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The Battle for Connectivity: How South Africa’s TVET Colleges are Fighting for Better Broadband

In the war for better broadband, South Africa’s TVET colleges are fighting a daily battle to stay connected. With over 40% of business and tech decisionmakers in the public sector and education institutions citing a lack of budget as one of the biggest challenges to funding emerging technologies, the struggle is real. In universities and colleges, this reality has a profound impact on teaching and learning, inhibiting innovation and research.

In 2017, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) launched the TVET College Connection Project (TCCP), aimed at connecting 325 TVET college campuses to the South African National Research and Education Network (SANReN). SANReN is a high-capacity network for science, research, and education, funded by the Department of Science and Innovation and implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The TCCP was a game-changer. Armed with R250 million in funding from the National Skills Fund (NSF), the DHET tasked TENET subsidiary, the South African Broadband Education Networks (SABEN), with rolling out the project. With a multidisciplinary team led by Helga Watkin, programme and portfolio manager at TENET and TCCP project lead, and an oversight committee chaired by Izak Joubert of the department, the project was a monumental undertaking.

The first phase of the project focused on providing broadband connections between SANReN and TVET college campuses, boosting WiFi capability on specific TVET campuses for staff and students, and increasing capacity on the SANReN backbone to accommodate the increase in traffic. But the challenges were many. "When we went to the market, the result was a spreadsheet with over 3 800 differently priced items," says the CSIR’s Michael Acres. "There were multiple prices for different technologies for a single campus, and we had to select the best technology for the best prices to meet a specific campus’ needs."

For Charles Goodwin, principal of Boland College, the results have been significant. "Solid and reliable connectivity is now one of the main contributors to providing quality education to our students," he says. "It also better prepares them for the world of work." But Goodwin is not alone. Every public college in South Africa now has connectivity, and for many, this means enjoying dramatically improved performance – moving from as little as 2Mbps to 200Mbps.

But the battle is far from over. The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Blade Nzimande, recently highlighted the need for greater cooperation between TVET colleges and universities, and the importance of having both TVETs and universities connected to SANReN. The TCCP has reached every single corner of the country, but many challenges remain, particularly in rural areas.

As the war for better broadband rages on, one thing is clear: connectivity is key. Without it, South Africa’s TVET colleges will struggle to provide the quality education and training that students deserve. But with it, the possibilities are endless.



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