South Africa has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world (Leibbrandt et al., 2018). Education, both in how it is distributed in the population and in how it is rewarded in the labour market, plays an important role in explaining the distribution of income, particularly income from labour market earnings, and hence inequality (Lam et al., 2015). Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has seen rapid improvements in average years of education, accompanied by declining racial differences and educational inequality. Yet, this has not translated into declining earnings inequality as might have been expected. A closer look at the data reveals that the aggregate picture of decreasing educational inequality hides persistent racial inequalities in post-school education attainment, which together with large and increasing premiums to these high value qualifications, have been inequality inducing.
Siyaphambili motivates that increasing overall levels of post-school education attainment, particularly by decreasing between-population group attainment gaps, could contribute towards reducing income inequality.
The Siyaphambili (meaning “we are moving forward”) post-school research group in SALDRU has just launched an interactive website to track and monitor post-school qualifications attainment in South Africa. The Siyaphambili website tracks the proportion of South Africans aged 15-64 with a post-school qualification with the goal of reaching a target of 22% attainment by 2030. The project was inspired by the Lumina Foundation’s Stronger Nation website, a platform that tracks the proportion of Americans, aged 25 to 64, who hold degrees, certificates or other high-quality post-school credentials. The Lumina Foundation set a goal to achieve 60% post-school qualification attainment by 2025. While the U.S. Stronger Nation goal is motivated by the desire to equip Americans with skills for jobs in the knowledge economy, the Siyaphambili goal is motivated by the urgent need to reduce inequality in South Africa and is set in line with the South African National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 goals.
The NDP for 2030 identifies education, training, and innovation as an important driver of social development, economic growth and investment. Further to this, we believe that decreasing between-population group inequality in post-school educational attainment can contribute towards reducing inequality.
The NDP Post-school Education and Training (PSET) goals are stated as annual output goals for respective divisions of the PSET system, and the employment goals tend to be stated as shares of the labour force. What is missing is the connection between the PSET goals and the employment goals. Nowhere are the educational attainment levels of the country discussed. This makes tracking year-on-year progress challenging. Goal 2030 is an attempt to link the two spheres – the NDP PSET and labour market targets – and provides the basis for a platform that tracks progress using publicly available data.
We estimate that to meet a goal of 2 million more youth in employment by 2030, we need a population where 22% of 15-64 year olds have a post-school qualification.
This goal also aligns with the NDP post-school graduate targets. By tracking this indicator, we therefore align the goals of the PSET system with those for employment.
Deriving ‘Goal 2030’
President Ramaphosa expressed in his June 2019 State of the Nation Address that South Africa has made insufficient progress in meeting the NDP targets. He proposed focussing on five key indicators to track South Africa’s progress in tackling poverty, inequality and unemployment within the next 10 years:
- No person in South Africa will go hungry.
- Our economy will grow at a much faster rate than our population.
- Two million more young people will be in employment.
- Our schools will have better educational outcomes and every 10-year-old will be able to read for meaning.
- Violent crime will be halved, if not eliminated.
Increasing the share of the population with a post-school qualification has the potential to contribute to each of these targets. We derive our attainment goal, ‘Goal 2030’, to align with the indicator ‘two million more young people in employment by 2030’. We estimate that to drive this increase in employment, 22% of the population will require a post-school qualification by 2030. An associated Goal 2030 for high value qualifications assumes that the high value qualification level remains 4 percentage points below the attainment level for any qualifications. Read more about deriving Goal 2030 here.
This is an ambitious goal, but as shown in this SALDRU report, it aligns with other targets set out in the NDP for the PSET sector.
Post-school qualification definitions used by Siyaphambili
The Siyaphambili interactive graphs focus on post-school qualifications, namely NQF levels 2 to 10, i.e. qualifications obtained outside of basic education (grades R to 12 or NQF 1). Two measures of post-school qualifications are used: any qualifications and high value qualifications. They are defined as follows:
- All types of post-school qualifications obtained outside of basic education at NQF levels 2 to 10. This includes: vocational certificates, certificates (for learners with less than a grade 12), certificates (for learners with grade 12), diplomas (for learners with less than a grade 12), diplomas (for learners with grade 12), higher diplomas, bachelor degrees, and post-graduate degrees (honours, masters, doctoral). These are the post-school qualification categories used by StatsSA.
- These qualifications can be obtained from public universities, private universities, TVET colleges, private colleges, or any other accredited post-school institutions where the qualification programs are 6 months or more in duration and full-time.
High value qualification
- High value qualifications are a subset of the any qualifications category.
- They are of NQF levels 6 to 10 and include only: diplomas (for learners with less than grade 12), diplomas (for learners with grade 12), higher diplomas, bachelor degrees, and post-graduate degrees (honours, masters, doctoral).
- These qualifications are also obtained from public universities, private universities, TVET colleges, private colleges, or any other accredited post-school institutions.
Siyaphambili – we are moving forward
Siyaphambili, moving forward together, is what we do in South Africa. Are we doing enough as a country, to reach our 22% goal?
Tracking post-school attainment since South Africa transitioned to democracy in 1994, we see a slow and steady increase with the any qualification indicator doubling over 25 years from 7% in 1994 to 13.9% in 2019. However, when we disaggregate this indicator by population group, age group and province, we find that substantial inequalities in qualifications attainment persists across sub-groups in South Africa. The ambitious goal of 22% post-school attainment will require improving attainment among groups with historically low rates of post-school attainment.
Visit the Siyaphambili website and investigate the trends in post-school attainment in South Africa by using the interactive graphs. The graphs on the website are based on analysis of publicly available StatsSA data, and the tables containing the values shown in the graphs are also downloadable in Excel format.