Gender and racial transformation in higher education: Department of Higher Education and Training briefing; Committee oversight reports

NCOP Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs, Water and Sanitation and Human Settlements

11 November 2014
Chairperson: Mr M Mohapi (ANC, Free State)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Higher Education and Training provided an overview of the rate of transformation in the higher education and training system. It was noted that there had been marked increases in the participation, enrolment and graduation numbers of African, Coloured and Indian students, compared to the 1993 base year. However, these gains had to be viewed with caution, as many disparities were not taken into consideration by generalised data, and there were worrying trends, such as the decrease in the participation rate of African males, the causes of which were still to be investigated.

The delegation also highlighted persistent trends that illustrated the slow pace of transformation, particularly in the areas of academic staff and women pursuing post-graduate studies. The Committee required elaboration on the causal factors, as well as the mitigating steps the Department was implementing. It was conceded that many of the underlying causes had yet to be investigated and analysed.

Other considerations raised by Members formed part of the Minister’s seven equity objectives, but were not explicitly dealt with in the presentation, which focused on gender and racial transformation. Members required clarity on the transformation objectives and their potentially negative effects. The end goal of the transformation enterprise was put forward as the achievement of equity, equal opportunity and redress of the injustices of the past. To this end, the Department had certain interventions and policies in accordance with the White Paper and National Development plan (NDP).  Future interventions included an academic staff development framework, a new generation of academics programme, as well as the draft policy. The Members acknowledged the report, and were assured of further correspondence dealing with their requests for additional information.

The reports on the Committee oversight visits to Abaqulisi, Mbabazane and Umvoti local municipalities were adopted after deliberation, with concerns being raised over outstanding issues at Umvoti. 

Meeting report

Briefing by Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)

Mr Firoz Patel, Deputy Director General: Planning, DHET, tendered an apology for the Director General’s absence. The Minister and the Director General were engaged in Cabinet committee meetings.

Mr Patel provided a historical context with regard to the education of Black South Africans. The minimal gains seen in post-colonial times had been further eroded with the advent of the apartheid regime. 1994 had ushered in an opportunity to overturn the discrimination of the past. The extent of progress was such that 2008 saw the publishing of the Ministerial Commission for Transformation and Social Cohesion’s report, which spoke to the discriminatory practices that were still taking place at some universities. In 2012, the National Development Plan (NDP) was introduced, which dealt substantially with higher education, particularly the links between higher education and social transformation and economic development. In 2013, the Ministerial oversight committee on transformation was established, as premised in a green paper. The nature of the committee was to be investigative and advisory. In 2014, the white paper on post school education and training was published.

As to the pace of the progress, Mr Patel juxtaposed 1993’s ‘black’ (Africans, Coloureds, Indians) university enrolment rate at 42%, with 2012’s 82% black enrolment at universities. The participation rate of Africans had increased from 9% in 1993 to 16% in 2012. Participation was defined as 20-24 year olds in the population, as opposed to 20-24 year olds enrolled in universities. In terms of Coloureds over the same period, the percentage had risen from 14 to 14.3%. The Indian and White population experienced increases from 40% to 48.7% for the former, while the latter decreased from 70% to 54% over the same period. Thus, although the absolute number of Africans in universities had increased, in proportion to the population, the increase was relatively static. It was noted that the population comprised 80% Africans, Coloured 9%, Indians 2 % and whites 9%. Further, the gender split of the population was 51% female and 49% male. These were the demographics that the Department’s target was to speak to. The gross enrolment ratios showed that the African female enrolment rate surpassed that of African males. It was thus imperative to look at the representation of the population in relation to enrolment rates, and what the challenges and constraints were in that regard.

The next analysis pertained to total enrolment figures over the 20-year period from 1994 to 2014. ‘Black’ enrolment, as per the collective definition, had increased from 52% (1993) to 81% (2012). Women had gone from 43% to 58%. It was stated that deeper analysis was needed with regard to the phenomenon concerning African males’ participation rates. Yet there was an inversion of this trend at postgraduate level, where it was found that women were under-represented at that level. This was also a policy consideration, in terms of determining what the constraints to female post graduate education level were, and the solutions thereto. In 2006 to 2011, there had been an increase in African enrolment from 451 000 to 640 000. Coloured enrolment increased by 11 000. Whites, in contrasting, decreased relatively marginally by 7 000. The fact that the numbers disguised the disparity between the population and participation sizes, of Africans in particular, was highlighted.

In terms of quality and throughput, with a norm set at 80%, the success rate for Africans was 71% and Whites 82%. Assuming completion within the expected time, graduation rates for Africans were 16% and Whites were at 22%. This was below the international norm, but raised quality issues that needed to be addressed. Throughput and dropout rates were of great concern, considering that there were a lot of funds invested in the students, and where they were not able or assisted to succeed, resources were used to the exclusion of other potential candidates. For instance, 16 % of Africans enrolled would complete their studies within the stipulated three years. 44% of Whites complete their qualification within the stipulated time. 41% of Africans completed the same qualification in six years (double the stipulated time) and whites at 65%.

On the other hand, the drop out issue was problematic, considering the years spent at universities without attaining a qualification. It was posited that part of the difficulty lay in the length of the current programmes. As such, American-modelled associate degrees were being considered where the duration was two years. The African dropout percentage was almost 60%, whereas for Whites it was 35%. It was thus apparent that there were issues around quality, and the dropout issue was to be further interrogated as to the causes, social effects and mitigating measures that could be undertaken. There were, in fact, some mitigating programmes under way.

Academic staff data showed that in 2011 there was still an over representation of the white (males) across temporary and permanent staff.

Scrutiny of post graduate or doctoral graduates by race tracked the progression from 90% of this group being white, while 9.6% was black, in 1994 to a situation where the doctoral participation of whites was halved and blacks’ participation increased fivefold, although this was still deficient given the country’s scale. This was primarily achieved through introducing more candidates into programmes through preferential funding.

Mr Patel further explored the trends in undergraduate enrolment numbers by race. It may have been said that from 1994 -2012 there was a concerted push, yet no substantial impact was ascertainable, owing to the gap caused by racially discriminatory education. The change in undergraduate enrolment by gender revealed a movement away from what reflected the gender population sizes, with women slightly higher as expected, towards a 100 000 difference between the genders. It was posited that the decrease in (African) male enrolment was the possible socio-economic risk. When looking at the undergraduate graduation rate by race, Whites had attained a rate of 18% as opposed to the ideal of 25%. Africans Coloureds and Indians had remained around 9% and 14%. There had been an improvement in the African cohort, with Coloureds and Indians remaining fairly consistent. The difference between men and women in undergraduate graduation rates was such that there was an anomaly from 1994 to 2010, and a normalisation thereafter. It was not certain what the causes of the anomaly were at that stage.  In terms of postgraduate graduation rates by race, it was evident that there was more integration and blacks (in the collective sense) were successfully completing the qualifications. Within the black cohort, the increased effort at attracting more Coloureds and Africans was apparent by the increase in their numbers. Finally, the distribution of academic staff had continued to follow the historical contours of race across institutions.

The White Paper had pronounced certain areas of concern which had been adopted as policy areas. It conceded that although many gains had been made for blacks and women under current policies, it was not sufficient. A highlighted area of policy focus was to be the marked decline in African male participation rates. Also, the slow change in academic staffing required policy attention. This brought into play the dichotomy between public accountability and university autonomy. The issue was that change could not wait for the slow internal processes of transformation within universities. Thus, the oversight committee’s purpose was centred on the need to overcome discrimination in universities, as well as advising the Minister.

The Department had sent both its reports and the draft social inclusion policy to the Commission on Gender Equity. The Minister had released the draft policy for public comment in August 2014. The focus of the policy was to assist public institutions in developing their own social inclusion policies and guidelines. It would be used to monitor institutions and take transformation plans into account. A charter would also be included, where universities would have to take a pledge that staff discrepancies would be addressed.

Interventions have had some impact, yet they had been deficient considering the qualitative challenges at the foundation stages, as well as the contextual realities faced by learners. Thus, additional measures had been added to assist under-prepared learners to succeed. To that end, R236 million had been set aside. Teaching and research development grants were designed to improve the qualifications of academic staff, as well as to improve the situation of under-represented groups in academia.  Staff in universities would have a framework that would be directed toward capacity and developing future academics. The South African universities framework takes as a starting point the imperative to recruit, support and retain black and female academics. An apparent challenge was that many graduates were the first in their families and thus there was an implicit expectation for them to enter into professions that would maintain the family and provide tuition for younger generations. Thus the question was one of retaining academics considering the salaries earned by academics compared to their socio-economic expectations.

Another concern was that scholarship had been neglected, owing to the pressures to produce qualifications suited for taking up positions in the working world.  Thus to facilitate the growth of academics, the New Generation of Academics Programme (NGAP) had been initiated. The implementation phases contemplated were to begin intake in 2015 with 200 scholars, 85% of which would be black South African scholars. Priority would be given to black women. The programmes were forecasted to reach an intake of 400 per annum.


Ms G Manopole (ANC, Northern Cape) welcomed the report and acknowledged the increased participation and enrolment of women. Had the Department kept a record of the female graduation rates as per enrolment, as the presentation had not clarified that detail? Further, what was the plan to address the fluctuation or anomaly seen in the graduation rates of women? Could the academic staff development framework be elaborated on, particularly on issues of transformation and gender?

Mr Patel noted the anomaly in terms of female graduation rates, but said that there had been normalisation from 2012. The nature of the graph showed a difference of 1.5%. As to the causes of the anomaly, no detailed analysis was on hand, so the question would have to be referred. Further documentation detailing the academic programme framework would be provided. However, the issue remained with interrogating the non-educational gender factors that affected women’s progress in academia.

Ms Chantal Dwyer, Enrolment Planning: University Academic Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, provided quantitative substantiation. In relation to the graduation rates, the delegation had preferred not to use graduation rates, as these were calculated in accordance with enrolments of that particular year. This led to inaccurate depictions and fluctuations. What was more accurate was to track cohorts’ graduation rates, that is, the same set of people from enrolment in a particular course, to graduation. In terms of female graduates, 2007 to 2012 had seen an increase of 6%.

Ms Dwyer elaborated on the academic staff framework, stating that its emphasis lay in changing the composition of the staff with greater inclusion of women and black staff. There were initiatives in place ensuring that female staff increased not only in number, but also focused on their positions.

Mr D Ximbi (ANC, Western Cape) enquired whether disabled persons were catered for under the banners of gender and race, as this was not detailed in the presentation, considering many disabled persons did not receive tertiary education.

Mr Patel highlighted the Minister’s seven key equity goals. These included race, gender and class. Since 1994 blacks in general and Africans in particular had their class status related to race for historical reasons. Yet, moving forward, the focal point had become class, and that needed to be addressed accordingly. Age, geography, disability and health were the other imperatives. The Minister had committed to developing a framework for disabilities. He conceded that there was insufficient action with regard to disabilities and higher education. The Department had made specific grants available to universities for the improvement of their disability units. There had not been dedicated funding. Thus the disabled bore the financial burden with regard to mobility and accessibility, for instance. It amounted to the issue of institutional autonomy versus public accountability. The policy would then have to address specific issues including funding, specialist residential facilities and transport. Moreover, the monitoring of opportunities afforded to disabled persons was to be prioritised. This was to be done from school level, thus affording support and ensuring entry into tertiary institutions. The fact that some disabilities affected the rate at which students were able to compete in learning activities was to be taken into account, including the reconfiguration of admissions requirements to cater for such differences. The Committee was assured that the issue would be dealt with and gazetted immediately.

Ms Dwyer clarified that the Department did capture information on disabled students. In 2012 there were 6 277 disabled students on the departmental data base, and in 2013 it had risen to 7 110.

Ms T Mokwele (EFF, North West) said she appreciated the report.

Mr S Thobejane (ANC, Limpopo) sought clarity on the situation of graduates who were not able to obtain their results, due to outstanding fees.

Mr Patel differentiated between students funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and those who owed the university directly. He explained that NSFAS relied on students who had completed their studies and were in employment to repay their loans so as to fund the following group of students. The Minister had granted amnesty to a number of students. With regard to students owing universities, it was of concern that their results were withheld. The Department would be dealing with individual universities with regard to initiating debt relief, rescheduling, or debt counselling programmes.

Mr L Nzimande (ANC, KwaZulu-Natal) underscored the need to represent the full picture of disabled members of the community across gender and race.  Further, did the numbers on transformation include institutions that had a concentrated black student base, for historical and geographical reasons? This was a concern, as the overall picture may have been positive but did it not disguise distribution anomalies. This led to the issue of whether other categorisations of the population had been considered -- for instance urban and rural, suburbs and township, with regard to equal opportunity of enrolment.

Mr Patel said that with regard to intake and equal opportunities, a considerable amount had been allotted to career planning. Educational opportunities that were limited because of funding had to be made available equitably to all citizens. He recognised that averages disguised anomalies.

Mr M Chetty (DA, KwaZulu-Natal) asked whether the reduction in the pass percentage rate in the primary and secondary schooling system had a contributory effect on the dropout rate.  Also, what was the status of international recognition of South African degrees? Could it not be said that the system was producing a nation of under-achievers, as 20 years after democracy people were being afforded opportunities not based on their academic merit, but on other factors.

Mr Patel, in his capacity as a public servant, said that the Constitution compelled the redress of imbalances of the past. Thus, where there were limited opportunities or spaces, equity and representation had to be catered for. In terms of admission standards, all such requirements were strictly adhered to. There were no universities that had race as a sole criterion for admission. It had to be accepted that the youth had different experiences, such as the legacy of poverty, for instance. Differences in access to amenities, geographical and qualitative differences, had to be accounted for lest the youth took it upon themselves.  

Ms Manopole enquired about the factors that curtailed women’s progress in academia, and suggested that the slow rate of change in women occupying leadership positions was a result .

Mr Patel undertook to deliver the breakdown in terms of gender. In terms of the causes that hindered women’s progress in academics, an in-depth analysis was yet to be embarked upon.

Mr M Mhlanga (ANC, Mpumalanga) commented that he had seen the draft policy and wondered to what extent public hearings had been held. In addition to that, in view of the decrease in white student enrolment, he asked where the remainder had gone, and whether this posed a security threat.

Mr Patel detailed that the process with regard to the draft policy was at the stage where the Minister had to apply his mind to the public comments received. It was then for the Minister to issue the final policy.

The Chairperson sought clarity on the dropout rates at post graduate level according to race, and how South Africa fared in terms of international norms. The issue of dropouts had again been raised, primarily because of the monetary implications, so what was being done to mitigate the continuation of the current situation? What were the specific objectives of the Ministerial oversight committee, how far had it progressed in realising its objectives and what had been the hindrances experienced? What was being done to curb the significant drop in male enrolment?  Further, the situation at Tswane University of Technology called for attention, as there had been a fatality and elements of tribalism, which could overlap with race, had been evident. There had been legislation enacted to phase out racial disparities of the past, such as the Employment Equity Act, yet the data showed that academic staff remained predominantly white. What was the plan to ensure equity in this regard?

The Chairperson was careful to emphasise that proceedings were in terms of section 69 of the Constitution and as such, any answers tendered would be considered seriously. Thus, where the delegation had reservations, it was advisable to defer comment.

Mr Patel noted that the issue of dropouts and consequent wastage had been identified by the Department, as underscored by the Select Committee. The Department would take serious issue therewith. He suggested that the Select Committee invite the transformation oversight committee to address it on its work. The end objective was to ensure equity, thus dealing with the injustices of the past.

The Chairperson quoted the Freedom Charter, stating that one of the clauses was that the doors of learning shall be opened. How far was the Department in terms of that progressive realisation?

Mr Patel maintained that the Department was giving effect to the Freedom Charter. The latter stated that the doors of learning would be opened and that education would be accessible on merit. It had made no direct reference to free education. However, in terms of the resolutions of the governing party, the Ministerial committee with regard to funding was looking at making higher education fee-free for the poor. The definition of poor was not arbitrary. The targeted group would be designed to include the missing middle. Progressively, in terms of enrolment planning, the Department was aiming to increase enrolments by 62% in the next 15 years, in accordance with the NDP.

The Chairperson thanked the delegation and clarified processes for further engagement.

Oversight visit reports

The Chairperson provided a background summary of the oversight visit to Abaqulisi local municipality. It was to be placed on record that the Committee was unaccompanied, save for the researcher on women’s issues. Pertinent issues that had emanated from the community pertained to youth and women. The Chairperson proposed an addition to the recommendations of the report, that on issues of women and youth, the Women’s Ministry in the Presidency and the National Youth Development Agency be engaged. The members agreed and the recommendation, with amendment, was adopted.

The Imbabazane local municipality report, with recommendations, was similarly amended.

Ms Mokwele held a differing view to that of the report. It was thought to be unnecessary. It was put on record that the stakeholders, councillors and administrators of the provincial department had already negotiated an extension.

Mr Nzimande noted that instability in municipalities was a serious matter if it affected service delivery, as was the case in Imbabazane. This was particularly relevant, as the municipality was due to be re-demarcated. Thus it was fair that the determinations and observations that came from the oversight undertaken by the Committee be taken note of. He therefore supported adoption of the report.

The Chairperson reminded Members of the issues surrounding the still outstanding performance agreements. The Committee was under a constitutional duty to provide leadership. The report acknowledged short comings, thus the adoption of the report would not make light of that fact.

The report was eventually adopted.

Mr Thobejane supported the report on Umvoti local municipality for adoption, with reservations about outstanding issues and how they would be captured in the report.

Mr Chetty shared similar concerns with Mr Thobejane. He enquired whether there had been a report or any liaison with the municipality about progress with the mayoral election. The request for an extension until March was incongruent with the undertaking that these issues would be resolved in two weeks.

The Chairperson added that there were also forensic investigation recommendations which were yet to be implemented. Vacant posts in the Exco were also outstanding factors. The report had enumerated the outstanding issues, so that when the Committee made subsequent recommendations, the outstanding issues would have been noted.

In response to Mr Chetty’s concerns, the Chairperson suggested that the Committee write follow-up letters to the administrative level, as part of its monitoring duties.

Mr Ndzimane seconded the adoption of the report, while pointing out the reasonableness of the time period requested by the municipality given the nature of the appointments and ensuing governance issues that had to be addressed.  

The Chairperson acknowledged all comments and thanked the members for their dedicated work.

The meeting was officially adjourned. 

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