Recently, there has been a lot of back and forth in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) regarding the name change of FET colleges to TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) colleges.

While FET colleges included both public and private colleges, only public colleges are to become TVET colleges, while private colleges are simply going to be referred to as private colleges going forward. With this clear distinction being made between the two, the question many people might ask is: just what is the difference between public and private colleges?

The similarities

First of all, one should look at whether these colleges are, in fact, all that different. The simple answer to this is that, despite the name changes, they really aren’t.

The DHET’s official TVET (formerly FET) web page states:

“Fundamentally the South African education system comprises three broad bands that are referred to as Basic Education (essentially the first twelve years of school education); Technical Vocational Education and Training (comprising vocational and occupational education and training offered at colleges and sometimes as the last three years of basic school education); and Higher Education (Universities and Universities of Technology).”

Private and public colleges both fall within the second band of education, according to legislation. To offer post-school education in South Africa, both public and private colleges have to adhere to the same rules and standards, including having to be registered as colleges with the DHET. You can look at Oxbridge Academy’s accreditation as an example.

On a more practical level, private and public colleges often offer the same courses and follow the same curriculums. Oxbridge Academy, for example, offers National Qualifications, even though it is a private college.

The differences

As similar as private and public colleges may be, there is always one defining difference between them: a public college is funded by the government, while a private college is funded by a private group or individual (this is the same difference that exists between public and private schools).

Because of this single difference, however, private and public colleges each have their distinct advantages and disadvantages.

The benefits of being a public college

Public colleges benefit from state funds and subsidies. This means that they get support from the government when they struggle. It also means that they can offer students state-sponsored bursaries! This is one of the greatest attractions public colleges hold for prospective students.

The benefits of being a private college

State funding is advantageous for a college, except when that funding runs out, or when there are cuts being made to the state budget. In such cases, the colleges suffer, which means their students suffer as well. Private colleges are owned by private organisations or individuals, which means that they are not constricted by the government’s finances.

Private colleges are also independent of administrative issues that might arise from being funded or run by the government. When government-employed teachers strike, for example, private colleges remain unaffected and can continue offering their services uninterrupted.

So, which is better?

The truth is that there are often more differences between individual colleges than between the categories of public and private colleges. Oxbridge Academy might have more in common with another distance learning public college than it does with a campus-based private college, for example.

You can’t really say one college is better than another just because it is either a private or a public college. There are good public colleges and bad ones, just as there are good private colleges and bad ones. In reality, it all comes down to the individual college in question. So make sure to find out more about your college before you enrol!

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