Council for Higher Education (CHE) on its 2015/16 Strategic Plan

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

03 June 2015
Chairperson: Ms L Zwane (ANC; KZN)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Council of Higher Education (CHE) on its Strategic Plan, Annual Performance Plan (APP) and Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). The CHE, which was an independent body advising the Minister and Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), stated that most of the work done by the Council was around accreditation and looking at better ways to improve the lives of South African citizens. It then conducted research for particular programmes and different institutions to ensure that these programmes and institutions were good quality. The Council said it was often mistaken as doing the work of the Department such as intervening through fraudulent qualifications, sorting National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) investigations and so forth. However, what the Council did was to assist and advise the Department on such issues and its role was more long term as it sought to investigate what caused the problems in the institutions and find the best solutions to address these issues. The Council conducted workshops and conferences for the development of quality and growth of institutions through the Higher Education Qualifications Sub Framework (HEQSF).

The Council had identified four policy imperatives. These were: enhancing policy analysis and information; managing the HEQSF and standards in Higher Education; developing the quality assurance system further; and building of intellectual capability and creating an enabling organisational climate.

Under these policy imperatives were further strategic objectives. These were: to provide advice to the MHET on request and proactively; to monitor the state of higher education; To develop and manage the HEQSF, including the alignment of existing higher education programmes with the requirements of the HEQSF; To develop and implement policy, criteria and standards for the development, registration and publication of qualifications; To maintain a database of learner achievements in higher education and to submit the data to the National Learner Records Database (NLRD), which is maintained by SAQA; To audit the quality assurance mechanisms of higher education institutions; To accredit new programmes submitted by public and private higher education institutions and to re-accredit existing programmes offered by private higher education institutions; To undertake national reviews of programmes in specific subject fields and qualification levels offered by public and private higher education institutions; To promote quality and to develop capacity and understanding of the role of quality assurance in improving quality in higher education at both the systemic and institutional levels; to ensure the development of human resources management environment that enables staff to develop their full potential; to ensure that financial, administration and supply chain management is compliant with the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), relevant Treasury regulations and laws; and to ensure effective governance and compliance of information communication technology (ICT) with statutory requirements

The Chief Financial Officer explained that most of the budget of the Council went to the compensation of employees with R30 million of the R47 million budget allocation for the 2015/16 period. This was due to the fact most employees were in management level and were intellectuals that needed to be kept by the Council so that it could have continuity. The Council had even requested a retention allowance from the Minister so that the employees could be kept. The CHE had baseline reductions in its budget due to the hard economic climate in the country with a 7% deduction in the 2015/16 and a 10% in the 2017/18 period. The CHE also pointed out that it had always had clean audits and it looked to keep the books of the Council in that way.

The Committee Members were pleased with the work and the presentation delivered by the Council although there were many questions as it was the first time the Council sat with the Committee. Members asked about fraudulent applications and how the Council was dealing with that issue, matters of accommodation and student funding were also raised as NSFAS was being investigated. 

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson said that the Council of Higher Education (CHE) was a statutory body established by the Higher Education Act of 1997 in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The Council had a duty to perform on behalf of the DHET and advise the Minister on any issues that were needed. It was important that a high standard in Higher Education was maintained and that the public was informed on any issues involving relevant to them. To that extent it was necessary that CHE come before the Committee and present its Strategic and Annual Performance Plan. She asked for a report on what was happening in the Provinces in terms of Higher Education since the Committee was part of the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), so that the Members could inform their constituencies on the matters at hand. CHE should state how it planned to implement their Strategic Plans and how it was aligned to the various legislations that governed the Council, the National Development Plan (NDP) and the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Briefing by the CHE


Professor Themba Mosia, Chairperson, CHE, stated that the work of the CHE was guided by values of transformation, integrity and public accountability and that there was a broad scope of activity with regards to the changing institutional landscape. In terms of the Act, CHE was an independent statutory body that advised the Minister of Higher Education. The two main purposes of the Council were to monitor trends through the means of research and therefore provide advice to the DHE; and to look at the quality of services provided through the education sector which were accreditations and audits to name a few. The CHE had been appointed with the responsibility of overseeing the Higher Education Qualification Sub Framework (HEQSF) and looking at qualifications through the National Qualification Framework (NQF) Act of 2008.

There were challenges that the CHE faced in the previous plan which had to do with capacity constraints in the Council due to the large amount of work it had to do in the sector, along with organizational weaknesses. It had since addressed these challenges through undergraduate curriculum reform; a quality enhancement project; reviewing the state of higher education using data and information. The HEQSF was also revised and there was an alignment project for it as well. Other issues that were addressed were the national review of the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and law degrees (LLB).

Dr Denyse Webbstock, Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), CHE, stated that in the 18 months before the strategic plan came to be there were a number of projects the CHE had done. These included looking at undergraduate curriculum reform and how CHE could get students through Higher Education. Research and a proposal were conducted regarding that issue.

The Council took a review of the state of Higher Education every 5 to 10 years. This review looked at what had happened in Higher Education in this period, what were the challenges it faced and gave recommendations for the way forward. 50 academics were working on that project and the Council was in the final stages of producing that document.

With regard to quality teaching in Higher Education the Council launched a Quality Enhancement Project in 2013 which aimed at making universities work together to address the issues on teaching and learning in Higher Education. The project would last 5 years and it aimed to make teaching and learning better in universities.

There were three parts in the NQF and the CHE was responsible for Higher Education. The Council had done a revision of the entire HEQSF because it felt it did not provide enough opportunities for professional qualifications. The CHE went through major consultations with stakeholders and revised the whole HEQSF. This was gazetted first in 2013 and again in 2014 separately from the other frameworks. The question then was how CHE was going to align all the current qualifications from all the different universities and colleges with the new HEQSF. This was a massive task that the Council undertook, spanning multiple financial years and CHE was in the final phases of completing it.

As part of managing HEQSF the Council developed five standards for particular qualifications and it was using those standards to review all of the programmes that led to these qualifications throughout the sector. For instance, the CHE had just had a national review of the BSW and the standards that came out of that process were used for future reference for the BSW programme. A similar process had just been embarked on for the LLB. Legal academics and legal societies in that sector worked together in reviewing the qualification so that the sector could account for the review. CHE brought people together in the sector, including private and public, to discuss quality promotion.

For the past 20 years the relationship with CHE had always been with universities but since 2009 the landscape had changed and it was now looking at relationships other tertiary institutions and the relationship between universities and colleges. The fiscal climate required some cuts, and the Council’s approach to that was to make do as best as possible with what resources were available. CHE was also looking at a changed institutional landscape very different to what it had been 20 years ago.

Strategic Plan 2015 – 2020

The Council had identified four policy imperatives. These were: enhancing policy analysis and information; managing the HEQSF and standards in Higher Education; developing the quality assurance system further; and building of intellectual capability and creating an enabling organisational climate. Under these policy imperatives were further strategic objectives.

Under enhancing policy analysis and information, the Council sought to provide advice to the MHET on request and proactively. This would involve governance and management of the challenges in higher education and addressing key challenges arising from the Higher Education Review.

The Council monitored the state of Higher Education by overseeing the completion of existing projects, such as student governance and reflections on academic leadership, as well as ongoing projects, such as VitalStats, website data, and the role of placement mechanisms in higher education institutions. New projects included student funding, academic staffing and information communication technology (ICT) in higher education.

Under managing the HEQSF and standards in Higher Education, the Council aimed to develop and manage the HEQSF, including the alignment of existing Higher Education programmes with the requirements of the HEQSF. The CHE was trying to ensure that college programmes were with in accordance to what the universities were looking for, and working with professional bodies to come up with a new framework for external terrain work being done at universities.

The other objective was to develop and implement policy, criteria and standards for the development, registration and publication of qualifications. The Council released pilot standards for public comment and then extended the pilot standards development process to further qualifications.  Finally, a conference or colloquium on standards development was held.

The last objective was to maintain a database of learner achievements in higher education and to submit the data to the National Learner records Database (NLRD), which was maintained by the South African Qualifications Act (SAQA). An ongoing submission of student enrolment and achievement data via Higher Education Quality Committee on Information System (HEQCIS) to NLRD had been made so people could check if their qualifications were accredited and in the database. The CHE also developed a system so that it could monitor how many people were receiving qualifications from private institutions.

Regarding the further development of the quality assurance system, the Council aimed to audit the quality assurance mechanisms of Higher Education institutions. The assessment and approval of institutional improvement plans had been an ongoing process. Further implementation of the Quality Enhancement Project sought to treat academics as teachers, to give student support and development, to allow institutions to be a learning environment and to enrolment management. CHE conducted analysis of institutional baseline data, through workshops, submissions and a publication that they produced.

Another objective was to accredit new programmes submitted by public and private higher education institutions and to re-accredit existing programmes offered by private higher education institutions. The routine accreditation and re-accreditation processes included site visits, usually in the region of 400 new programmes and CHE had also increased the number of site visits when visiting institutions with accreditation. Under the HEQSF the CHE was expecting an increase in the new programme application since the framework had been revised. The CHE would also undertake national reviews of programmes in specific qualification levels offered by public and private Higher Education institutions. The Council would release a report on the state of the BWS and it was about to begin its national review of the LLB degree. It also planned to identify any further qualifications that needed to go through a national review.

The CHE worked to promote quality and to develop capacity and understanding. It was currently working with an organization called Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA) to award teaching excellence awards and this was an attempt to increase the profile of the teachers in universities. CHE also did training for people to evaluate for accreditation and peer panels for national reviews, these evaluators come from professional bodies.

The final imperative was to build intellectual capability and create an enabling organisational climate priority. The objectives here were to ensure that staff reached their full potential in institutions through the development of human resource management; to ensure that financial, administration and supply chain management was compliant with the requirements of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and the National Treasury regulations and laws; and to ensure effective governance and compliance of ICT with the statutory requirements. The CHE had an ongoing review of policies and procedures including moving to electronic systems such as staff training and development.

MTEF Budget Allocation 2015/16 – 2017/18

Mr Thulaganyo Mothusi, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), CHE, stated that the presentation was to give the Committee Members a picture of how the financial budget of CHE was structured since it was the first time that the Council had presented to the Committee. It included all the funding of the programmes mentioned in the strategic plan and the CHE budget allocation was according to the baseline government grant that CHE received from DHET. The original budget allocation for the 2015/16 was R43 million and the baseline reduction was R3 million due to financial constraints in the country, making the revised allocation R40 million.

The reductions started at a 7% in the first period to a 10% reduction in the period 2016/17. The CHE had several sources of income over and above the R40 million from the DHET. R4 million came from the private and public institutions that were being charged for programme accreditation, and R2 million came from the realization of deferred transfers for the new mandate standards development.  Other sources of income ranged from interests and rental income which was R850 000. The subtotal was 7 million, making the total budget R47 million.

The National Treasury could still change the figures and they were just an estimation, but the figures that the Council received from the DHET would always remain the same. The budget expenditure was mostly spent on the compensation of employees with an allocation of R30 million alone for staff. This was because the Council could not reduce the salaries of employees already working at the Council, but could make cuts elsewhere. This made the expenditure for employees a bigger proportion since the CHE had a budget reduction. R14 million was allocated to good and services which included administration, staff development, computer services, etc. The payment for capital assets such as buildings, machinery, software and other intangible assets made roughly R800 000 of the budget. The Council had its own premises, and that expenditure for building was to maintain the state of the building.

So the budget was used to the full extent, as all the expenditure came to R47 million, meaning there was no under- or over-budgeting. The CHE had had clean audits and all their financials were up to standard. The CHE MTEF budget allocation per programme was estimated at R47 million for the 2015/16 period. The CHE had five programmes, with administration and accreditation taking the bulk, at R20 million and R8 million respectively. The reason administration was high was because of the building costs and salaries.


Mr H Groenewald (DA; North West) asked what the CHE role was in helping Higher Education institutions regarding accommodation and also what was their relationship with National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)? Was the Council aware of what was happening in NSFAS with regards to funding policy, because there was an investigation on NSFAS about money? In terms of curriculum what techniques did the Council use to ensure that the universities were all on the same level with regards to a good quality degree or diploma?  The North-West University was having problems in three of their campuses with one being in Gauteng and the other two being in North West, what was CHE doing about the problem in North West and how was it involved? He also asked how the Council was keeping the data updated of all of these universities and institutions with the qualification fraud going on, and how employers could see if people really had the qualifications. The CHE made use of consultants and he wanted to know in what way the CHE was using them because consultants took a huge portion of the budget as shown in the presentation.

Mr Khawula (IFP; KZN) asked for the Council to elaborate on its organizational structure, and on the decrease in source of income. How did the Council deal with international students who wanted to come and study in the country having received a qualification elsewhere. What was the CHE’s role in the fraudulent qualifications that had been taking place? Was the Council also involved in ranking universities to see which was the best in the country and what was the role it played in eradicating preconceived notions that some universities were better than others?

Ms L Dlamini (ANC; Mpumalanga) asked what were the comparison studies the CHE was looking at to ensure that funding in the country was being managed properly and what advice did the Council give to the Minister in terms of improving the state of socio economic climate in the country through education? She advised that the Council implement ICT in the institutions as a means to accelerate development and that the issue of admission and queues in universities was a matter that CHE needed to tackle. What criteria was used to give accreditation to private higher learning institutions? Accreditation was given to programmes were there was a large pool of graduates who could not find employment, while the programmes the country was short of skills on did not have a lot of accreditations.

The Chairperson asked the difference between South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) and HEQSF and which was responsible for determining the National Qualification Framework (NQF) levels of any qualification. There were institutions that were resisting transformation, what was the role of CHE in that regard? How did the Council ensure the integration of the bursary scheme so that a student did not benefit from several bursaries? How was the Council dealing with the corrupt allegation of NSFAS in Higher Education Institutions and had CHE resolved its problem with staff retention? With regards to the review of BWS and LLB, why did the Council pick those two specific qualifications? Did public and private institutions have the same level of qualification or was the public one inferior to the private one?

Professor Mosia replied that in terms of the structure of the organization there was a Council which he chaired, consisting of 13 people who were appointed by the Minister. The Council then had Sub Committees and an Executive Committee which did a lot work in between council meetings, it also had a permanent committee in terms of the Act called the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) where a lot of accreditations and audits took place. CHE also had a Committee on Monitoring and Evaluation where it looked at trends and the review of certain programmes and so forth. The management structure was headed by the Acting CEO and there was also a Corporate Service Division which handled all human resource related matters. The CFO had its own division in terms of finance, a monitoring and evaluation division, a programme accreditation division which did all the visits in the institutions and checked the quality and criteria of private and public institutions. The Council also had institutional audits where it visited and checked quality assurance in the institutions, a National Standards and Review Division which reviewed the BWS and would do the LLB qualification, and a Promotion and Coordination Unit which did workshops and conferences around the sector.

The CHE was aware of the problems with accreditation and was also aware that institutions of Higher Education were not on the same level when it came to providing accommodation. The DHET had been injecting a huge sum of money in terms of infrastructure for institutions around the country and it was an ongoing process but the demand was too huge. Another issue was that the physical location of some institutions did not allow for the building of accommodation. There was a publication issued by DHET on the state of residences in universities. Affordability also played a role as many students came from disadvantaged homes and could not afford accommodation. This was an institutional problem and CHE had not done a study to find the root of the problem since DHET had done so already, but the Council was aware that there was demand. There had been partnerships between universities and private companies for accommodation but then again affordability became a problem and the DHET had made it an issue that more students received accommodation.

The Minister had called for a forensic investigation into the awarding of NSFAS loans and bursaries because most of the people that got these awards were not supposed to be getting the loans. Most students applied at universities and then NSFAS approved the loan or bursary but the investigation was ongoing and the CHE would see what the outcome of the investigation was.

The CHE was not a very big organization with only 51 staff members, it therefore relied heavily on consultants from the sector to do some of the work like reviewing papers, going to conferences and conducting workshops. The Council needed consultation from experts to carry out its mandate.

The North-West University was not the only university having internal problems and if the Council had to intervene every time an institution had issues it would make its workload hard to manage. The CHE had undertaken a project that would soon be published on management and governance problems which would assist with these issues.

SAQA was governed by a legal Act of Parliament which made it the authority on qualifications and CHE had a legal Act which mandated them to do the qualification framework and the two worked in collaboration. The two bodies had established a forum where people shared good practice so that CHE and SAQA did not duplicate work and that each body had a clear mandate on what it was supposed to be doing.

Dr Webbstock added that the CHE was not DHET and if there was an issue brewing in an institution the DHET needed to go resolve it; it was not the job of the Council. Although it was required that CHE think deeply on the problems facing the universities, its purpose was of long term view and it did not sort out immediate problems.

The Council considered questions like how student funding could be resolved, identified the problems, and suggested possible solutions. Where possible research was conducted on the cause of this effect of institutional funding. Evaluation of NSFAS was not within the mandate of the CHE but of DHET. That was the advice that the Council gave to the Minister and it was up to the DHET to use the research or advice that it had received from the Council.

SAQA was a body set up by Parliament to look after education qualifications as a whole in the country; CHE only looked after a portion of education and Umalusi also looked after a segment of education. HEQSF was a framework which formed part of the NQF that looked at a small part of the qualification framework.

The CHE received an application from a certain service provider or institution for a particular programme they wanted to offer. The Council then used a number of criteria to ensure that the service provider and the institution were well equipped with resources, qualified staff and so forth. Consultation through the criteria took place in many stages before accreditation, it first went through peers for evaluation who were paid by the Council, then another group of peers who sat four times a year to check if programmes were worthy of accreditation, HEQC then also evaluated it and only then the outcome could be given for accreditation.

Both private and public qualifications went through the same process and met minimum standards in order to be accredited. However, it could be that one institution could provide a better programme than the other even though both had reached the minimum standards.

Qualifications from other differed as some institutions were more advanced. CHE was not involved in the ranking, but institutions did voluntarily have places where they were ranked. What the Council did have was agreements with other countries such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to make sure that their qualifications were recognized in South Africa. SAQA did the recognition of qualifications and the Council’s job was to check if it was accredited.

The fraudulent qualifications fell under SAQA and with the help of various bodies under the SAQA umbrella a task team had been appointed to figure out who were the individuals and expose them in a publication.

The CHE had an institutional audit process which it had done with the North West University several months ago. 400 people were interviewed to assess the management system of the university and how it was handling the three different campuses. Initially the Council looked at a long term view on how to better universities and worked with the Department if need be to see if a team had to be placed in an institution for the improvement of the institution and management model.

Professor Beverly Thaver, Member, CHE, stated that the State of the Nation Address (SONA) and the National Development Plan (NDP) debates were to improve the lives of the citizens of South Africa and education was seen as a way to improve the quality of life in the country. What was being done around that and the work that the CHE did was in a complex area between the DHET and Higher Learning institutions. The role of CHE was to enhance the landscape and improve education as a whole in the country. Since the late 1990s there had been 14%, which was 300 000 enrolments, in Higher Education which was predominantly white and ten years later that 300 000 had risen to just under a million enrolments. This proved that the CHE and DHET were making strides to improve education. The problem seemed to be when the degree or diploma was completed where not many successfully graduates. The kind of research that the Council conducted was on issues of this nature and other issues pertaining to how the DHET and the Council would use education to readdress the poverty and inequality in the society. By asking what indicators it should use, which programmes should be accredited for that was in the interest of improving the quality of life for the nation. Another key challenge for the students was the transparency in the sector and the involvement of student so that they were aware of what was happening in the education sector and CHE encouraged this behavior amongst student bodies. CHE could not estimate the difficulties in Higher Education. Institutions had the right to autonomy and CHE was limited with what issues it could intervene in and matters of the curriculum was one of them. Regarding the institutions that were resisting transformation there was not much that could be done other than putting in place steerage mechanisms so that the Minister could steer the direction of the sector into another path. Around admissions in universities the problem lay within the institutions because institutions had a National Benchmark Criteria which let them select which students were best and within the faculties of the university there was a pointing system which allowed for which students were best to be selected, so the universities strengthened their pointing system so that they could admit the finest students in their institutions.

Professor Mosia added that the Minister had established an Oversight Transformation Committee and it woud look deeper in the sector with regards to transformation issues in the institutions.

Mr Mothusi explained that the compensation of employees was higher than goods and services due to the number and quality of employees in the different programmes. The highest number of employees was under corporate services and most of the salaries were under management level and there was a policy in corporate service to try and retain the current employees, where it was checked how the employee was doing their job and if it was accordingly then the person would be retained. The second programme with highest number of employees was accreditation followed by institutional audits and monitoring and evaluation. Most of the employees were paid at the highest scale and with this CHE was trying to retain the employees and the total number of employees the Council had for the budget of 2015/16 was 53, this was a structure that was in place before the baseline budget cuts that happened three years ago. The National Reviews & Standards Development budget was decreasing because the CHE was at the finalization phase of the implementation and therefore the decrease was according to the mandate given to them. He pointed out that the consultation did not mean that it was registered consultants that were helping the Council but peer educators that ensured that the work the CHE was doing was up to scratch.

Dr Webbstock said that the CHE chose BWS and LLB for national reviews because there was an issue with BSW. As for the LLB, the sector had contacted CHE to do a review and CHE worked where it was wanted and in that case the law society wanted a national review on the programme. The Council was not responsible for how many programmes should be in the sector, the Department dealt with those issues and depending if the Department could fund that programme it sent it to the Council for advice on whether it was a good programme or not. The only concern was whether the Department had the capacity to take on the degree and that was the matter the Council dealt with.

On the question of ICT and how to integrate it, the CHE could not tell an institution what it should be doing, but if an institution claimed to use ICT the Council would ask many questions about that. Instances also occurred of the institutions teaching ICT in books with no computers and the CHE would ask how the institution planned to do that. In terms of the project of implementing ICT questions had to be asked about the intellectual property laws, sharing resources and other policy questions in implementing ICT worried the CHE.

Ms Dlamini pointed out that a forum on what the sector could do to change the landscape was needed and a debate around these matters. She asked again how did the CHE advise the Minister in order for the institutions to take the consideration to implement the ICT? In terms of external qualification, was there a link between DHET and the CHE with institutions around the globe for when a student wanted to study in the country and had completed a degree somewhere else, so that the CHE could check whether the degree was valid or not.

Mr Khawula asked if keeping the salaries of the employees at the highest level pertained to the critical skills or was it the whole workforce.

Professor Mosia replied that the CHE was in competition with the institutions and the universities paid more than CHE which was a government organization, so the Council had to make sure that the staff it had were highly qualified intellectuals, were satisfied so that they did not move to other institutions. That was why the Council asked the Minister for a retention allowance so that CHE could keep those critical skills that it needed for continuity and for the CHE to make an impact in the sector. The Department had called in all the key stakeholders on 22 June 2015 at the University of Johannesburg to discuss the issue of accommodation with universities and colleges.

There were mechanisms in place for issues of fraudulent qualifications and SAQA was also appointed to deal with the verifications of external qualifications, the Minister had even requested that SAQA name and shame the people who were caught in these fraudulent issues and be put in a list for everyone to see.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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