Department of Higher Education and Training on its 2013/14 Annual Report

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

14 November 2014
Chairperson: Ms LL Zwane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Education and Higher Training presented to the Committee its 2013/14  annual report. The Director General discussed its strategic goals for the year and the major challenges encountered. One main issue was that the Department received an unqualified audit. The Department partnered with the South African Instituted of Chartered Accountants and recruited qualified chartered accountants to work in TVET colleges and manage its finances. The Department has an Action Plan based on its audit findings, with a plan that includes specific commitments by the Minister on operational matters raised by the Auditor General. The biggest challenge that Department faced is structural issues such as financial matters that need re-budgeting, as well as vacancy rate and posts that need to be filled. However, in order to do so, the budget needs to be increased, but instead it was cut by R11.5 million. The Department had an unqualified audit report for the period under review.

Members congratulated the Department on the progress achieved given that it is a newly established Department. Nonetheless, some key concerns were raised. One was the fact that it had an unqualified audit report. The Committee stressed the need for the Department to ensure it gets a clean audit. Members noted that there needed to be reasons tendered why some targets were not addressed. Members noted that the Department needed to be careful with predetermined budgeting and planning. It was suggested that it was better that few targets were set rather than having many targets that could not be implemented. 

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened by expressing appreciation for all the progress the Department had made given that the Department was only established five years ago. However, reading the report, there are still challenges and the Department will need to seek solutions moving forward.

The 2013/14 Annual Report of the Department of Higher Education and Training
Mr Gwebinkundla Feni Qonde, Director General Department of Education and Higher Training, led the Committee through a briefing on the 2013/14 Annual Review, commencing with a highlight on the strategic goals of the Department. Key milestones achieved in terms of service delivery for the year under review were as follows-

-Launch of the White Paper for Post-School Education and training
-Publication of the Policy for the Provisioning of Distance Education in South African Universities
-Policy Framework for Differentiation of the Higher Education and Training System
-Protocol for a Generic National Artisan Learner Grant Funding and Administration System
-Establishment of 2 new universities, the Sol Plaatje University and University of Mpumalanga
-Establishment of the National Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences
-Declared 2013 as the “Year of the Artisan”
-Extended the Higher Education and Training AIDS
-Placed strong emphasis on career guidance
-The were five budget programmes during the year, with 127 planned targets
-65% of the targets were achieved
-35% of the targets were not achieved
-The Department received an unqualified audit
Key concerns raised by Auditor General dealt with the following:
-Significant uncertainties, regarding the Department’s involvement in lawsuits
-Compliance with laws and regulations, in regards to strategic planning and performance management
-Annual financial statements
-Human resource management and compensation
-procurement and contract management

Mr Qonde, first wanted to address some of the issues the Chairperson had raised, such as the colleges under administration and replied that none were under administration at the moment. The work that the Auditor General (AG) did in 15 colleges was a part of its turnaround strategy of the TVET sector in the country. One of the things it did was to appoint, in partnership with the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SICA), chartered accountants to all TVET colleges. The goal was to review the financial nature of audits, so that the Department could better understand the nature of risks, since it was investing money. That program worked very well. For example, it led the Department to conduct forensic investigations in some colleges where, after completion, some were officials implicated, charged, and some dismissed. Also, the Minister requested the AG to take interest in what was happening in colleges, since they were not audit colleges. Based on their capacity, AG said it would be able to look at 15 colleges at the moment. Out of the report that the Department got from the AG, it developed a well-crafted circular that went out to all colleges and put out action plans to monitor. This was the basis for monitoring, because the issue was lack of  control environment, especially in terms of finances. The Department wants to professionalise the control environment.

Mr DM Stock (ANC) complimented the Department about its work thus far, and asked about the financial statement of the Department, noting that it was essential to review. It still remained a concern that the TVET colleges were still facing serious financial challenges in regards to the report of the AG- only one clean audit achieved from the AG. What will the Department do to assist the different colleges? On the issue of protests in the different TVET colleges, a common reason for protests is the issue of lack of accommodation in these colleges. Students travel very far and this is a big challenge-has the Department used a survey to address these challenges related to accommodation? Lastly on mathematics in the different colleges, in matric, maths at the colleges remained a challenge. Further, where students fail one subject, they do not get the certificate. This contributes to the issue of the significant drop out rate. Was there a plan to address this?

Ms LC Dlamini (ANC) congratulated the Department on its good work and noted that  it was the goal for 2014 for all Departments to have clean audits the unqualified audit for the current financial year was concerning- the Department is urged to maintain a clean audit.  The Department is one of the most important departments in the country- what are the skills requirements of the country? The Department must provide this so that the country could move forward. The Program 2, “Human Resources Development, Planning and Monitoring Coordination,” is the most important program, if it performs its functions. Did the Department monitor other departments? On the tracing processand the children in the program, how does the Department know if the children make it to the last stage? Does it know how many dropouts there are? There tends to be celebration of a high matric rate, but how many students make it to higher education? And, when the students finish, where do they go? That is the role the Department should have- tracing these students. In terms of budget, if the Department had implemented all the targets, there would have been a lot of overspending. The Department did not achieve the 45 targets, but reviewing the surplus, it would not have been sufficient for all the targets, and there would be a lot of overspending. The Department underestimated during the budgeting process. For example, why were examinations not budgeted in the beginning? The targets must be balanced with the budget.

Mrs PC Tlake (ANC) said that she was not clear with what the strategic plan was in the annual report. What was the APP, and how does it relate to the budget? Are the strategic goals interlinked with strategic planning? The presentation was not clear with explaining why the targets were not achieved. How many disabled students were in the system and what monitoring system was in placefor them? Does the Department go to the provinces to see where the students are and if the infrastructure is user-friendly for disabled students? On which levels did the Department reduce the vacancy rate? Which posts have been filled, and which were not?  The average number of days to resolve disciplinary cases was 74 days- how is this an achievement?

Mrs TG Mpambo-Sibhukwana (DA) expressed concern that almost 50% of the targets have not been met on Program 3- University Education; what were the reasons for this? The Department only “raises its head when there is volcanic eruption” - why did it take so long for the Department to establish a risk management unit? On the outstanding deputy posts on corporate services, how long have they been vacant? The issue is that the salary is not competitive enough- what was being done about it?

The Chairperson asked about the appointments into the councils- has this process been finalised. What kind of certification was issued after the training of artisans? Are training workshops accredited to issue certificates that are credible and compliant? Is the training given by lectures that are not artisans, or is it given by artisans? Lastly, the Chairperson noted that the results of the forensic investigations the Department was undertaking were awaited. Bursaries should be directed to learners who deserve it- if there is abuse in the system, it was hoped it will not take long to address them. Is there an instrument used to assess the investment the Department is making in terms of outputs? What is the drop-out rate? Was the Department gaining or losing – it was necessary to ensure that what the Department was achieving contributed to the development of the country.

In response to the question about what the Department can do to assist colleges, Mr Qonde said that the Department had put in place a number of programs to deal with this. One is the partnership that it had with SICA. The Department identified that in colleges, anyone would be appointed to handle financial matters. For example, a graduate who majored in political studies was given the responsibility of handling large amounts of money. To address this, the Department worked with SICA to fill that gap and recruit qualified chartered accountants. Second, the Department launched the AG into the college space to reinforce the work that was already happening on capacitating people to better manage finances. Together with SICA, they analysed and isolated all critical areas, then developed a schedule to go to all colleges to monitor and identify needs of each area identified, such as governance. They worked out minimum control measures. On the question of human resources, there are personnel who along with SICA, were recruited and placed within the colleges. After identifying the areas of challenge, they developed monitoring systems, so they could take decisive actions against colleges who were not complying. In regards to maths and sciences, all the colleges are supplying academic support to maths. They also developed a study with the aim of a foundation phase in mathematics and science. Also, placement tests at college level should be annotated at the beginning so they can measure and test the level of the students. On the question of protests in regards to accommodation, Mr Qonde said there was mapping for the entire country of where the school facilities should be in the country. The study found that the concentration of these facilitates were in urban centres. As one moves further away from urban centres, there are none. This informed the Department of where universities would be. With some TVET in certain areas, students would have to travel around 350 kilometres to the nearest college. Proximity to communities was an important element, and the Department has tried to mitigate the current programs to address this. The Department created a policy requiring colleges to provide students with some money per month to help with travelling in a 10 km to 40 km radius. However, the system is abused and difficult to manage; hence the Department was reviewing it as well as considering alternative options of accommodation. On studies in the basic education system and the resultant effects, the Department is conducting a study on pathways and graduate destinations. It is addressing the question of school-to-work transitions. There are a couple of longitudinal studies that trace them. This study is in partnership with the Human Sciences and Research Councils and other various research units in the Department. It is a multi-stakeholder arrangement. On the question of universities, the Department is putting in place resources from the national fiscals. It has also mobilised sector education and training portfolios. Total resources make almost half a billion Rand. And there are international donors. The government is putting a lot of money into supporting the students. The National Schemes Fund is in excess of 2.7 billion. This is not a small amount and the Department emphasises the achievement. The Annual Report is aligned with the strategic plan of a five- year period. It is based on annual performance ranks. The targets not achieved were more related to people’s capacities.

A Department representative answered the question on artisan certificates. There is an issue of quality of all artisan certifications in the country.  The country has more than 620 accredited trade persons who are a part of training companies. 95% of them are owned privately. The Department has its own as well. The Department does audits to ensure quality in regards to the certificates. For example, audits are done on tools, because that is important for artisans. Another example is that the Department ensures there is workspace available. Thus, the Committee should be assured that there is extensive work in this area. The Department has a list of occupations in demand, including critical skills. This year, the Minister published a list of occupations in demand, and it is available on the Department’s website as of 4 November.

Another Department representative answered the question on the structure and arrangement of the Department in terms of functions. There has been no increase in budget to deal with the issues, inherited from the Department of education. The Department’s branch is supposed to have five chief directors. It could only afford two, International Relations and Legal Services. The Department was lucky enough to save some money to appoint an economist for planning. On research monitoring and evaluation, the Department does very broad monitoring and evaluation. It has to deal with structural issues of the Department itself, there are a lot of additional functions that do not fit and is cross-fitting, like distance learning, career-development. On the question of disability, the Minister has set a policy that would be finalised soon. The Minister was in the process of appointing a ministerial committee to develop a disability policy framework for the Department. The Department currently had a big project called the “Labour Market Intelligence Project.” The Human Science Research Council, together with WITS University, has been appointed to do this. A part of their work would be to do longitudinal studies, which is very expensive. There has not been tracking of students beyond college so far, hence, the study put all resources together to suggest a process for a very comprehensive longitudinal tracking system to follow up on all learners.

Ms Lulama Mbobo, Deputy Director- General, answered the questions on vacancy rate. The Department’s presentation provided a breakdown of where vacancies were in the programs. But, it also provided a breakdown in terms of levels, from lower skills to management. A reason for the vacancy rate is the complicated nature of the functions, like having to set up new processes and systems, and development of policies because of the newness of the Department. This requires a lot of different types of skills, so the Department targets people from universities or people with certain expertise. The Department has inherited vacant posts from the previous Department, which might not be what the Department now views as critical. For the past four years, it has identified the critical posts needed. The biggest challenge is that it cannot go beyond its budget, but the needs increased. The Minister has written to the Minister of Finance to request a review of the Department’s budget so it could implement the new structure. Until approval is gotten, the Department would not be able to fill these posts.  On disciplinary matters, the target is that the Department must deal with cases within 90 days. The 74 days that the Department reported was an average of all the cases it had- none of those cases exceeded 90 days. On risk management, it was related to the question of the structure- when the Department was split up, there was no risk management allocated to its team. Labour did not come with risk management; it is a very specialised field. The new framework states that an internal audit must be separated from risk management.

Mr Qonde added that the Department’s operational budget was not adhered to for 2014/15. It was cut by 11.5 million. This happened against the background of the Department inheriting for the same financial year 38,000 staff from provinces and TVET colleges. This added huge risk to the Department, and an inability to service those numbers of staff members, as they migrated from where they were into that Department. The Department is trying to address this measure. On the Deputy Director -General post, there is an interview schedule for 1 December. On workshops accreditation, they are accredited. In so far as developing and training of artisans in country was concerned, one of the things established was that training of artisans and testing development was a very loose arrangement. To address this, the Department established a “National Artisan Moderating Committee,” which spelled out eight years  for the development of artisans and standardized training and testing of artisans of the entire country
Another representative of the Department addressed the issues on the budget and explained that the unfortunate situation was that budgeting happened during the exact period that the economic crisis started. The budget has never been reassessed. In terms of exams specifically, it was the old department’s policy debate on examination services on TVET colleges. As a result, they were never adjusted. There was an enrolment increase in TVET colleges. Thus, enrolments expanded, but the budget was not increased and that placed the Department under huge pressure. The Department needed to employ monitors of exams, exam centres, etc. There was a lot of pressure on the exam component, so it had to move fiscal resources to that area to service those needs.

Ms Mbobo responded to the issues about the university directorate, and the 11 targets that were not met by the university branches. Some of the targets were systems targets based on negotiations through the national enrolment plan process. The Department has done certain things to address these. For example, it had put in place a central application clearinghouse mechanism. On the question about appointments, it was unknown how many institutions have complied, but submissions have been sent through. On the question of monitoring the dropout rate, there is no mechanism in place, but there is a study that is currently being conducted.

Ms Dlamini requested a follow up report on the issue of accreditation. Also, on the issue of accommodation, it was reported that there was an individual who took over one block of the university accommodation for personal use, and was renting it out. Could that be followed up as well? The Department must be very careful about planning especially with budgeting on predetermined targets. It did not obtain a qualified audit report the year under review, but it should next year. The Department should not budget for things it does not plan to implement. Rather, it is better to have few targets that could be implemented.

Ms Mpambo-Sibhukwana asked the Department if it had conducted a study on the intervention done by SICA, specifically on the transference of skills. Did the partnership yield the expected outcomes?

Mr Qonda responded that in many cases, yes there were expected outcomes. Where there were none, the Department extended contracts to address those issues.

The meeting was adjourned.

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