Measuring high value post-school credentials in South Africa

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South Africa is renowned for its stark and persistent unemployment level, especially among the youth. With 39,6% of youth in the South African labour force unemployed (using the strict definition of unemployment (StatsSA, 2019)), the country has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world.  Many young people enter the labour force with limited skills due to low levels of school completion, limited access to post-school education and training, and poor post-school qualification completion rates. This reality stands in strong contrast to the demand for highly-skilled employees, resulting in a skills mismatch and many being excluded from the labour market.

What do we know about where youth go to obtain their skills?

In South Africa we have a wealth of national household surveys that can be used to track educational attainment. The surveys ask the question ‘What is the highest level of education that you have successfully completed?’ and respondents choose from a list of post-school qualifications such as degrees, diplomas, certificates or National Accredited Technical Education Diploma (NATED) programmes and National Certificate Vocational (NCV) qualification. A healthy debate exists in the literature about how these qualifications map to skills and subsequent labour market outcomes, with part of the discussion based on assumptions about where these qualifications are obtained i.e. from universities, TVET colleges, private colleges or other training providers. The consensus from the literature is that graduates with degrees have low risks of unemployment, but that those with diplomas and certificates, especially ones that do not require matric, are more vulnerable.

In the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), the highest educational attainment question is followed by a question which asks ‘At what institution did you successfully complete the diploma, certificate or degree?’ This is an open text question and responses are manually coded to lists of registered public and private universities and colleges, with a residual category classified as training. This provides us the opportunity to investigate this directly.

Where do South Africans complete certificates, diplomas and degrees?

The figure shows the distribution across institutions for respondents aged 15-35 (youth) who specified that they had successfully completed a certificate, diploma or degree out of school. The matching rate for the open-ended text question was 65%. Respondents who provided institutional information that could be found on the Internet were classified in the training group, while those in the unmatched group did not provide enough information to be matched to a specific institution.

The figure shows that, of those who could be matched, most respondents completed their qualification from public institutions, a similar share in the different types of Universities combined (32%) and TVETs (30%). A further 21% completed their qualification at either a private HEI or college. 16% of respondents are grouped into the training category. This group includes a variety of institutions or employers providing training such as short (5-days) computer training courses, self-defense courses, driver’s licenses or short (3-day) make-up courses.

Most surveys only include highest educational attainment information and, in trying to identify ‘high-value’ credentials, we are interested in where these credentials are obtained. The figure below provides this information.

Institution where qualification was obtained, respondents 15-35 years

Note: NATED stands for National Accredited Technical Education Diploma programmes and NCV for National Certificate Vocational qualifications.

We see, as expected, that most degrees are obtained from Universities, while most NATED and NCV qualifications are obtained from TVETs of private colleges. The other four categories present a more mixed picture, with a few noticeable points:

  • Diplomas with a grade 12 are far more likely to have been obtained from a registered public or private institution (80%) than are certificates with grade 12 (51%).
  • Very few certificates and diplomas without grade 12 (which represent 25% of qualifications for this age group) are being obtained from TVETs or colleges which are intended to serve those who do not complete grade 12.
  • Most institution names of those who indicated certificates and diplomas without grade 12 as their highest educational attainment, could not be found on any registered lists or the Internet. This is in part due to insufficient information provided e.g. a respondent might just say “college”. However the disproportionate share of unidentifiable institutions for these qualification levels suggest they are being obtained from sources outside of the formal PSET system. A similar picture is evident for those who obtained certificates that require matric, where 35% could not be matched.