Higher Education Amendment Bill: public hearings

Basic Education

17 August 2000
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Meeting report

HIGHER EDUCATION AMENDMENT BILL: HEARINGS

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
18 August 2000
HIGHER EDUCATION AMENDMENT BILL: HEARINGS

Relevant Submissions:

Higher Education Amendment Bill
South African Qualification Authority (SAQA)
Alliance of Private Providers of Education and Training & Development
Committee of Technikon Principals
SA University Vice Chancellors Association (SAUVCA)
National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA (NAPTOSA)
South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)
National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU)
South African Student Congress (SASCO)

SUMMARY
The overall consensus by the various organisations was that the Bill in its entirety was trying to improve the regulation of the higher education sector as a whole. However, many had reservations about certain clauses of the Bill especially the proposed amendments to Section 3 and Section 20 [referred to as Section 40 in some of the submissions]. The proposed amendments give the Minister extensive powers over the scope and range of operations of higher education institutions and intervention with regard to their spending and financial sustainability. Most felt that although ministerial intervention may be the only way to find appropriate solutions, the degree and extent of ministerial involvement leans more towards 'control'. SADTU, on the other hand, supported the amendments to Sections 3 and 20.

Another general point of concern was the proposed amendment of Section 54 in the Bill as it relates to conditional registration. This provision poses a danger to students and staff in the event that such institution goes under. The Registrar should only register institutions that meet or fulfill existing requirements.

MINUTES
South African Qualification Authority (SAQA)
Mr Samuel Isaacs said SAQA recognises the need to regulate Higher Education and therefore supports the Higher Education Amendment Bill.

It supports the addition of the definition "to provide higher education" in Section 1 of the Higher Education Act 101 of 1997. SAQA also supports the addition of subsection 3 to Section 57 in order to ensure that student records are retained and that the interests of learners will be safeguarded.

Alliance of Private Providers of Education and Training and Development
Ms Mamsie Sebolai stated that the Bill contains good aspects but that they have reservations on some of the proposed amendments. The introduction of subsection 3 to Section 3 provides for the Minister to "prescribe the scope of operations" of institutions. They believe this would be undesirable as this will allow the Minister to have very wide, unfettered powers. The Alliance submits that if this power is required, the criteria upon which it might be exercised, the limits and the procedure applicable must be expressly provided. The ability of the Minister to prescribe the scope of operations of private higher education institutions needs to be restricted. She is confident that the market will itself limit and dictate the scope of operations of private institutions.

Section 11 should be amended to include more accurately the role players in the private higher education industry and not simply private higher education institutions. It is recommended that the Minister must invite nominations to vacancies in the Council on Higher Education to organised registered bodies representing private higher education institutions such as themselves.

Discussion
Ms Benjamin (ANC) wanted to know why if there were a 134 private institutions who wished to be registered, only four were registered.

Ms Sebolai stated that this is due to constant delays which prevail in the Office of the Registrar. The small number does not reflect that most of the applicants are not reputable applicants.

Committee of Technikon Principals (CTP)
Prof Roy du Pre expressed concern over the amendment of Section 3 to include subsection 3, which allows the Minister to make decisions on "the scope and range of operations including the size and institutional configuration of higher education institutions".

Furthermore the Bill also proposes an amendment to Section 20 of the principal Act [referred to as Section 40 in the submission], which provides that in spite of the locus standi of the institution such institution shall no longer have the right to independently enter into loan and overdraft agreements or to embark on any immovable infrastructure developments or to purchase such immovable property, unless it falls within stringent parameters set by the Minister or it is approved by the Minister.

These proposed amendments make serious inroads into the existing independence and autonomy of an institution to properly and effectively govern itself. This would be giving the Minister the power to micro-manage institutions in those matters mentioned above. The CTP therefore urgently requests the Education Portfolio Committee not to accept the proposed amendments in their present wording.

Discussion
Mr Moonsamy (ANC) asked how the proposed amendments would impede institutions. Professor du Pre answered that it is difficult for institutions to get prior permission from the Minister in matters dealing with the running of an institution. Consequently he feels that the autonomy of an institution needs to be recognised.

Another member of the ANC asked Prof du Pre whether he was aware of the huge amounts of debt with which many institutions were burdened. Prof du Pre stated that he accepted that the amendment is trying to deal with these problems but added that it is also the job of the institution's council to deal with these matters.

South African Universities Vice Chancellors' Association (SAUVCA)
Mr Andreas van Wyk expressed his concern over the proposed amendment of Section 3 in the Bill. He felt that the inclusion of subsection 3 gives the Minister extensive rights over the scope and range of operations of higher education institutions. This he said was contrary to the principle of institutional autonomy and was draconian. The Minister already possesses the authority of determining the conditions for payment of subsidies in the case of public higher education institutions, as well as determining the conditions for registration for private higher education institutions. He thus urged the committee to support the deletion of this section.

He also stated that he understood the need for the amendment of Section 20 in the Bill [referred to as Section 40 in the submission] stemming from the unsatisfactory situation of huge overdrafts and debts which certain institutions face. He added that if one considers the impact that the proposed amendment would have on institutions not guilty of financial mismanagement, it is clear that the powers of the Minister will severely limit the rights of institutions to enter into legally binding contracts. He submitted that exorbitant salaries and poor levels of payment of student fees could also be responsible for the financial problems of these institutions. Therefore the limitations placed on these institutions by the Minister in the proposed amendment would not necessarily remedy the situation. He recommends that where the institutions' liabilities exceed its net assets the Minister shall have the right to place such institution under curatorship.

National Professional Teachers Organisation (NAPTOSA)
Mr Dave Balt raised his objections to the proposed amendment of Section 3. Public and private higher education institutions, which up until now have largely been autonomous, will be governed/controlled by policy determined by the Minister regarding their scope of operations. He felt that even though ministerial intervention may be the only way to find appropriate solutions, he was concerned with the degree and extent of ministerial involvement and whether it leans more towards 'control'.

NAPTOSA was also concerned about the amendment to Section 53 which does not provide for specific criteria which a private higher education institution has to fulfill in order to be registered as such. The problem he said was that the decision to register or not was solely up to the discretion of the Registrar.

With regards to the proposed amendment of Section 20 in the Bill [referred to as Section 40 in the submission], Mr Balt expressed his support for ministerial intervention. He stated that NAPTOSA supports these additions as an attempt to curb the spending of higher education institutions beyond that which is affordable and to create the opportunity to receive guidance on spending.

Discussion
Ms Mothoagae (ANC) posed the question whether NAPTOSA has any proposals regarding ministerial intervention in the affairs of an institution like a university.
Mr Balt answered that he does not wish to state hard and fast rules but there is definitely a need for consultation between the Minister and the university council.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)
Mr Glen Abrahams confirmed that SADTU concurs with the main purposes of the Bill. He stated that they were in favour of the Minister prescribing the scope of operations of public and private higher education institutions as set out in the proposed amendments to Section 3.

They once again affirmed their support for ministerial intervention as envisaged by the proposed amendment to Section 20. He felt that the Minister has to protect the public investment in Higher Education, and to take overall responsibility for the co-ordination of the system as a whole.

Discussion
Mr Moonsamy (ANC) enquired from Mr Abrahams whether he felt that the Minister's new powers are draconian.

Mr Abrahams stated that the purpose of the Bill is to set out a framework. He added that what was needed is that the expertise from persons within the system be used in order to set up procedures and models. He stated that in light of this, he does not see the power of the Minister as a problem.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU)
Mr Mark Sweet was of the opinion that the proposed amendment to Section 3 which bestows powers on the Minister to have a say in the scope of operations of institutions pre-empts discussions. He feels that this section brings finality to discussions which should not be the case. He added that the need existed for the Ministers' powers to be assessed. Failure to do this would place too much power in the hands of the Minister. This clearly has massive social implications and NEHAWU will not support this amended section until more comprehensive discussions and negotiations have taken place.

Mr Sweet stated that NEHAWU understands the need for the proposed amendment in Section 20 [referred to as Section 40 in the submission] in order to ensure the financial sustainability of these institutions. He recommends that where an institution clearly has a demonstrable workable plan to diversify and expand its revenue base, the Minister would need to apply flexibility based on a scientific analysis of projected income from such a plan.

Another point of concern to Mr Sweet was the proposed amendment in Section 54 providing for the Registrar to conditionally register institutions at his own discretion.
He feels that instead of granting the conditional registration, it should rather be deferred for a period of six months.

Discussion
Ms Mothoagae (ANC) asked why the number of university applicants is decreasing. Mr Sweet reacted by saying that university enrollments might be decreasing but enrollments in technikons and private institutions are increasing.

Ms Mothoagae requested Mr Sweet to clarify his comment about conditional registration. He said that conditional registration would allow 'fly-by-night' institutions to take advantage of students by misappropriating their tuition fees.

South African Student's Congress (SASCO)
Mr Mashudu Kutama stated that they support the proposed amendment to Section 20 in the Bill. However the section is not clear enough on the size and nature of immovable infrastructural development that institutions of higher learning are required to seek approval from the Minister. Mr Kutama submitted that the Minister should rather request institutions to submit their short-, mid- and long-term physical infrastructure plans. He added that the huge overdrafts incurred by institutions are not only precipitated by infrastructural developments alone. Further the Minister should find ways of regulating the huge payoffs to heads of institutions as this also contributes to the financial burden of institutions.

Another point of concern to Mr Kutama is the proposed amendment of Section 54 in the Bill as it relates to conditional registration. This provision he states poses a danger to students and staff alike in the event that such institution goes under. The Registrar should only register institutions that meet or fulfill existing requirements.

Discussion
Ms Mothoagae asked Mr Kutama whether he wanted a clause relating to payoffs to be included to the amendment to Section 20.

Mr Kutama that it should perhaps be considered. He once again emphasised the need for huge payoffs to be limited.

Ms Mothoagae also asked him whether he was in favour of a time frame limitation stipulation to be included with regards to conditional registration.

He replied that this would not provide a solution, as students would still not be able to recover their monies once the institution has been liquidated or sequestrated.

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