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Vocational education and training for sustainability in South Africa: The role of public and private provision

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University of Nottingham and Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (MERSETA)

Person/s author/s:

McGrath, Simon; Akoojee, Mahomed Salim Ahmed


journal article



This paper considers the role that skills development has in the sustainability of the South African political-economic project. It explores some of the disarticulations of public policy and argues that these both undermine public sector delivery and open up opportunities for private provision to be, under certain circumstances, more responsive to the challenges of national development. We argue that there is a possibility that the state could work more smartly with both sets of providers. Crucially, however, this would necessitate working more smartly within itself. This was a major plank of the Mbeki strategy, but it has failed conspicuously with regard to the Education-Labour relationship. Whether a new President can achieve a radical reworking of this relationship may be an important indicator of the viability of any new development project. The article concludes with reflections on the renewed international interest in skills development as a way of responding to the real and imagined pressures and opportunities of globalisation. Given the limited success of South Africa in pursuing skills development, we ask whether other African governments are any more likely to achieve a genuine combination of political, social and economic sustainability. The sustainability of national development projects in Africa is likely to continue to be problematic, and skills development will only ever be able to play a limited role in addressing this challenge. Nonetheless, governments can do more to support the sustainability of these skills development systems and need to pay attention to both public and private provision in so doing.

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