Driven largely by the student-led #FeesMustFall movement which demands free tertiary education for all eligible South Africans, the largest reallocation of resources towards government’s priorities in the recent national budget was on higher education and training, amounting to additional funding of R57 billion over the medium term.
The objective of this funding, which will be administered under the reinvigorated National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas), is to ultimately reduce the high rate of youth unemployment which continues to weigh on the state. However, while increased funding is a great start, effective education that results in a real reduction in youth unemployment will also require improved government delivery and widespread private sector cooperation.
No one can argue against the need to ensure we have an education system that equips our youth with the skills required to learn, adapt and thrive in today’s rapidly changing world. For an emerging economy such as South Africa, with 47% of our population in the 15 years-or-younger age band, this is even more critical. That being said, it is clear that while a long-term focus on quality education will benefit us, in the short term our economy is missing a critical pillar; that of job creation.
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the country’s need to strengthen this pillar in the 2018 state of the nation address when he committed to a Jobs Summit within the next few months to align the efforts of every sector and every stakeholder behind the imperative of job creation. This summit is expected to look at what we need to do to ensure our economy grows and becomes more productive, that companies invest on a far greater scale, that workers are better equipped, and that our economic infrastructure is expanded.
In full support of this initiative, corporate South Africa and labour movements will need rise to the call. Government has committed to play their part, but in order to achieve rapid change in our current reality of youth unemployment, the private sector must come to the party as well.
This responsibility, however, sits in the whole private sector, extending beyond only big businesses. The real power of successful economies lies not in big business, but in the thousands of small businesses at the heart of driving growth. And real power for change, of a problem this vast, will not come from the plans of a few but from many of us as individuals, who are in a position to do so, stepping forward.
Education may be key in building the confidence of our youth to be innovative in tackling our country’s challenges with fresh ideas. However, this will not happen overnight, and as successful business people, entrepreneurs, and even retirees after long careers, we have skills, experience, wisdom and sometimes the financial means to lend a hand – we merely need the will to do so.
Kerrin Land is CEO of Old Mutual Wealth.