Access to Higher Education: Challenges: Higher Education SA briefing

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

07 February 2011
Chairperson: Mr I Malele (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Higher Education South Africa (HESA) gave a presentation on its work, and the challenges that it still saw in access to higher education in South Africa, particularly for more disadvantaged students. HESA was an association of heads of public Higher Education Institutions, whose membership and participation was voluntary, and who aimed to improve access to higher education as well as prove the chances of success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. HESA outlined the enrollment trends in higher education and how the demographics of the student population were changing, specifying the increase in enrolments in general, and for science and technology courses, as well as the percentage increases of African and female students.  However, in order to improve access, it was pointed out that basic education had to improve, that Northern Cape and Mpumalanga would have to get universities, and the Further Education and Training (FET) sector needed to be strengthened and gain more public acceptance. Funding was a pivotal issue for higher education institutions, and the possible funding models were compared and discussed. Many universities were opting to give less funds to more students, but it was indicated that this in fact increased the debt burden of the universities, and funding per individual did not cover all costs. Student debt was at R3 billion in 2009 and was steadily increasing.

The various interventions made by the universities – in the form of bridging courses, access courses and extended programmes to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds – were discussed. HESA recommended that a differentiated funding model be developed in order to spread resources more evenly amongst institutions, and pointed out what it had been doing to try to help the FET sector, but what still needed to be done. The student success rates still indicated that the system was not working fully.  HESA also plan to promote and strengthen the Further Education and Training  (FET) Sector to make it more viable and attractive to students who did not get a university pass.

Student success rate in the public Higher Education system illustrated the dysfunctionality of the system. Less than one third of the sample population completed a qualification in regulation time. Seven out of a total of twenty three institutions met the success rate norm of 80% pass rates. Black students formed 75 % of the sample population, but accounted for less than 25% of the graduates. 45% of these enrolled students had dropped out of the higher education system. HESA had established a Working Group on Teaching and Learning, which had recommended that a Charter be drawn to improve teaching and learning, that three year degrees be changed to four years,  and that academic support programmes and National Student Financial Aid Scheme assistance must be strengthened.

The South African Union of Students (SAUS), which represented all students and sought to address their challenges, noted that it engaged with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), HESA and other stakeholders. It supported some of what HESA had outlined, but also highlighted the role of Life Orientation courses, better articulation between high school courses and university entrance, called for a universal curriculum, or at least for standardisation of modules, and comprehensive student funding. It also thought that a Central Applications Office would be useful.

Members asked why more up to date statistics were not available, questioned whether HESA supported the idea of Central Applications, and asked what the HESA members were themselves doing about challenges at their own institutions. They asked for comment on the articulation conflicts between the National Senior Certificate and university curricula, the interaction with the Further Education and Training colleges, and questioned the practice of withholding results in order to persuade students to pay outstanding fees.

Meeting report

Challenges in access to education: Higher Education South Africa (HESA) briefing
Professor L Vuyisa Tanga, Member: Executive Committee, Higher Education South Africa, and Vice-Chancellor of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, said that Higher Education South Africa (HESA) welcomed the opportunity to share information with the PC in order to improve the education system.

Mr Hugh Amoore, Chairperson: Matriculation Board, and Registrar of the University of Cape Town (UCT) said that the policy framework was grounded in the White Paper, the National Plan for Higher Education and in the Higher Education Act. HESA was committed, firstly, to improving access to higher education. There had been a dramatic increase in enrolment in public higher education institutions over the last ten years, from 550 000 in 2002 to 837 000 in 2009. The figures for 2010 and 2011 had not been audited, but it would show a further increase. Secondly, HESA was committed to making access to higher education affordable. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was a pivotal agent to this end. Thirdly, HESA was committed to working towards producing more graduates in areas classified as scarce skills. He pointed out that the critical issues to consider included who was going into tertiary education and in what form, how poor students were enabled to access public higher education, and how the education sector could ensure students’ success in public institutions of higher learning and beyond it, in other sectors.

Prof Duma Malaza, Chief Executive Officer, HESA, said that HESA was an association of  public universities in South Africa and was mostly providing services to the public higher education sector. HESA also had the function to regulate the entry requirements to public higher education institutions. It was a voluntary association, both in terms of participation and membership. HESA was not only committed to strengthening public higher education at universities and universities of technology, but also in the Further Education and Training (FET) sector, in which it had a vested interest in ensuring proper functionality.

Prof Tanga said that the question of access to higher education was a vexing one in South Africa. There were enabling factors, but there were severe challenges as well. The key challenges were the poor state of basic education in South Africa, access to funding both for individuals and for institutions. There had been great strides made in improving access, particularly for the previously disadvantaged. There had been tremendous growth in the under-and postgraduate offerings.

The trends displayed were positive. These trends had to indicate gains for previously marginalised communities. In terms of gender and race demographics, there were significant improvements, as the populations of institutions of higher education were becoming more representative. This was to be commended, but many challenges remained. The purpose of this meeting and engagement at this level was to look at how to mediate these challenges. There was the challenge of high dropout rates, especially at first year level. In most cases it was due to a lack of funding, but overall there were continuous improvements. After 2006 there was a dramatic improvement. There was a time when there was a dip in the matric pass rate, with a resulting low throughput to universities.

There was an improved equity in student success rate. The slide presentation (see attached document) showed improvements in the percentages of African students and total female students. There was also an improvement in the distribution over fields of expertise, business against science and technology, because of the conscious effort to support students studying engineering, science and technology.

She expanded upon Mr Amoore’s comments on HESA’s commitments, and noted that in pursuance of creating an enabling environment, HESA had sponsored the initiative “Niche”. This sent out information to all provincial schools on access to higher education. It contained admission criterion for institution of higher learning, and how to access the different study areas. High school learners could use this to make wise choices about their careers and future. HESA planned to synchronise the system so that credit accumulation and transfer, and articulation across sectors, could be used to obtain fully-fledged qualifications.

The issue of articulation was a very critical issue. HESA was also committed to capacity building, lifelong learning, and recognition of prior learning, so that people who were previously excluded could re-enter education if they so wished.

HESA found it problematic that students had a perception that a university education was the only worthwhile post- matric route to take. More than 200 000 students did not, in 2010, meet the entry requirements for university. The system had not managed to bring across the message that a FET education could also provide mileage, and not enough was done to expand the capacity of the FET colleges, nor to portray college education as an attractive option with good benefits. The colleges had to be strengthened in terms of numbers and qualifications of staff, curriculum development and curriculum content. Job opportunities had to be created in the industry to absorb these graduates. When that was achieved, there would be a seamless flow within the sector of higher education and training.

Dr Mvuyo Tom, Vice-Chancellor, University of Fort Hare, HESA FSG Committee member, said that funding for institutions for higher education came from three sources: government subsidies, student fees and donors/third string income. The trends from 1996 -2008, as illustrated in the presentation, were that both Block and Earmarked Grants had increased, but the Earmarked grants had increased at a faster rate than the Block grants. NSFAS allocations had also increased. However, real State support for fulltime students had decreased.

Since 2008 the (formerly named) Department of Education, then the (current) Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET or the Department) had made block allocations to institutions of higher education for infrastructure and efficiency purposes. That had increased over the years, and was sincerely appreciated by higher education institutions. Government made good investments in the universities in terms of infrastructure and equipment. It went from R 1.095 million in financial year (FY) 2008/09 to R 1.585 million in 2010/11. The government subsidy could average about 43% of the total income of an institution, but in some could be as high as 57%. Student fees averaged about 28% of income, but were as much as 38% in some institutions. The average income from investments was 7.77%, but in some institution as high as 27.6%. The earmarked grants picked up since 2004 and still showed an upward trend in 2008.

He displayed graphs showing the increase in block grants from 1996 to 2008, in earmarked grants and said that the total was R5.2 billion in 1996, and R14.8 billion in 2008. Between 1996 and 2006, the funding allocated to fulltime students experienced a negative growth rate, from 0.8% to -1.9 %. For the current financial year the Block grant budget increased by 3% per year, which was less than the growth figures for new enrollments. Earmarked grants increased by 31.4 %.

Student debt had not been less than R 2.5 billion since 2007, and stood at R 2.9 billion in 2009.It would be higher in 2011. Universities withheld results as leverage to force students to pay. Students often paid at the last moment.

He then outlined HESA’s recommendations to the Portfolio Committee for the improvement of the funding situation for individuals and institutions. HESA said that a new NSFAS was needed, that a new differentiated funding model had to be created for higher education, that the FET sector had to be promoted as a viable education option with benefits, and that higher education institutions (HEI) had to be resourced to give adequate support to their disadvantaged student base.

HESA also wished to comment on the recommendations of the NSFAS review. It believed that the suggestion that there must be a single value used to calculate institutional allocations needed investigation and discussion, along with discussion on fully subsidised education for students from poor communities, the allocation formula based on need or a proxy, and that there was also a need to prioritise full NSFAS funding for the poor.

Prof  Renutha Vithal, Vice–Chancellor, University of KwaZulu Natal, Member of HESA Working Group on Teaching and Learning, reported that academic performance levels were below the National Plan for Higher Education benchmarks. A study of a certain intake showed that less than one third of the enrolled students graduated within regulation time. Only 7 out of 23 institutions met the success rate norm of 80%. Black students represented 75% of enrolled students, but only 25% of these graduates finished within regulation time. 45% of these enrolled students dropped out of the system.

HESA’s Working Group on Teaching and Learning was established to advise the Board on improving teaching and learning in the sector. The Working Group formally recommended the introduction of a four year undergraduate curriculum to improve success rates, strengthening academic support programmes in all HEI, improving the identification of the educational needs of students and ensure curriculum flexibility to respond to it, and to develop a sector-wide strategy to improve pass rates and reduce drop-out rates.. It also suggested the implementation of a Teaching and Learning Charter, as measures to improve the success rate.

Mr Amoore summarised that HESA had four priorities. The first was to make the FET sector more attractive. There were typically around 1.2 million grade 9 learners each year. Of these, 330 000 would obtain the national senior certificate (as in 2010). Out of the 330 000, about 135 000 would obtain Bachelor degree admission. That meant that roughly 200 000 had national senior certificates, but no Bachelors degree admission. Universities of Technology catered for some of those, but it was crucial that the FET sector was developed to provide the skills and employment opportunities that South Africa needed. The private FET sector provided a significant number of educational opportunities for matriculants.

Secondly, HESA would also work towards a revamped NSFAS. The third priority was a strategy that would make disadvantaged students graduate within regulation time and the fourth priority was a funding dispensation that supported bridging programmes, which would probably be achieved by extending a three year degree to four years.

Mr Sandile Phakati, President, South African Union of Students, reported that this Union (SAUS) represented all political student formations, throughout the whole country. SAUS worked closely with HESA, DHET and other stakeholders in higher education. In the previous week, SAUS had consulted with the DHET, focusing on issues pertaining to registration period and access, and in the broader sense, to progress made since the Higher Education Summit held last year.

He wanted to acknowledge the positive aspects of improvement in education. He agreed with HESA that there was a visible numerical growth in enrollment figures and especially in the changing demographic demonstrated by higher numbers of young women studying at tertiary institutions. There were, however, negative aspects, which included the lack of information regarding entry requirements for tertiary institutions, career choices and related matters. Another negative aspect concerned fees. The fee structure at UCT in 2010 was a maximum of R52 000 per student per year, while at other institutions it was R27 000 per student per year. This implied, firstly, that those who could afford to go to UCT were entitled to more than people who went to other universities, and secondly suggested that those who could not afford to attend UCT were not good enough, and did not deserve the best.

Another challenge was the inadequacy of infrastructure at institutions, in, for instance, the biochemistry laboratories, which did not expand with the growth in enrollment numbers. There were set numbers of spaces in the labs for students. If, for the first year, there were 300 students, and 50 of them fail, for the second year only 250 students could be admitted. This meant that less and less student could be admitted for the first year in order to cater for the students that were still in the pipeline.

Another challenge that the DHET had to take responsibility for was the funding model. The previous funding model was based on enrollment figures, so the more students, the more funding the university received.  The problem with that model was that some institutions enrolled a lot of students, received the money, and then excluded many students throughout the years, only allowing a few to graduate. Another model allocated funding according to the graduate and research output. With this model, poor, rural, universities lost out again, because they could not attract the calibre of academics who would produce the research, and because they were less resourced to begin with, also did not produce large numbers of graduates. Graduates were a percentage of final year students, who represented only a percentage of the whole student population.

Another challenge was that there was no synergy between the three spheres of education. Learners who wanted to pursue a career in accounting were allowed to take maths literacy with accounting at school. When they reached university and wanted to study accounting, they were told that they could not, because they did not have mathematics as a subject on their NSC. There was no point in celebrating the goal of the matric throughput, while ignoring the content. Students realised only when enrolling that they were unable to pursue their career of choice, and then settled for a Humanities course.

There was a need to return to the drawing board. The initial call for the introduction of Life Orientation (LO) was to achieve one goal of ensuring that social cohesion did not only start at university level. It aimed to make students understand the history of the country, the national symbols and what they meant to their generation who must solve many challenges. However, the content of the LO course differed from school to school. It had to be accredited. The DHET had to develop a universal curriculum and give LO more than symbolic meaning.

There was also a lack of synergy between basic education and FET, and a need to popularise FET education to matriculants. Attention had to be paid to issues of governance. Student Representative Councils (SRCs) could not be appointed by rectors at these institutions. Young people needed to feel that they had rights. The image of the FET sector had also been compromised by fly-by-night colleges. DHET must publish those FET colleges accredited by the State. A further problem was lack of synergy and acceptance of FET modules as credits to university degrees.

SAUS noted that it had accepted the NSFAS report.

SAUS had recommended that a Central Applications Office (CAO) be set up nationally, so that when matriculants applied for university access, they concurrently applied to NSFAS, who could create a voucher redeemable at any institution.

SAUS also sought clarity on the issue of free education for final year students, questioning if this applied only to NSFAS-funded students. It pointed out that sometimes third year students were still carrying second year modules. It asked for further engagement with the DHET and NSFAS so that all had the same understanding.

SAUS then commented that some institutions used institutional autonomy and academic freedom as stumbling blocks to transformation, as evidenced by lack of black post graduate students. Academics were getting older, and there were fewer women than men, with many senior black academics coming from other countries. It was said that 40% of the academic leadership was black. However, he pointed out that this figure included Indian, coloured and black academics from outside of South Africa.

At the Higher Education Summit (HES) SAUS presented its frustration with the distance between institutions and DHET. Often the Department said that institutions had to solve their issues internally, but the problem often lay not with institutions, but with DHET, who should be heading the process of transformation. Workers unions and SRCs were not welcome at some institutions. Some members of institutional counsels were ministerial appointees. They did not have space or time to engage with other stakeholders in the institution or seek common solutions to challenges. The HES agreed on a Stakeholders Forum that would ensure participation of the student leadership as well.

Mr Phakati said that there was a need for a universal curriculum in the universities of South Africa, and cited a problem where graduates from the University of Zululand had been asked by the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) to redo their third year, because their qualification was deemed inferior.

SAUS agreed with HESA on the issues raised, but would like further engagement on all, and regular, standing meetings to report on progress being made.

Mr K Dikobo (AZAPO) said that NSFAS had previously set aside 33% of funding to assist students with registration fees. Now students were unable to register again. A parent, who worked as a security guard and earned R1 700 per month, had complained to him that her daughter who achieved four As and three Bs in matric could not register at Medunsa, because she needed R5 000 registration fee. He asked if there was no communication between NSFAS and institutions.

Mr N Mokgalong, Representative: University of Limpopo, replied that at the University of Limpopo all students who qualify for NSFAS aid were registered.

Mr Dikobo, and another Member, said that the statistics quoted in the presentation of HESA were too old to be of any use. He asked for updated statistics.

Mr Amoore replied that the updated statistics would be made available.

Mr Dikobo asked for an explanation of the differentiated funding model.

Ms Vukuza asked what the differentiation would be, based on in the differentiated funding model and whether it would be based on students, institutions, history, the future, vision or on mission.

Ms Lourens noted that Mr Phakati had referred to the well- resourced city universities versus the under-resourced rural universities, and asked how HESA dealt with this differentiation.

Dr Tom replied that the differentiated funding model did not exist yet. Currently, universities were treated equally. A one-size-fits-all approach was applied. Some institutions were more research intensive and others more teaching intensive. This depended on the preference. The Minister announced that the funding model would be reviewed.

Dr Tom said that the issue of resourcing of established and rural universities would be taken up with the DHET within the South African context. South Africa could not continue along the trajectory set up by its apartheid history. He added that teaching-intensive universities could also contribute to research.

Mr Dikobo agreed that a Central Applications Office would make a lot of sense. He wondered if HESA would support this idea.

Mr Amoore replied that the issue of the Central Admissions Office (CAO) and the voucher system were 2 different issues. There existed a CAO model in Ireland, but it disallowed walk-ins, and thus would not work in South Africa. A voucher system required that NSFAS had enough money to finance all students who applied. Walk-ins were still part of the admissions system. He did not see a CAO as a practical solution in the short term. It required resources and a level of sophistication from applicants, which was not presently found in South Africa. It also required three to four months between release of results and the start of the academic year, but in South Africa this period was only six weeks long.

Mr Dikobo asked who recommended that the unpaid debt be written off, and how this would be made up.

Dr Tom replied that when universities wrote off debt, government would pay a percentage or all of it. HESA was not involved. No decision had been made yet on the write-off, but discussions were still in the public domain.

Mr G Radebe (ANC) asked whether the debts were incurred by students who had NSFAS support, or students who were only supported by their parents, and asked for further explanation on the challenges.

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said that the practice of withholding results of students was counterproductive, because without their results, they could not find work.

Mr Mokgalong replied that in some cases withholding of results was the only means an institution had to collect outstanding monies. As an example he quoted his own universities’ situation. Between December 2010 and Friday, 4 February 2011, the university collected R52 million. The institution could not run without this money. Subsidies only arrived in April. He noted that structures were worked out for students to pay, but they tended to ignore them. There were certainly needy students, but there were also dishonest students. He related personal experiences to illustrate this.

He added that the three strings of institution funding were mentioned, and said that NSFAS formed part of the student fee funding, not the government subsidy. Institutions debated whether it was correct to give more money to fewer students, or less money to more students. The University of Limpopo decided to give less money to more students, but this then led to the student debt rising to about R3 billion, since NSFAS could not fund the students, and they could not fund themselves.

Dr Tom added that there were other innovative ways of debt recovery, including a three-way agreement between the university, the graduate and the employer, but these would depend on the institution.

The Chairperson thought that withholding of results was a bad response, since the rich students would get their results, and he felt there was a need to design a more creative academic response to this challenge.

Mr Phakati emphasised that the student could not apply for a job, because he did not have proof of his qualification, but he needed to work in order to pay the university. The university in this situation then contributed towards unemployment, which was contrary to its responsibilities to society.

Mr Radebe said that students could not be excluded by universities for not paying.

Ms N Vukuza (COPE) referred to a presentation HESA had given in 2009. The issue at the time concerned benchmarking. HESA reported that first year students were showing literacy and numeracy deficiencies. She asked to what extent had that benchmarking report impacted on success at university.

Dr Vithal replied that HESA initiated a National Benchmarking Test (NBT). This was discussed in the working group. The test was developed the same time as the National Senior Certificate. It was used differently in different institutions. Both were predictors and assessment tools to measure the state of higher education. In some institutions, all students would write the test, whereas others would use the test to identify those students who might be eligible for Higher Education. It was used to measure the challenge of literacy and numeracy and levels of preparedness of students after admission, since lack of preparedness was one of the reasons for the drop-out rate. Universities wanted students to have better content knowledge. Universities invested much into academic literacy. All students needed assistance to achieve that. The journey from school to university was bigger for a learner from a rural school than from a city school.

Ms Vukuza said that the merging of institutions was part of the process of transformation at HEIs, which was meant to create efficiency. She asked if the mergers had achieved what they aimed to do, saying that in 2011 there were still problems of access. She thought that HESA was tackling issues in a haphazard, not a consistent and systematic, way. All activities of HESA had to be geared towards access and success of students at HEIs.

Prof Tanga  expressed appreciation for the input by the SAUS president. She responded that some issues had not been covered because the HESA presentation followed the issues specifically mentioned in the letter of invitation by the Portfolio Committee.

Ms Vukuza asked whether HESA could elaborate on the impact of HIV on issues of access and success.

Dr Tom said that there was no analysis on the comprehensive impact of HIV and AIDS on access and success of disadvantaged students. A study was done last year which revealed that an average 6% of the population at institutions of higher learning was HIV positive. It was differentiated over gender and race. Ill health, social and psychological issues would affect the success of affected students negatively.

Mr Mpontsane referred to the recommendation that attention must be paid to improving Basic Education, and asked what specifically must improve to improve access for students to HE.

Mr Mpontshane asked what was meant by “alternative payment”.

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) asked who funded bridging courses and who would fund a four year degree. He asked what else could be done in terms of student academic support.

Ms N Gina (ANC) asked what the entry point was for under-prepared students, and whether they were in first year courses or bridging programmes.

Mr Makhubele also asked how institutions were coping with increasing enrollments, and he also enquired where those students who dropped out were staying. He asked if institutions informed NSFAS about students who dropped out, and what would then happen to unclaimed funds.

Ms J Kloppers-Lourens (DA) asked what initiatives there were to address the phenomenon of student drop-outs.

Ms Gina asked what was done about the accommodation problem of students and what the living conditions were like.

Vithal replied that there were different kinds of access programmes, called access, bridging or foundation programmes. They were one year standalone programmes. These were not funded by the Department. Where they existed, they were funded by donor funding. The Access Programme funded by the Department was the extended programme where the first year was extended over two years, which made a three-year degree course last four years. It required substantial input to assist a student from a disadvantaged background. This took two main forms. Those students who just managed to get into mainstream education were assisted to prepare for first year university work. Those who passed probably required support in the further years as well. Students attended lectures in large classes, but there were smaller tutorial classes to address the weak areas. Much attention was given to student support. Some institution had monitoring systems to identify students at risk, and then counselled the student to provide guidance. The extent to which student support programmes could be offered differed from institution to institution, with the wealthier universities having more resources and better support programmes while the poorer universities, which were accessed by large numbers of students who were themselves poor, had limited resources and less effective programmes. Some institutions offered pilot programmes offering modules in indigenous languages. HESA was aware of the research around assisting students, but was also conscious that insufficient resources were available.

Mr Makhubele said that this response suggested that nobody could drop out of a bridging course, because the funding was coming from elsewhere.

Mr Phakati said that NSFAS funding for foundation bridging courses was important, in addition to funding for the degree.

Mr Makhubele said that the funds given by government did not necessarily match the numbers at institutions.

Mr Makhubele noted HESA’s aim to produce more graduates, and asked if it was already measuring its impact on access and success.

A Member stated that many of the problems identified by HESA were old problems, and agreed that a report was needed on actual progress.

Mr Makhubele said that institutions did not produce the skills that the economy required.

Mr Makhubele asked about interaction between HESA and NSFAS, as the presentation seemed to suggest that the two were not interacting.

Ms Vukuza asked what was meant by a new comprehensive NSFAS.

Mr Phakati said that there was another problem. Students who were NSFAS holders in 2010 still had to pay registration fees in 2011, and this was part of the debate about funding less students with bigger amounts, or funding more students with smaller amounts. The full cost of study had to include registration fees. He thought that the universities were contributing to the financial problems.

Mr Makhubele asked what HESA was doing about the articulation between FET and Higher Education?

A Member said that students with good marks in vocational subjects were being turned away from HEIs because they did not have two language subjects on their senior certificates; this problem at Cape Town College had not been resolved by last year. He asked if South Africa could afford such a situation.

Mr Makhubele asked whether HESA said or did anything about racism at institutions.

Dr Vithal replied that the environment where people learned was a challenge in itself. She advised those present in the meeting to read the Ministerial Report on Racism, dealing with groups with different kinds of disadvantages. There was a challenge how to improve universities so that they were welcoming to the diversity. This was an ongoing project.

Mr Phakati said that racism was hard to prove, but there were telltale signs. If the racial representation was skewed, this may not in itself point to racism. Parliament had to speak out against racism at universities.

Mr Makhubele asked the delegates representing HESA how they governed their own institutions. He was aware that some institutions had been placed under administration. HESA members had to report about the challenges at their own institutions, since access and success depended on them.

Ms W Nelson (ANC) said that the public perception of FET colleges needed to be changed, and asked when there would be a turnaround, pointing out that some students would attend an FET college only when failing to get admission to university.

Prof Tanga  replied that the re-organisation and separation of Basic Education  and Higher Education and Training was still recent. Previously, FET colleges fell under the Ministry of Labour. The relevant ministries were still battling with flow and coordination. HESA wanted to assist and strengthen the FET college sector However, FET colleges did not report to HESA, but to the DHET. HESA signed agreements with the heads of FET colleges to work together to improve the FET sector. In order for HESA to be effective, the FET and skills sector had to be effective.

The Member said that the cost per student at school level was R10 000 per year. The cost per student at university level was five times the amount, and he called for an explanation. He also pointed out that in school, there were 30 to 50 learners in each class, but 350 at university. About one third of all first years failed. He asked what the solution would be, what role Parliament must play, and whether there was a need to focus on bridging courses.

Dr Tom said that these were very different institutions and could not be compared.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens asked how language issues of minority groups would be dealt with, and whether translation was provided. She also asked how hearing-impaired members of society would be assisted. A project at the University of the North illustrated the importance of mother tongue education.

Mr Phakati said that language barriers contributed to failure, with English often being the second or third language both for the student and lecturer.

Ms Kloppers-Lourens stated that South Africa’s universities did not train enough teachers, and asked how HESA thought this could be addressed. She asked whether there was a link between basic and higher education. She specifically referred to curriculum development, examinations, teacher training and in-service training.

Prof Malaza said that a task team had been formed to investigate and advise on teacher training

Prof Vithal said that teacher training received a lot of attention. There was also a focus on the qualifications framework, and teacher retention. Teachers in the system also required ongoing training and support.

Ms Kirti Menon, Deputy Director General: Universities, Department of Higher Education and Training, replied that the DHET had been planning for teacher education. It needed to produce teachers in the appropriate phase and learning areas. It was planning for teachers on a provincial base, and where they would be employed.

Mr Radebe asked what HESA meant by making education more affordable to poor students. Universities just increased fees constantly. The cost of accommodation also increased rapidly. He asked what HESA’s state of preparedness was in assisting the Department of Higher Education. He reminded the meeting that there were two provinces that had no universities, meaning that students from those provinces had to find accommodation while they studied.

Prof Tanga  commented on fee increases. She said that an 11% increase, on a low fee base, was less, in quantitative terms, than a lower percentage on a high fee base. The burden of debt to institutions was unevenly distributed amongst institutions. The percentage level of increase could be misleading. Some fee increases were only book entries, in the sense that the institution simply carried a bigger debt, because their constituency could not pay.

Dr Tom said that it was very difficult to improve infrastructure without increasing the fees.

Mr Radebe was dissatisfied with the answer to his question on fee increases.

Mr Radebe noted the comment about only 7 out of 23 institutions having met the expected pass rate, , and asked who they were, and what HESA did to ensure that expertise in some universities was transferred to others.

Ms Gina wanted to know about HESA’s role in the autonomy of institutions. She agreed with the need for a universal curriculum for all South African universities. HESA could balance that out. She asked whether salaries were the same in city and rural universities, and whether there were incentives that could attract academic staff to rural universities.

Prof Malaza reiterated that HESA was a voluntary organisation and respected the autonomy of institutions. Autonomy was positive. A university could decide how best to serve its own constituency. Nowhere in the world was there a universal curriculum for all universities in a country. Institutions always had unique characteristics. Some were more vocationally orientated, others were more academic, some were more international, and some more locally focused. A uniform curriculum was not a good idea. A diverse curriculum could respond to a wider range of needs. Different needs would arise in the future.

Ms Gina asked whether there were still discounts for students from the same family.

Mr Mokgalong replied that family discounts existed, but had to be negotiated at the institution itself.

Ms Lourens asked about the “Niche” initiative and asked if universities offered career guidance.

Mr Amoore said that the National Commission, in 1990, identified the need to make information available to the majority of high school learners about higher education. Niche was disseminating information to the schools in all official languages, using community radio stations. The details of universities and universities of technology were given. The point was to get across to learners the implications of choosing maths literacy, which could curtail the choices of candidates.

Ms Gina said that Life Orientation studies contributed to the rising matric pass rate. However, despite the important of this subject, it was not considered when assessing a learner for university admission. This must be discussed.

Mr Amoore replied that when the design of the NSC was finalised, it required candidates to pass four subjects, of which one was LO, which was assessed internally in the school. However, passing LO, in order to pass matric, and scoring LO were different. When the design of the NSC was reviewed, the role of LO would be reviewed as well.

Mr Phakati said that students were turned away from institutions because they could not provide proof of their LO mark. If LO was a standard subject, accredited by UMALUSI, these marks would be available.

Mr Amoore explained that HESA was cooperating with the Department of Basic Education on the development of the NSC curriculum. He thought it was necessary to resume the routine meetings with the Director General and heads of provincial education departments, to address the articulation between Basic, FET and Higher Education. HESA was committed to work with the DHET. A task team had to be established to achieve the aims of the Higher Education Act of 1997, by dismantling the Matriculation Board (MTB). Agreement also had to be reached amongst the parties about a new set of structures, which then had to be put in place. HESA was committed both to this process and to engagement in the review process of the design of the NSC. He added that over the past decade, matriculation exemption rules had become more flexible, and when the MTB was closed, an Admissions Agency would deal with alternative routes into tertiary studies.

Mr Phakati agreed that FET colleges were not HESA’s responsibilities, but HESA controlled the universities that refused FET students. All parties had to come together to align the curricula.

Dr Vithal said that the issue of a universal curriculum was complex. The experience of academic colleagues at merged institutions was that it was extremely difficult to negotiate a common curriculum in two merged institutions. To some degree, the sector did have a universal curriculum in that all programmes offered in universities were peer-reviewed by other institutions. Although the official curriculum could look the same on paper, the way in which it was offered could be very different, which would lead to different outcomes. The challenge was not in having a universal curriculum, but in achieving equity in the conditions in which curriculums were offered.

Mr Amoore said that a universal curriculum was not something to which South Africa would necessarily aspire, but a process was under way under the Higher Education Qualifications Framework (HEQF), which would take between three and five years, and which would create a better-aligned system of qualifications.

Mr Phakati returned to the issue of the universal curriculum. He asked for the standardisation of the modules, although he agreed that the content and delivery would be different. The problem was that universities had said that some courses were not accredited by South African Qualifications Authority, and he asked how outside accreditation related to academic freedom. He added that some professions, such as pharmacists and physiotherapists, were being tested again by their professional bodies in order to determine that they were up to standard, which meant that those professional bodies did not trust the training of the universities.

Mr Phakati said that there was a need for BTech students to be funded.

Ms Menon replied that  the BTech- matter had been looked at. In 2010 there were 35 000 BTech students, of whom 25% would have needed financial aid. Substantial sums were therefore required.  The Department rather gave the money to undergraduate students, and would only fund a BTech where this qualification was required to practise professionally, for instance in nursing.

The Chairperson said that this would be an ongoing engagement. There was a need for higher education to transform. Articulation and all other challenges had to be addressed.

Mr Makhubele asked why students had to re-apply each year for NSFAS funding.

Ms Menon replied that their circumstances changed each year. It might be that the student received a bursary in the second year and just needed top-up funding. The Department was using NSFAS funds responsibly.

Prof Malaza said that HESA was agreeing with the Review Report that race-based funding had to be abandoned.

Dr Tom replied that race was removed as a consideration for financial need.

Ms Menon said that the Department would pay for a final year of a student, and if all subjects were passed, that loan would be converted to a full bursary.

Prof Vithal commented again on preparation programmes. Whichever programme was applied, students in bridging courses did not meet the normal entry requirements. They had been less prepared. Only those who succeeded continued at university, and could be tracked. The pass rate was very low. These students could not be compared to the mainstream, and their access must be seen differently. One year at university could not make up for 12 years of being disadvantaged.

Mr Makhubele raised the important issue that institutions had to be able to stand up to scrutiny into the way they used funds, and all must be cautious to avoid maladministration and corruption. Parliament would have to be strong on that, and there was a need to see an improvement. The Ministry had to move with speed. NSFAS had to be reviewed. The differentiated funding model had to be developed. The Committee did not agree with withholding results, and must find a way to resolve that. The Committee did believe in institutional autonomy, but believed that there was also a need to work together to find solutions.

The meeting was adjourned.


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