Report calls for professional standards for TVET lecturers

In order to professionalise technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college lecturers, South Africa needs to have a set of professional standards specifically for TVET practitioners.

Furthermore, the country needs “an independent professional association established by law with the autonomy and authority to uphold the standards and regulate the membership [of the TVET sector]”, and a specialised body of knowledge and skills.

These are some of the recommendations in a study titled Towards the Professionalisation of TVET lecturers, that was undertaken by JET Education Services, a non-governmental organisation which conducts research on the school and TVET sectors. The project was led by James Keevy, head of JET Education Services, Dr Jane Hofmeyr, an associate of JET Education Services, and Zaahedah Vally, a research officer, based there.

The study delved into TVET colleges in Australia, Brazil, England, Germany, Kenya, Malaysia, Moldova, South Korea and South Africa and assessed aspects including TVET status, quality of lecturers, professional autonomy, identity and accountability.

The review of TVET in these countries was undertaken to determine the extent of progress in the professionalisation of their lecturer corps. This was to identify insights that could inform South Africa in its quest to professionalise TVET lecturers.

‘Low status’ and ‘poor image’

The TVET college sector in South Africa has long been viewed as the ‘Cinderella’ in the post-school education and training sector.

The perception is that students who attend these colleges do not make the grade for university entrance, while the qualifications of their lecturers are considered inferior, with many not having industry experience, meaning that students could receive a low-quality education.

The study revealed that “TVET suffers from low status and a poor image in the majority of the reviewed countries. Even countries like Germany, where TVET has been well regarded for generations, are now seeing a trend towards academisation, with the university pathway favoured and TVET a second choice for many students. However, the status of TVET seems to be slowly improving in some of the countries.”

Hofmeyr and Vally point out that TVET colleges offer three main types of qualifications, including the National Certificate Vocational, which is an alternative vocational learning pathway for Grades 10 to 12 (the last three years of formal secondary schooling in South Africa); the National Accredited Technical Education Diploma programmes, commonly known as NATED certificates, in engineering and business and general studies, all with elements of work experience; and occupational qualifications that address workplace demands and opportunities and include work-based learning

They refer to previous research by JET, which indicates that the mix of programmes and qualifications for learners “is complex to administer, difficult for the public, learners and parents to understand, and often poorly quality assured. Moreover, many lack credibility with employers.”

Massification strain

In 2015 there were 50 public TVET colleges in the country with about 7,043 lecturers. The sector faced severe pressure when the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) went on a massification drive, without correspondingly increasing the number of lecturers.

This put a strain on infrastructure while huge class sizes made effective teaching and learning extremely difficult. However, student numbers dropped in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The researchers point out that a 2016 qualifications profile from a sample of about 8,000 permanent and temporary TVET lecturers revealed that fewer than 5% of lecturers were both academically and professionally qualified for TVET.

The majority were a mixture of unqualified, academically qualified but without workplace pedagogy, and trained for the schooling sector.

“Given this profile, it is not surprising that [being a] TVET lecturer is not seen as a profession in South Africa.”

They added that “… the extent to which TVET lecturers in South Africa can be held accountable when such a small percentage are academically and professionally fully qualified is a vexed issue”.

Initiatives towards professional development

However, they point out several government initiatives to address the lack of appropriate qualifications. This included a Policy on Professional Qualifications for Lecturers in TVET (PQLTVET), developed to improve the capacity of TVET lecturers through Initial Lecturer Development and Continuing Professional Development.

Since most of the TVET lecturers’ qualifications were designed for schoolteachers, professional qualifications specifically for TVET college lecturers were needed. “The PQLTVET identifies qualifications, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, that can be used for the professional development of TVET lecturers.”

Furthermore, a host of TVET qualification programmes is being developed within the Teaching and Learning Development Capacity Improvement Programme, a joint initiative managed by the DHET and co-funded by the European Union. There are targets for the number of TVET lecturers being placed in industry or on exchange programmes.

Hofmeyr and Vally argue that there is no doubt that TVET lecturer development must be at the forefront of TVET programmes in an age of rapid technological advancements, new work processes and significant socio-economic changes.

“The need for properly qualified professional lecturers, with appropriate knowledge, skills, dispositions and competencies for the 21st century – and especially digital competencies – has become even more evident with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Changing skills requirements and job demands in the future point to the need for well-prepared TVET lecturers who can impart the necessary skill sets to students and enable them to navigate an uncertain future.

Transforming lecturers into ‘industry specialists’

“It is now essential to convert rhetorical discourse into clear guidelines, national interventions and a clear pathway to action. However, it is only through collaboration and co-creation between stakeholders in this uncertain and challenging environment that the TVET sector can truly transform and contribute to social and economic development, skills for life and work, and the sustainability of the planet,” they point out.

The minimal involvement of business and industry in the TVET sector “is one of the greatest weaknesses of the South African sector” and the same applies to other countries in the study.

The researchers assert that industry and employers must be involved in TVET decision-making so that they help determine policy, curricula, planning and implementation. “This is essential for the workplace experience and training of TVET lecturers and students and for the credibility, responsiveness and image of TVET.”

For this to happen, TVET lecturers and also employers, industry or business must be well incentivised to overcome their reluctance to participate in any form of Initial Lecturer Development or Continuing Professional Development.

“To develop both occupational and teacher identities, lecturers need to see themselves not only as teachers but also as industry specialists. This means that lecturers must have ongoing workplace experience for industry currency.”

They point to research that reveals that when power is shared optimally between various stakeholders, as in the German corporatist model of governance, a well-functioning, effective TVET system is more likely.

“If all stakeholders are engaged in social dialogue, their voices are heard, and the varying needs of all actors in the TVET sector are considered. Such interaction results in collaboration. Partnerships and new networks develop as trust is built.”

To achieve this, the DHET, employers, universities, colleges, lecturers, professional associations and unions, and the main stakeholders have to grapple with key issues and challenges for the successful reform of TVET and lecturer professionalisation.

They refer to research which indicates that this includes: conceptual clarity; a dedicated professional association for TVET lecturers with authority, autonomy and influence; a clear understanding of the knowledge and competencies needed for TVET lecturers as a profession; professional standards for TVET lecturers; the upskilling and reskilling of management and lecturers through relevant quality Initial Lecturer Development and Continuing Professional Development and a more coherent and integrated TVET system.

The researchers note that the DHET has already recognised the need for many of these components and has launched initiatives to address them.


In terms of governance of these colleges, Germany has a decentralised system of governance, but tripartism and co-determination at all levels enable effective governance of the world of work.

“There are opportunities for all stakeholders to engage in social dialogue, policy development and decision-making about TVET, thus achieving their collective interests.” Another example is England, which also has a decentralised system for the governance of TVET, with devolved administrations partly responsible for TVET in the country.

Hofmeyr and Vally point out that all the other countries in the study have more centralised TVET governance structures. The development and implementation of TVET policies is mainly driven by national departments in these countries.

“However, multiple government ministries and departments with overlapping authority and roles in the TVET systems make them less efficient and effective, and it is more difficult to introduce change.”

For the researchers, the study indicates that a sober assessment of the country’s context and the dynamics and capacity of its TVET system are key when introducing education change. “Various local and international scholars of TVET have pointed out that the national context is key, and there are no international TVET policy toolkits or generalisable laws of TVET reform.”

So, while the DHET is committed to a dual system of education and training, “a wholesale transfer of the German system is unlikely to succeed in the very different South African context.”