Western Cape Further Education and Training (FET) Colleges status reports

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

04 February 2014
Chairperson: Adv I Malale (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The six Western Cape Further Education and Training (FET) colleges gave status reports. Principals, student and union representatives gave inputs. A representative from the Office of the Auditor-General was also present and gave a brief overview of the FET college audits which were under way.

The process of FET college migration from provincial to national jurisdiction was under way. Morale amongst the presenters appeared to be high, despite the following issues:

College councils’ were not operating officially since 31 December 2013 because ministerial appointments to them had not been made.

There had been a change, and a late announcement of the change, to student allocations for travel and accommodation subsidies. (Students within a ten kilometre radius of institutions were no longer eligible for transport funding and students within a 40 kilometre radius were not eligible for accommodation subsidies.)

Although there were insufficient funds for capital expenditure (for buildings and maintenance), in many cases these funds were being diverted to fund accommodation and transport.

The accommodation and transport issues had a worse impact on rural colleges.

The quality, validity and reliability of examinations were questionable, as was marking and moderation and the administration of issuing results and certificates.

All presenters gave details of their enrolments and retention, throughput, certification and drop-out rates.

Meeting report

The Chairperson announced that Committee member Mr C Moni (ANC) had passed away in December and asked all present to stand for a minute as a gesture of respect.

The Committee had visited most Further Education and Training (FET) colleges in most provinces and the present meeting was a continuation of that. The purpose was to explore the successes and challenges of the institutions. All colleges made their presentations followed by a very brief discussion period.

Boland College
Ms Corrie Myburgh, the principal, said that all five campuses have land and buildings of a good standard, but the national funding norms do not make provision for building maintenance. The college had a fully functional Council until 31 December 2013 when the term of office of all members terminated. The process of appointment of the five ministerial Council seats by the Minister of Higher Education was in process. The Council decided to continue with the five members who were eligible for a second term and have their decisions ratified when the new Council would be constituted. [All the presenters reported the same predicament.] More students, and fewer high-risk students, registered than in 2013 and the first-year enrolment target was (more than) achieved. There was a slight deficit in the senior level enrolment target.

In addition to the above challenges, the following were reported:
• The national funding norms did not make provision for student support services and accommodation
• The Department travel allowance was insufficient. The college used its own funds to provide limited facilities for students to reach the most rural campuses.
• Higher-achieving students were on university waiting lists and would register at the college if they were not accepted at university, after college had commenced.
• Matric results at many institutions had not been released. This meant that many students did not have the documents required for registration.
• The prescribed registration period (7-10 January) was too limited.
• The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) guidelines were received late and there had been changes, which made registration difficult.
• Marking and moderation quality was inadequate.
• Lecturers’ schedules would not always allow monitoring of students in workplace learning.

The staff representative said that the disparity in conditions of service between support and education staff was a challenge and that the migration strategy had resulted in inter-college poaching.

The student representative gave an overview of Student Representative functions and activities. He also said that students applied for NSFAS bursaries, were answered positively by the college but when the college forwarded the application to NSFAS it was sometimes turned down, and sometimes after the student had been in college for a month. He requested that NSFAS address students on campus, on this and about the changed travel allowances, to avoid student protests.

College of Cape Town
The principal, Mr Louis van Niekerk, said the college experienced a similar problem with its Council as described by Boland College above. Some programme enrolments had declined because of lack of bursaries but Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) funding had increased in ‘unscheduled’ activities. (The college allocated tender training contracts to this category.) He proposed that NSFAS should give colleges guidelines on a three-year plan. The ‘indicative budget’ forced colleges to undertake too much risk. As with Boland College, he expressed unease at the changed NSFAS guidelines having been received too late for planning.

Again, inadequate state funding for accommodation and transport was a problem. Some students were hungry in class.

Capex of R16m had been approved but an additional R500m would be sought to build new infrastructure in Thornton, Crawford and Athlone.

Quality of examinations papers and mark sheets was questionable, there were an unacceptable number of errata, which were received late, and irregularities and delays in the issuing of results and certificates.

Details on the pass, drop-out and throughput rates were given.

The staff representative from the National Professional Teachers Association of South Africa (NAPTOSA) said that the migration process was slow but better than the initial one in 2006, which was too hasty. There were staff concerns about changes and differences in salaries. The impoverished backgrounds of students was a challenge. Some education staff had never been in any workplace other than education but the role of workplace experience in FET education was rightly emphasised in a recent white paper. There was concern about lecturers’ time to gain workplace experience and monitor student progress in the workplace, as their teaching burdens had grown.

The student representative was from the Student Representative Council (SRC) and also the provincial secretary for the South African Students Congress. In 2013 the relationship between management and students at Cape Town College had broken down but had been rebuilt. He was concerned about lack of resources for the SRC, such as internet, telephone, transport etc. He was more concerned that, after NSFAS promised to engage with students regarding the guidelines, it had not and that the transport subsidy for students living within a 10km radius of campus had been withdrawn. It was not safe for students to walk from Gugulethu because of gangsters, although it was less than 10 km.

False Bay College
The principal, Mr Cassie Kruger, explained the college serves the South Peninsula, Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha communities, a population in excess of one million where 40% of the population is between 19 and 34 and 70% have qualifications below Matric.

Mr Kruger was critical of the current funding model because it did not correlate with the actual enrolments. In 2013 the college carried 514 unfunded students to the value of R11.5m (after deducting NSF funding). He said that funding for increased student enrolment should be linked to college performance and that colleges should be informed (no later than September) of their funding allocation for the following year. Over-enrolments should not be rewarded and under-enrolments should be penalized. Also the DHET should consider revising the 80:20 funding model.

He reiterated the previous concerns about the improperly constituted Council, transport allowances, late publication of the NSFAS guidelines and the quality of examination papers, marking and administration. He added that the absence of a Council meant that nobody was accountable for a public institution.

The post of deputy principal had been vacant for more than two years as there was a bureaucratic deadlock.

Regarding infrastructure, 2005 research indicated that the Khayelitsha Campus needed to be drastically expanded and a separate campus constructed in Mitchell’s Plain. Since then, the Denel Swartklip site was believed to be a better option because of its existing workshop infrastructure and accessibility to both communities. Its current infrastructure could accommodate in excess of 3000 students annually, in occupational programmes. The total estimated cost was R160m.

An SRC representative described the SRC’s communication strategy and participation in Council meetings. Ms Tersia Hendricks, also of the SRC, said that she agreed that provision of transport allowances should be linked to attendance but transport allowances were needed in order to attend. Students had been unable to plan to provide their own transport funding because the changed guidelines had been announced only in January. She also described the danger of walking, even though the distance was less than ten kilometres, and give lengthy crime statistics for Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha. The SRC supported the idea of the new campus.

A speaker who introduced himself as ‘an educator’ was interrupted by Mr Kruger who said that the speaker had been elected as an educator/support staff member.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had invited representatives of organised labour or students and therefore the speaker could address the meeting. Possibly the invitation had not been clear.

The speaker said that from a labour point of view, as an educator, he had issues but would not talk about them. The issue of marking validity was a problem and complaints were lodged annually to no effect but this was not the right platform for him to discuss them.

Northlink College
Mr Neil Maggott, principal, said Northlink too had no official Council. The post of deputy principal (finance) was vacant despite the Department being requested to advertise for filling in May 2013. No advertisement had yet been placed. The academic calendar was not synchronised with the rest of the post-school system. Unsuccessful applicants to universities of technology registered too late for the beginning of term.

NSFAS bursary guidelines should be published at the start of the last quarter of each year so that applications for bursaries for the following year could commence in October of each year. There should be an on-line application system direct to NSFAS and approvals should be given before commencement of courses. The means test criteria, for instance the household income threshold of R122 000, had not been reviewed for three years. Most NSFAS payments made in the second half of the year were received five or six months after submission. There was concern, as with previous presenters, regarding the quality of examinations. Occasionally, errata only arrived at the college an hour after commencement of an examination or when students had left. For instance the incorrect examination paper was in the official envelop opened in the examination room (the N4 Intro: Communication 2012 instead of 2013) and the Business Studies examination paper was exactly the same as previous years; marking guidelines by examiners had up to 40% discrepancies, the quality of memoranda was poor and there was no prior notice of resources that would be allowed in the examination session, all resulting in a lack of credibility. Late publication of results hampered registration for next trimester/semester. There were no examiners and moderators reports before the next enrolment/academic term. Examinations under investigation led to delays in the release of results.

Partnerships (72) with industries for student placement were described.

NAPTOSA representative, Ms Heloise Lotz, said that the Educator Labour Relations Council (ELRC) had not ratified new legislation relating to migration and therefore lecturers’ appointments could not be finalised. The quality of marking was an issue to educators because it might affect the pass rate, for which educators were blamed. She was against a 30-hour working week as the volume of lecturers’ work had increased to the extent that it was not done in 30 hours a week. She proposed making registration later to accommodate the late publication of NSFAS guidelines. She added that some staff had not received their December pay cheques.

An SRC representative said that guidelines for National Certificate (Vocational) log books, NSFAS guidelines, application and bursary application results and textbooks should be published and delivered timeously, as should notification of whether a travel allowance had been granted. The credibility of examinations should be improved with respect to errata and moderation. There was a need for workplace exposure and placement, housing, and accessibility to lecturers after hours. Mathematics in engineering was unfairly advanced, compared with similar trades and occupations and students with special needs were not catered for.

South Cape College
Mr Luvuyo Ngubelanga, principal, also mentioned functioning without an official Council. He stressed the differences between the urban and rural contexts, where long distances increased accommodation and travel needs. The current funds were highly insufficient. As a result, operational and infrastructure funds were being used to subsidise accommodation and student travel. This was not sustainable and might lead to a drop in enrolments in the near future. In addition, infrastructure was lacking. The six sites were fully utilised from 8 am to 6 pm and occupational programmes were implemented off-site. Most infrastructure was not in a good state and there was no land. There were plans to buy land/property in George for a Trade Test Centre and to build more classrooms, subject to utility availability. The college was negotiating with the local municipality regarding the Bitou site and an ex-Western Cape Education Department hostel was advised to be under threat.

Mr Hennie Cronje, staff representative, said that despite all the challenges of migration it was essential to be positive and to serve student clients, to build the image of the sector in order to promote FET college education. Failing to do so could only result in declining enrolments and worse challenges.

Mr Taylor Malan, SRC representative, said that his constituency’s concerns regarding accommodation, transport, and NSFAS guidelines had all been covered by previous presenters. He would like NSFAS to address students on campus.

West Coast College
Ms Osma Jooste-Mokgeti said the college had a fully functioning Council until December 2013. Employment equity statistics were presented, along with an overview of all college functions. There were challenges in student housing: students moved to colleges far from home although there were colleges close to their homes; limited private residence availability; students lied about their addresses and when the residence was full said they lived in the area; and some students lived in unsuitable private accommodation. There were challenges, too, in student transport: high numbers requiring assistance; no public transport; and great distances.

Construction at a cost of R25m was undertaken in 2013 and further construction at a cost of R77m was being undertaken, both mostly residences and classrooms.

There were concerns about bursary allocations: the college was not consulted about the rules and guidelines before publication; publication of these was late and students could not be briefed in time. Allocations should make provision for rural colleges and student needs. A differentiated bursary system was needed and the administration process should be owned at campus level. Monitoring student attendance was an administrative challenge. Students wanted ‘change’ from the bursary allocation and the majority (84%) required transport and accommodation.

Ms Monique Petersen, support staff representative, said that the migration process was long and that communication about bursaries was not timeous. The SRC chairperson described the SRC functions. Again, there was dissatisfaction with the 40 km rule regarding accommodation and the 10 km rule regarding transport as well as its late communication.

Response from Department  of Higher Education and Training (DHET)
The Committee asked for a response from the Department regarding college Councils, examinations, certification, accommodation and infrastructure. The Chairperson said that textbooks and workbooks should be available and that colleges paid service providers directly. NSFAS had not previously provided accommodation and transport and there was a ‘sense of entitlement’. The Committee wished to engage with students in ‘shaping the sector’. Students needed to learn how to engage with management, and to think before acting.

Ms Thembisa Futshane, DHET Chief Director, Institutional Support, Vocational Continuing Education & Training, said that the ministerial appointees to Councils would be known by the end of February. An advertisement had gone out and the shortlist had been finalised and was with the Minister.

Irregularities had caused late release of examination results and all except two had now been released. The need for a plan to address problems regarding the quality of examination papers had been noted. NSFAS guidelines had been released late because Treasury had wanted to know the return on its R2bn investment, necessitating an audit. This audit had revealed a ‘50% error rate’, nationally, on how colleges reported. Guidelines had previously been issued on time. Unhappiness regarding the exclusion of students within a 10 km and 40 km for transport and accommodation subsidies had been noted for consideration.

Response from Office of the Auditor-General
Ms Thandeka Zondi from the national executive committee of the Office of the Auditor-General, with responsibility for higher and basic education, was present. A 2012 evaluation of the FET environment showed that FET colleges were ‘inconsistent’. The Minister wanted to look at FET risks and contexts and governance and accountability. The 2012 audit revealed 20 outcomes outstanding, of which only three remained. Colleges at highest risk had been audited first, 15 of them in 2013, but by 2019 all colleges would have been audited. Additional focus areas of the audit were on compliance (procurement and contract management; internal audit and risk management and governance). Performance information was not included. Areas of concern included inadequate information systems; absence of governance structures; poor risk management; and sustainability of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants Chief Financial Officer initiative. The new legislation was not clear and needed to be updated. Mostly, there was a need for engagement on the part of the Auditor-General with the FET sector, the Department and audit firms.

Mr S Makhubele (ANC) wished that performance was included in the audit focus. Even if it was not included in the outcomes, it would at least familiarise the sector with the concept before it was included as an outcome. Colleges needed to understand the difference between stability and instability. Students and management needed to have a stable relationship, just as the unions did. Unions, however, were legislated while SRCs were not. The Department should address the issue of marking. Markers should be teachers of the subject they were marking. Unions sat in on the meetings where markers were appointed. Why was marking a problem? Bridging would be a burden to students if they were not funded. Northlink College had suggested the synchronisation of academic years. How was this achievable with the different institutions having trimesters and semesters? What was the exact proposal? How many students had applied overall and been rejected?

Dr L Bosman (DA) said that while the sector continued to increase, constraints such as lack of resources existed. He thanked the presenters for their uncomplaining approach. He agreed with the Chair that most matters of concern were out of the colleges’ hands and emanated from the Department. Examination quality was of vital importance and should be valid and trustworthy and lead to employment. Resources had to be stretched for maximum impact and rules had to be clear. Regarding accommodation infrastructure and equipment, the Committee needed to look at funding.

Mr K Dikobo (AZAPO) asked what would happen if members delayed constituting Parliament. The Auditor-General would find chaos if there was no oversight function. Who would one blame if colleges became corrupt because there was no Council to carry out the oversight and accountability function? Universities did not suffer the same predicament. In the North West and Durban, there had been complaints about the same issue in 2013. The Department was irresponsible and he rejected their conduct. Similarly, it was not acceptable that some staff members had not been paid in December. What made government decide that one institution deserved R1bn, and another not? If R1bn was taken from the National Skills Fund (NSF), would it not affect FET colleges?

It was a pity that the Auditor-General representative had little time to present and engage. Student organisations, which were not only SRCs but included religious, sporting and other organisations should be empowered and funded. They should also be held accountable and face consequences if their funding was misspent.

The Chairperson added the expiry of the term of office was not an unexpected event and the Department should have taken action earlier. The issue of examinations, marking, release of marks and certification would have to be revisited. He urged student representatives to study and pass and not to ‘trash our property’. As a Committee, they were prepared to meet and engage with student leadership. He thanked members of college Councils who carried out their duties on defunct Councils, as well as all others who give inputs.

The meeting was adjourned.


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