Report of Ministerial Committee on Transformation & Social Cohesion in Higher Education

Briefing

09 Jun 2009
The Minister of Higher Education briefed the media on the Report of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public higher Education Institutions. He said that the Report was not only relevant for higher education institutions, but for South African society as a whole. The Minister explained discrimination in the context of higher education in South Africa and provided some examples of such practices at institutions. The Minister argued that his statement regarding ‘free education for all’ was misrepresented and clarified that he did not believe that this was possible in the country right now. The Minister answered questions about language policy and Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, and stressed that the democraticisation of education could be facilitated through using Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

Minutes

Q: A journalist asked what the extent of discrimination was at higher learning institutions in the country. A: The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande said that the Report had highlighted the fact that discrimination and racism was prevalent at higher learning institutions. The Ministry was disturbed by this finding and had made an undertaking to deal with all issues pertaining to the Report. There was the hope that the Portfolio Committee would use its platform to also take these issues further, because this matter was broader than institutions, and needed to be confronted from all angles. There were strong perceptions abut the existence of discrimination against black students in terms of access to certain programmes. 83% of the students in South Africa doing Business Studies were white, despite the enormous increase in the intake of black students. The Minister stated that initiation ceremonies were often practiced in a racist manner. He cited the University of the Free State as the worst example in terms of discriminatory practices. The Report recommended that residence allocation should be dealt with by the management of universities rather than by the Student Representative councils (SRCs) as was the current practice. Q: A journalist asked if the Department had considered that there were party political aspects to the racial discrimination at the Free State University campus; and that the specific political party who had won the SRC elections, had campaigned on the very issue of segregation/residential apartheid. The journalist asked further if the Minister would be taking this matter up with the political party concerned, given that the party was represented in government by the Deputy Minister of Agriculture. A: The Minister expressed concern that a political party’s campaign was based on segregation. Dr Mulder had not yet been consulted, but had been approached by the Minister for discussions on this matter and the language issue. It was unacceptable for any political party to promote segregated residences. Q: A journalist asked the Minister to elaborate on his statement that the curriculum should play a role in socialisation. A: The Minister explained that a curriculum should promote the aims of the Constitution. The values and orientation of the curriculum should seek to build a non-racial and non-sexist society and also promote integration and social cohesion. Q: A journalist asked about Afrikaans as a medium of instruction and what was the approach of the Minister to finding a balance between Afrikaans as a higher science and also a medium of instruction. A: The Minister said that government policy was very clear on the matter and the Constitution promoted all 11 official languages, and in particular African indigenous languages, which were lagging behind English and Afrikaans. Afrikaans should not be used as a language of exclusion, but adapted to be used for democratising South Africa. Q: A journalist asked the Minister for his thoughts on free higher education A: The Minister said that he had been deliberately misrepresented on this matter. He had not called for free higher for everybody because this was not possible. Some rich students could afford tertiary education while the majority was not able to. Families who earned less than R 3500 were often deprived the opportunity of attending university. As a result, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was being reviewed to try and improve its reach. Q: The Journalist then sought clarity on whether the Minister was against the provision of free Higher Education. A: The Minister believed that children from rich families should continue to pay for higher education. However, those who could not afford at all, or who could only partly afford would need to be given some kind of dispensation. Q: A journalist asked the Minister what kind of reception he was expecting from the Higher Education South Africa (HESA) board meeting this evening, and if he had the power to compel board members to support his plan of action if they refused. A: The Minister replied that he expected HESA to co-operate with the Department rather than resist. The Department recognized the significant role that HESA occupied and hoped to strengthen its relationship with the institution. The approach of the Ministry was not confrontational but with a view to finding solutions. However, practices which were resistant to transformation would not be allowed, as academic freedom and autonomy could not be used as obstacles to transformation. Q: A journalist asked about a recommendation in the Report that said that the composition of university councils should be re-looked at because they were dominated by management of institutions who do not play the required oversight role. A: The Ministers said that the composition of Councils was guided by the statutes of the respective institution. What the Report pointed to was that some Councils were too laid back, and were not intervening or seeking to guide institutions. Q: A journalist asked the Minister if he had the power to fire vice-chancellors. A: The Minister said that the university councils had the exclusive authority to hire and fire vice-chancellors. Q: A journalist asked the Minister what his thoughts were about the high drop rate out and failure rate at universities and tertiary institutions. A: The Minister said that the Department was aware of the matter and had been dealing with it through earmarked or targeting funding. Teacher Development grants were being used to improve teaching and formula funding rewarded institutions who were able to strengthen their academic support programmes. The challenge was going to be whether these funds were indeed used for academic support. The Minister added that the priority was the promotion of both access and success. Q: A journalist asked the Minister about the need to establish a monitoring and oversight body, and whether the existing authority could not be amended. A: The Minister replied that a structure needed to be built to pick up on problems and respond appropriately. The Portfolio Committee might want to open a discussion on this matter and engage the stakeholders themselves. Discussions would be held on whether it would be a statutory body that was required to do this kind of oversight work. The briefing was adjourned. REPORT OF THE MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE ON TRANSFORMATION AND SOCIAL COHESION AND THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION IN PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCA TION INSTITUTIONS INTRODUCTION The Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr. Blade Nzimande today announced the official release of the Report on Transformation, Social Cohesion and the Elimination of Discrimination in Public Higher Education Institutions. The Minister would like to acknowledge and thank his predecessor Minister Pandor for embarking on this important investigation. This is pioneering work in that the report represents a first, systematic study into issues of social cohesion and transformation in higher education. This report provides a means for engagement and debate amongst higher education stakeholders and provides a vehicle to assist in continuous transformation of the sector. BACKGROUND Following the Reitz incident at the University of Free State which received wide media coverage in the country and internationally, Minister Pandor in March 2008 announced the establishment of the Ministerial Committee to investigate discrimination in public higher education institutions. As the report states, South Africa is 'one of the world's major social laboratories' and therefore it is a critical imperative that a mirror be held up to enable us to gauge our progress in terms of transformation in our institutions of learning. The Committee had to investigate and report on the following: • The nature and extent of racism and racial discrimination in public institutions and in particular university residences. While the emphasis should be on racial discrimination, other forms of discrimination based on, for example, gender, ethnicity and disability should be considered. • The steps that have been taken by institutions to combat discrimination including an assessment of good practice as well as shortcomings of the existing interventions. • Advise the Minister of Education and key constituencies in higher education on the policies strategies and interventions needed to combat discrimination and to promote inclusive institutional cultures for staff and students, which are based on the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution. • Identity implications for other sectors of the education system. The membership of the Committee was as follows: Professor Crain Soudien (Chairperson) Dr W Michaels Dr S Mthembi-Mahanyele Professor M Nkomo Ms Gugu Nyanda Mr N Nyoka Professor S Seepe Dr 0 Shisana Dr C Villa-Vincecio The Committee commenced work in April 2008 and submitted its final report to the Minister on 30 November 2008 following an extensive and exhaustive process of data collection which included institutional, organisational and individual submissions, documentary analysis, institutional visits, consultations with national student organisations and trade unions. The Minister has considered and accepted the report and its major findings. While the report commends institutions for initiatives on change, the report unfortunately states that discrimination, in particular with regard to racism and sexism, is still pervasive in our institutions. The report notes that there is a disjuncture between institutional policies and the real-life experiences of staff and students, indicating that the good intentions of institutions are not fully experienced. The Minister has written to Chairpersons of Councils reminding them of their fiduciary responsibility to their institutions and the higher education system and urging them to consider and respond to the report. Councils and vice-chancellors have been urged to consider the establishment of institution-wide mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the state of transformation on their campuses. In addition, the report has been referred to the Council on Higher Education for advice on what additional measures could be considered to deepen transformation and social cohesion in our institutions and system. The Minister will be meeting with Higher Education South Africa (HESA) and will request them to consider: • The development of a transformation compact between higher education institutions and the Department. • Vice-chancellors to be held responsible for transformation and should be included in performance management contracts. • There is a need for institutions to consider the extent to which the curriculum has been transformed to playa role in the socialisation of students in accordance with the values of the Constitution and for broader participation in society. • Proposals related to student learning needs and the establishment of a four year undergraduate degree have been referred to the CHE for advice. • Proposals on the implementation of the language policy have been referred to the CHE for advice. The Committee observes that the system largely has in place a comprehensive range of policies dealing with transformation related issues. This is especially so with respect to the requirements of employment equity. These gaps notwithstanding, the conclusion to which the Committee has come is that, in legal and regulatory terms, the higher education system is compliant. In addition, the Committee further notes that there are aspects of the system that require attention. There is no doubt that significant policy development has indeed occurred towards transformation, the next important step is of making those policies work. In this regard in accepting the report, and having noted the observations made by the Committee, the Minister has considered and accepted the following proposal: • The establishment of the monitoring and oversight body to complement the work of the Council on Higher Education and to deal with challenges of transformation that have been identified by the Committee as needing attention. This oversight body will be based in the Department of Higher Education and Training and further details concerning its composition, structure and brief will be released in due course. In addition, the Minister intends convening a higher education stakeholder summit in the first quarter of 2010, to discuss a range of matters affecting the higher education sector. Some of the key issues will include the reports and recommendations from stakeholder and institutional deliberations on the Committee Report. In addition, the summit will explore the possibility of developing a higher education transformation charter and the establishment of a permanent stakeholder forum as envisaged in the White Paper 3. CONCLUSION There are several recommendations in the report that pertain to the different levels in the sector. The Minister has raised these matters with the various constituencies and escalated matters that fall within the purview of institutions, to Chairs of Councils. The Minister expects that Chairs of Councils and Councils will consider the findings of the report and engage in implementation of the recommendations taking into account the different institutional contexts. Later this evening, the Minister will be meeting with the leadership of higher education at the HESA Board meeting. At this meeting, the Minister will firmly assert the need for serious engagement with the findings of the report and to present a plan of action within a reasonable period of time. This will be the expectation of HESA as well as individual institutions. In this regard, the Council on Higher Education has been asked to provide advice on certain critical aspects of the report like the language policy and monitoring transformation at institutions through the audit processes of the Higher Education Quality Committee.

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