The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) presented its Annual Report for 2011/12. In this report the National Skills Fund was still covered as an entity of the Department. He outlined the main achievements, challenges and mitigating steps to improve the challenges in each of the five programmes of the Department. General achievements included the fact that Sector Education and Training Authorities’ development strategies were supported, there had been an increase in the numbers of students enrolling in Universities and FET Colleges, and the funding had increased, as well as improved spending on projects. The FET Colleges Amendment Bill had been passed. There were some institutions placed under administration but there were positive spin-offs in that the skills levels of management were being improved and rebuilt. The National Skills Fund (NSF) had reviewed its funding procedures to bring it in line with the National Skills Development Strategy III (NSDS), which was introduced by the Minister in 2011.
Several Members commented that they had been disappointed that the presentation did not address the provincial issues, although the DHET said it had tried to follow the templates for reporting to the Committee. They enquired how far the DHET had gone to improve and institutionalise Recognition of Prior Learning, and what DHET was doing to address the issues of those who may have tremendous practical skills but not be very good at passing academic examinations. One Member wanted to know why a student who had failed one module of a N3 examination was precluded from progressing to N4. They questioned what lessons DHET had learned from the three colleges placed under administration, and later also called for reports on the three FET Colleges in Eastern Cape, where there had been particular problems and unhappiness about student accommodation and raising of fees. They mentioned the concerns about the lack of capacity in curriculum development, and wanted to know how DHET was ensuring that the curriculums were relevant and addressed industry needs, as well as questioning why some students at FET Colleges were effectively being asked, in their first year, to re-cover material they had already passed at matric level. They asked about spending of NSF funds and wanted to know if DHET was informing enough students that they could apply for funding. More information was requested on the court cases, the IT challenges, lack of spending by the colleges on machinery and equipment in technical colleges, and the strikes of South African students in Cuba. Members asked why the DHET was seeking new premises, and asked how DHET was addressing the problem of illegal colleges.
Department of Higher Education and Training 2011/12 Annual Report briefing
Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, Director General, Department of Higher Education and Training, said that he wanted to focus in particular on four critical areas. He also noted that the National Skills Fund (NSF) and Annual Information Statements were incorporated within the Department’s Annual Report in this year because in this year they had not been reported upon as separate entities.
Mr Qonde took the Members through the programme performance in this year.
Programme 1: Administration
Mr Qonde said that the main purpose of this programme was to conduct the overall management of the Department and provide a centralised support service. Some of the key achievements included filling of some posts led, the fact that necessary administrative policies and procedures were put into place to ensure the smooth running of the Department, and the call centres, which had responded to 95% of the Presidential Hotline queries. He noted in relation to staff matters that there had been six disciplinary hearings, with three dismissals related to mismanagement of funds. The challenges that were identified were the slow ICT services, lack of modern call centre technology, the fact that the hoped-for procurement of new offices had not materialised, and the fact that there was no Risk Management Unit. The steps taken included the appointment of an external service provider for LAN and end-to-end user desktop support, providing training, and providing a new integrated system for the call centres.
Programme 2: Human Resources Development Planning and Monitoring Coordination
The purpose of this programme was to provide strategic direction in the development, implementation and monitoring of the Department’s policies, and to coordinate activities in relation to the Human Resource Development Strategy (HRDS) for South Africa. The budget sub-programmes included Human Resource Development Strategy, Planning and Coordination, Planning, Information, Monitoring and Evaluation Coordination and Social Inclusion in Education. The key achievements of the programme were that the integration of the information system continued and career advice systems were being built. In addition, the Education Policy of 2004 and the data collection of Further Education and Training (FET) and Artisan sectors were strengthened. Other achievements included the fact that cooperation was achieved with Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Oman, Cuba, Rwanda and Burundi. The FET Colleges Amendment Bill was also approved by both Houses of Parliament, 24 court cases were administered and three sets of regulations and eight notices were drafted and published. There were no major challenges in this programme. The second Deputy Director General had been moved back to the branch.
Programme 3: University Education
Mr Qonde outlined that the purpose of this programme was to develop and coordinate policy and regulatory frameworks for an effective and efficient University education system. Its budget sub-programs included academic planning and management support, financial planning and information system, university subsidies, policy and development and teacher education. He highlighted that this programme had many achievements (as indicated in the presentation) such as the increase of the number of enrolments in universities, increase of numbers of graduates, increase of students funded through National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the fact that the review of the funding framework was almost complete. The major challenges here were that the University of Zululand (Uni Zulu), Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) were placed under administration and that 26 targets were partially achieved, ten not achieved and only 29 achieved. The programme ha however since been working hard to try to correct these points, and, to date, had managed to ensure that 11 of these targets were now achieved, 19 partially achieved and six not achieved.
Programme 4: Vocational and Continuing Education and Training
The purpose of this programme was to plan, develop, evaluate, monitor and maintain national policy, programmes and systems for vocational and continuing education and training, including FET Colleges, post-literacy Adult Education. Its budget sub-programmes were planning and institutional support, programmes and qualifications, and national examinations and assessment. There were many notable achievements also in this programme. These included the increase in number of students, increase in NSFAS funding, the fact that the National Senior Certificate for Adults had been published, the introduction of the Transport and Logistic National Certificate, expansion of access to FET Colleges, and registration of 866 491 candidates for National Examinations. Challenges lay with the targets that were only partially or not achieved. There were delays in setting up the National Technical Assistance Unit, and lack of readiness across the Adult Education and Training (AET) systems. However, once again, Mr Qonde noted that mitigatory actions had been taken and to date, the DHET had managed to now achieve 11 targets, partially achieve nine, although eight had not been achieved. An audit was being undertaken. A full-time Chief Financial Officer had been appointed.
Programme 5: Skills Development
The purpose of this programme was to promote and monitor the National Skills Development Strategy (NSDS). Its subprogrammes included SETA Coordination, National Skills Development Services and Quality Development and promotion. In relation to the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), it was noted that 13 168 Artisan learners had completed training nationally, that SETA levies were being properly managed, and that SETAs were supported in their development plans. There was a challenge in that targets had not been achieved, and that regular breakdown of IT services was limiting the efficiency of INDLELA operations and others. The programme had nonetheless managed to work on, and achieve completion of some targets since the report was compiled. The shortage of funding from National Treasury had been replaced by NSF funding. The DHET was busy with recruitment and was in the process of purchasing wireless micro link.
National Skills Fund
Mr Qonde noted that in January, 2011, the Minister of Higher Education and Training had launched the National Skills Development Strategy III (NSDS III) and the National Skills Fund had then reviewed its funding for the NSDS III. In 2011/12, the NSF had paid out, by way of grant distribution, the highest amount ever in any one year since its inception, representing 69% of its budget. There were also 59 projects funded in relation to Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP), the New Growth Path (NGP), Rural Development, Disability, Health and Education.
Mr Qonde tabled the financial statement report, which outlined the allocation of money, actual expenditure and money spent per programme. He also noted that this was broken down further into the spending trends per economic classification, NSF spending and that of the entities. The Auditor-General (AG) Report on the financial statements, and the Department’s Action Plan to identify and mitigate the identified shortcomings and Action plan.
Ms B Mncube (Gauteng, ANC) asked a question about the recognition of prior-learning. She cited the example of a young man in one of the rural areas, who had managed to set up and sustain a community radio station, but who regrettably had failed to pass his theory course when required to study formally at an FET College. There were a number of people who were successful in practice but who struggled to study the theory and academics, and she wondered whether DHET had any measures to cater for these people.
Mr Qonde noted that the challenge was that the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPM) was, at the moment, left up to the discretion of the various institutions. However, DHET was crafting a system where the RPL would become institutionalised. Another component of this was that a Task Team would be set up, where a National Senior Certificate could be recognised in another form, because it was accepted that a cognitive understanding was as important as the ability to successfully complete an examination.
Mr M de Villiers (Western Cape, DA) raised a question about one particular student had been attending the North Link College, but had failed one module in the N3 phase. He had been told that he could not proceed to the N4 phase until he completed this module. He wondered if DHET should not have a system for students to be allowed to repeat one module whilst carrying on with other phases.
A Departmental representative responded that it was possible for a student to continue studying, successively, for N1, N2 and N3 without passing all modules, but there was a ruling that this student would not be able to pass on from N3 to N4 without successfully completing all the modules. N4 was an entirely separate and different qualification from N1 to N3.
Mr De Villiers said he would do a follow-up on the North Link College problem and report back about it.
Ms Mncube asked what lessons had been learned from the three universities placed under administration, and whether there was any exchange of information between management and administration.
Mr Qonde responded that the three universities that had been placed under administration had been stabilised and that the forensic investigations done into their problems had detected several wrongdoings. Analyses and reports had been done, the DHET had looked at trends and patterns and would use these to inform further actions. In many institutions placed under administration, there would be a transfer of skills as the administrator would work closely with the Vice Chancellor and management to get the institution back on track.
Ms Mncube noted that there had been serious concerns raised about the lack of capacity in curriculum development, which resulted in students failing their academic courses. She asked what DHET was doing, firstly, to address the lack of capacity, and secondly to ensure that the curriculum was relevant to and answering the needs of the labour market. The objective of the SETAs and Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) was to bridge the gap between the labour market and academics. However, there was still unfortunately competition in the education sector, as companies tended to prefer the university graduates and disregard College graduates because they did not trust their qualifications. She enquired if this was due to the fact that the QTCO was still relatively new. She asked in particular if the 69 projects mentioned were addressing the skills that were needed.
Ms Mncube said that there were reports of surplus money and asked if the DHET was properly marketing and advising students of the availability of funding.
Mr de Villiers noted that there had been challenges in relation to colleges in Mpumalanga and asked how far DHET had gone in addressing them.
Mr de Villiers was concerned at the report that there had been 6.9% underspending on skills development. The DHET had previously identified this as a problem and had a goal to show improvements, to try to curb the problem in the public and private sector. He therefore enquired how far the DHET had managed to address it. He was aware that the DHET had been working on this for only two years but nonetheless wanted a report on how DHET had managed to progress the issues.
Mr de Villiers noted that some of the court cases against the DHET were still pending, but wanted more progress indicators on these and the cases that had been finalised.
Mr de Villiers noted the comment on the IT challenges. However, this seemed to relate to the Telkom system and he recommended that DHET should investigate use of GigaByte bundles, which would at least assist the DHET staff in accessing their e-mail efficiently.
Mr Qonde noted that the DHET had purchased bundles, but this had become costly, because it was soon found that the data was used within a week, even when not the entire staff had access to the system. That was why the DHET had opted for the Telkom link.
Mr De Villiers noted that although there was a clear need for equipment in the technical colleges, in particular, the budget for machinery and equipment had not been spent. This obviously must have had a negative impact on the efficiency of the colleges.
Mr Theuns Tredoux, Chief Financial Officer, DHET, responded that funding was distributed in the form of a grant to the Colleges. They would decide for themselves exactly how to allocate the funds.
Mr De Villiers asked how it could be allowed to happen that some applicants with criminal records were employed.
Mr De Villiers said that he would like to see a progress report on each and every target, and the status of each target, particularly those that were listed as “not achieved”. He noted that the Auditor-General had commented that the Performance Indicators were not suitably developed to tie in with the targets that had been set in the Strategic Plans, and wondered why this had not been addressed by DHET when the Auditor-General had picked that up in the first place. He questioned how DHET had addressed that problem now.
A Departmental representative noted the new reporting format, where the Auditor-General would not only report on specific cases of errors but would also look at whether the expenditure was actually meeting certain goals and objectives.
Ms D Rantho (Eastern Cape, ANC) felt that the financial report was too general and did not speak specifically to provinces.
Mr Qonde responded that when making the financial report, the Department was guided by the template and plans approved by Parliament which set out a number of predetermined objectives on which Department were required to report. However, as far as the Department could do this, it would try, in future reports, to have more specifics on the provinces.
Ms Rantho asked about the Department’s responses on the students from Cuba, and the strikes that affected those in Cuba.
Mr Qonde said that the DHET did work closely with the students, who were identified and under the control of the Department of Health because there was an allocation of funding in the national and provincial Departments of Health. The Minister did condemn the situation. He noted that these students were actually earning in excess of what a lecturer was earning in Cuba.
Ms Rantho enquired about the necessity of building new offices, suggesting that there must surely be other suitable premises.
Mr Qonde responded that the DHET had been renting but had had bad experiences in this regard. The amount being spent on rent would, over a period, exceed what departments would spend in acquiring their own offices.
Ms Rantho noted that the current report mentioned nothing about the proliferation of strikes that were due to unhappiness about NSFAS. She suggested that, particularly in regard to Fort Hare and other institutions in the Eastern Cape, the DHET had to take the lead and find a way forward.
Mr Qonde said that under spending in NSF was due in part to the legacy issues, but there was also a reconfiguring of the training landscape and the programme of the SETAs was focused on training at technological levels and in artisan skills. The Department had seen tremendous improvement of spending of the NSF funds, to the point where there was actually a shortfall between demand and supply as most had been distributed to projects and the situation had been improved. There had been workshops on the infrastructure funding of the institutions, especially the historically disadvantaged ones. In Fort Hare, there had been upgrading of the residences, and the prices had risen in consequence. In addition, the Department was engaging on the funding allocations to support upgrade of infrastructure. The DHET ha also now produced guidelines, not previously available, so that all student residences would meet certain standards. Construction was now happening at all of these institutions.
Ms Rantho asked exactly how many targets there were.
Ms Rantho said that the students in FET Colleges felt that although they had already passed Grade 12, they were in some cases being taken back over the same work already covered. She suggested that DHET needed to have a programme to cater specifically for those who had matriculated.
A Departmental representative noted that the DHET would study the curriculums and teaching standards for all subjects, and would, where it identified problems, conduct further training for the lecturers, because it had recognised that this was a challenge in FET colleges. The Department expected that students with matric qualifications would not be required to re-take subject areas that they had already completed. DHET also reviewed the quality of content, whether it addressed the demand in the labor market, and assessed Higher Education’s contribution to the skills gaps. The methodology in delivering the subject was also important, and there had been task teams that reviewed the relevance of qualifications.
Ms Rantho wanted more details on the lease agreements being revised, and for how long.
The Chairperson emphasised that the NCOP expected reports delivered by Departments to be quite specific about provinces. She noted that the report had said that there were 28 illegal Colleges, but there was no report on the measures DHET had taken to address these challenges. She also wanted more reports on the implementation plan for Student Housing. She requested how the Regional offices contributed to the overall transformation of the entire Department. The Chairperson also wanted more detailed reports on the figures of how many problems were solved and how many there were still outstanding.
The Chairperson asked if the increased enrolments carried special challenges.
Mr Qonde noted that the increased enrolment put pressure on the budget, but it was recognised that it was necessary to increase enrolments into higher education.
Ms M Boroto (Mpumalanga, ANC) asked about mechanisms to curb illegal establishment of FET colleges.
Mr Qonde responded that DHET was attempting to increase public awareness about the need to establish, before enrolling, whether a College was legally registered, and had a Hotline where people could phone to get information.
The meeting was adjourned.
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