Government will this year increase funds allocated to Further Education and Training (FET) college students to R2bn, President Jacob Zuma announced on Tuesday.
Zuma made the announcement during his visit to the Tshwane South Further Education and Training College's Odi Campus in Mabopane.
In 2012, R1.7m was allocated to students at FETs.
"This programme gives effect to the introduction of free education whereby all qualifying National Certificate Vocational (NCV) and the NATED students are exempted from payment of fees at all public FET colleges," Zuma said.
He visited the college to see first-hand how FETs are run and what students do. The President also took the opportunity to encourage students as the academic year gets underway.
The visit forms part the State of the Nation Address's community and stakeholder outreach programme in the Presidency, designed to hear the views of the public on a number of issues.
"The visit signifies the importance which government attaches to FETs. That's why I brought ministers so that we can recommit government to provide full support to FETs countrywide," said Zuma.
The first ever visit by a President to a FET college follows a meeting last year, where President Zuma met with FET college principals.
During that meeting, Zuma told principals that government would do everything to improve FETs and make them centres of excellence.
He also ensured the principals that more funds would be allocated towards infrastructure at FETs.
Zuma was accompanied by Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, his Deputy Mduduzi Manana, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
He said the National Skills Accord, signed by all the social partners represented in NEDLAC in July 2011, committed them to a number of things with tangible targets.
"They agreed that training will take place both in colleges and in workplaces in the private sector, government and state owned enterprises, and agreed to take more apprentice learners and interns and to train them beyond their own needs," said the President.
"All parties agreed to work to improve the role and performance of FETs. We are optimistic that this will pave the way to achieve the New Growth Path target of 5 million new jobs by 2020."
He further highlighted that companies were committed to make 12,000 vacancies for internships for FETs students. They will also provide opportunities for work exposure in an industry work environment for 16,000 lecturers annually.
Take full advantage of the fredoms and opportunities democracy has brought you
Zuma encouraged students to take full advantage of opportunities brought about by freedom and democracy. He said there were many opportunities created by government's investment in student financial aid, including infrastructure programmes and other economic opportunities which required their skills.
"We want you to become change agents that will break the cycle of poverty. Liberate yourself and future generations in your community. Work hard, stay focused and complete your studies in record time.
"Government is providing opportunities to all of us [you], even those who may not have means to further their studies. Take advantage of the opportunity... You must excel in what you do. You can do it," he told students.
Nzimande said that the President's visit to the FET would help the department in its journey to transform FET colleges to be institutions of choice for school leavers.
"This will help in sending a message to youngsters to take FETs serious. This is our treasure to produce the skills we need," Nzimande said.
The Higher Education and Training Department has declared 2013 as The Year of the Artisan.
In her address to the students, Mokonyane said the education of the African child could no longer "be negotiated".
"Education of an African is societal priority," she stressed.
The Tshwane South FET College has four campuses - Centurion, Pretoria West, Atteridgeville and Odi. They offer artisan training, electrical and civil engineering and motor mechanic studies, amongst others.
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