other necessary skills are being informally developed, undermining the effectiveness and ability of local professionals.

Competing on an International Level

South Africa, along with many other developing countries, naturally falls behind the developed world. Tech giants like Google and Facebook are already giving preference to territories like the Unites States and Europe, letting us pick up the scraps of their services once they roll-out on an international basis.

Staying ahead in the face of this requires South African digital marketers to develop acute research skills, the kind only obtained at university or college level.

Who Should Come up with a Solution?

Is it reasonable, or indeed realistic to expect government to meet the demands of this ever-growing crisis?

The answer is not so easily found. The protection of the quality and availability of tertiary training has an effect on everyone living in the country, and so it stands to reason that it is also the responsibility of everybody as well.

While little can reasonably be done on a personal-basis, both government and local businesses should be doing what they can to rectify the problem since they are in a better position to do so; but also because they will be the most severely affected.

Expectations on Government

The matter of funding, especially to those most impoverished sects of South African society, should most certainly form the responsibility of government. There should be a call for better policy makers to consider the situation of funding with more scrutiny.

Transparency should also be at the heart of their funding policies. Where is the money going and where is it coming from? Why, for instance, are the National Development Plan, the National Research Foundation and the Competitive Programme for Rated Researchers all so grossly underfunded? How does government plan to sustainably keep their promise to the #FeesMustFall movement? These questions still beg viable answers.

Expectations on Business

A skills shortage would directly impact all businesses in South Africa; but there are a few ways in which businesses can  alleviate the problem:

The most commonly proposed approach involves Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, whereby businesses find a way of giving back to the community as part of a marketing endeavour. This may typically include charity drives, awareness campaigns, or educational sponsorships and upskilling programmes to those parts of society that need them the most.

Internal upskilling programmes, while not explicitly catering to the most vulnerable parts of society, are also a powerful way to ensure that at least a portion of the workforce in our country has the skills to seek and obtain opportunities.

Businesses can further enhance the quality of education provision through internships that give school-leavers a shot at gaining practical experience, possibly even opening the door for them to upskill themselves further.

Contact the RCM School of Excellence for an Alternative

Providing our students with an affordable and flexible toolkit for engaging professionally with the digital marketing industry is just one way in which the RCM School of Excellence Digital College is aiming to alleviate the pressures faced by those looking for funding for a tertiary education.

We outfit our students with the hard-skills needed to be successful digital marketers, giving them a beneficial alternative to a university education, that is internationally recognised and accredited. To find out more about our range of courses, visit our website or contact student inquiries today.

John Ottolman

John Ottolman

John Ottolman: Keyword whisperer, content creator, researcher and OCD stricken editor. The imprints of keyboard letters have long-since embossed themselves on his finger-tips. Thirsty for knowledge and hungry to share it, he is here to provide insights from the digital industry.

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