Building college responsiveness in South Africa
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It is common to denigrate the quality of public further education and training colleges as part of the call for greater responsiveness, or efficiency, or placement rates. However, there is a danger that the concentration of past failures and new challenges can serve
to obscure the achievements that colleges have made and the progress that they are showing in meeting both old and new challenges. My personal experience of research visits to colleges is of meeting staff with a pride in their work and a desire to improve
their practice. Nonetheless, the newly merged colleges clearly do have to turn part of their attention to responsiveness. Whilst the notion of responsiveness should not be understood either uncritically or mono-dimensionally, improved responsiveness to a range of stakeholders and national priorities inevitably will be a major measure of the quality and success of the new colleges and system.
This book has sought to show the multifaceted nature of responsiveness through the lenses of multiple methodologies and perspectives on the issue. Inevitably the contested and complex nature of the terrain of FET reform has meant that a simple triangulation of findings across the chapters has not been possible. This is important, as there is no universal technical definition of responsiveness or a single route map that can direct colleges to this goal. Nonetheless, what the various chapters do display is a sense of the complex challenges that colleges will continue to face in this area. Some of these relate strongly to the history of colleges, within a broader and deeply problematic history of South African education, training and labour market practices. Others relate to still contested or challenging areas of the post-1994 policy settlement. Still others relate to the imperative of being responsive to disparate stakeholders. In the next few pages, I will briefly recap the main issues that have emerged in the previous chapters, and I will attempt to show their broader salience for the future of colleges and their responsiveness.