Higher Education in South Africa Review: Council on Higher Education briefing

Higher Education, Science and Technology

19 August 2015
Chairperson: Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Council on Higher Education – 20 Year Review of Higher Education will be released towards the end of this year. The Chairperson commented that the Review discussed the achievements, challenges and areas needing improvement. She made it clear that young people must have access to equal education in order to build a prosperous country. However, research needs to be done to determine the causes of poor throughput rates. The Committee would like to see an improvement in increased access to academia and more black professors.

The Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training commented that CHE monitors and analyses the education system for the Minister. He reminded the Committee that the Review was only a draft at this stage and reflected the information they had been collecting since 2013.

The Research Manager for the Council on Higher Education said the Higher Education system in South Africa (SA) is shaped and understood according to many different narratives; the story of higher education globally, and the fundamental changes it has undergone. In 1994 institutions of higher education had 495 348 students: 44.7% of these students were white, while 42.8% were black with the Coloured and Indian population making up 12.5%. A transformation that one should look at is the representation of women in institutions of higher learning. There was an increase in the number of women attending university in 2004; the number of women had doubled by more than 50%. However, there needs to be an evaluation of what the negative consequences of this change may be.

The Private Higher Institutions had an estimated 150 000 students in 1994, and 40 004 students in 2013. These numbers are only estimates and they may not reflect what is really happening in the institutions. Many may see the increase of private institutions as a negative thing but it was better to shrink the sector first and then work on building it again. It has become easier to identify “fly-by-nights” institutions and regulation has improved. The participation rate is still very segregated and proper transformation still needs to be done. Effective administration is crucial to the performance of a university. The Minister, with a recommendation from the institution sector, can request a university to appoint an assessor when the institution is not performing well. In 1994 to 2004, Assessors were appointed at six institutions and administrators were appointed at three institutions. From 2004 to 2014, there were eight assessors and seven administrators in institutions. Challenges were identified about continued disadvantaged institutions, governance challenges, and excessive reporting requirements.

The overall accumulative throughput rate within regulation time was 27% in 2006 and 29% in 2008. The dropout rate is a problem for all students and not only those that come from previously disadvantage background. The Council has identified that the throughput rate is unacceptably low and this is a big concern for the department. Further, it will have to develop Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Colleges nationally. Scholarships for higher education teaching and learning need to be developed. The research output for publications shows a much better picture. Number of publications are shown in units calculated by the department based on the number of book publications, journal publications and conference proceedings. The number of doctoral graduates has grown: 737 graduates (1994), 1103 graduates (2004) and 2051 graduates (2013). A key challenge to completing doctoral studies is that there are not enough available supervisors for the students.

Through a survey conducted in 2013/14 it was found that measures on how to assess the quality of community engagement needed to be developed. There is a lack of funding for community engagement initiatives and the department should determine the types of incentives that would be appealing to universities to encourage them to conduct community engagements.

The Council has looked at ways to attract qualified teachers to institutions of higher learning, and one of the constraints are salaries. Another constraint is that academic staffs are appointed on contract whereas employees want security and if they are offered permanent employment elsewhere they will leave the institution. She added that this is not only a South African problem, but is also happening in America. The numbers of women that teach at the undergraduate level has increased between 2004 and 2013.

The university funding which NSFAS receives does not accommodate the increase in student enrolment; in 2008/09 NSFAS was receiving just above R15 billion and in 2013/14 it is receiving more than R26 billion. The average full cost of studying has also increased through the years; in 2007 the cost of studying was R35 806, in 2010 it was R47 101 and in 2013 it increased to R60 000.

The Committee asked which fields of study have a higher dropout rate, how CHE plans on increasing the number of black professors, about the suitability of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme for undergraduates, the lack of female representation at universities, what causes delays in funding and, compared to other BRICS countries, at what level is the South African education system. The comment was made that the school-level education system needs to improve because universities cannot be expected to drop their standards to accommodate students that are not passing well.
 

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the Review reflects on the challenges and key successes of the education system since democracy and identifies the areas requiring improvement. As indicated in the National Development Plan (NDP), universities contribute to the global knowledge economy of a country; they generate high level knowledge and innovative research. In order to build a prosperous country all young people must have access to equal education and training; particularly university education. The Committee is happy with the increase in the number of students at universities, but the Committee Is concerned with the low enrolment of students in the fields of science and technology. Research needs to be conducted to determine the causes of the decrease in enrolment at private institutions because the public sector does not have the capacity to accommodate all the students, hence private institutions are important. The Committee commended the increase in research units and doctoral graduates. However, the overall pace of transformation in higher education has been slow; the Committee would particularly like to see improvements in increased access to academia and more black professors.

Mr Mduduzi Manana, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, gave an overview of the Council on Higher Education's 20 Year Review. He said the Council on Higher Education monitors and analyses the education system for the Minister. Initially, the 20-Year Review was planned to be published at the end of 2014 but the Council needed more time as they wanted to get the input from all stakeholders. He reminded the Committee that the submitted Review was only a draft of the information which they have been collecting since 2013.

Prof Themba Mosia, CHE Chairperson, said the Council is aware that higher education plays a key role in the development of the country. The 20 Year Review was conducted so that the Department of Higher Education and Training could improve on areas which need transformation. The CHE relies on other stakeholders to help them do the work they do, however, they do take responsibility for the work.

Council on Higher Education (CHE) briefing on 20 Year Review
Dr Genevieve Simpson, Research Manager for the Council on Higher Education, said the Higher Education system in South Africa (SA) is shaped and understood according to many different narratives – the story of higher education globally, and the fundamental changes it has undergone. Intricately, interwoven with the society in which it is embedded, the higher education sector in SA today is as much a creature of its past as it is a creature of the sustained effort, through policy, legislation and institutional restructuring, to redirect and transform it.

Headcount by Race and Gender
In 1994 institutions of higher education had 495 348 students: 44.7% of these students were white, while 42.8% were African with the Coloured and Indian population making up 12.5%. In 2004 the numbers had changed while there were more black students in universities, there was a drop in the number of white students. There was a total of 744 489 students in universities; 453 640 were African, 46 090 Coloureds, 188 687 Whites and 56 072 Indians. The numbers increased to 983 698 in 2013 – the African students made up 70% of the total number of students in universities. When they counted the gender difference in 1994 there were more men than women at universities; the number of women was 224 230 and the men was 271 118. On the transformation in the representation of women in institutions of higher learning, there was an increase in the number of women attending university in 2004 as the number of women had doubled by more than 50%. The number of men also increased but did not exceed women. In 2013 there were 573 698 women and 409 988 men in institutions of higher learning. There has been a change in gender representation and there needs to be an evaluation of what the negative consequences of this change may be.

Private Institutions of Higher Learning
Private Higher Institutions had an estimated number of 150 000 students in 1994, and 40 004 students in 2013. She added that the numbers are only estimates and they may not reflect what is really happening in the institutions, but they are certain that the number has decreased. In 2000 there were 323 private institutions and 125 in 2013. There is a positive development because the institutions are now quality assured, they are registered and the Council knows what programmes they offer. Many may see the increase of private institutions as a negative thing but it was better to shrink the sector first and then work on building it again. It has become easier to identify “fly-by-night” institutions and regulation has improved.

Regulation, Quality Assurance and Private Higher Education
It is important to look at how the participation rate of different racial groups in private institutions; the national participation rate in 20%. In 1994 the overall participation rate was 12%, which is very low compared to international standards. The Black population made up 7%, the Coloured population made up 8%, the Indian population made up 33% and the White population made up 64%. In 2004 the Black and Coloured population made up 12%, Indian made up 48% and White 56%, with an overall participation rate of 16%. They reached the national participation% of 20% in 2013; the Black population made up 16%, the Coloured population made up per 15 cent, the Indian made up 49% and the White population made up 55%. The participation rate is still very segregated and proper transformation still needs to be done.

The merger of Institutions of Higher Learning was for the purpose of changing the university system as a whole and to cater for institutions which no longer carry the historical burden. The merger started with 36 institutions but they have now increased to only six institutions. One of the issues that are often debated concerning the merger is the change in the Council’s mission and mandate. The merger consists of technikons, which at first focused on offered diplomas and are now focused on offering more degrees and doctorates, and universities which have always been offering degrees.

Management and Governance
Effective administration is crucial to the performance of a university. The Minister, with a recommendation from the institution sector, can request a university to appoint an Assessor when the institution is not performing well. In the case of the university not performing well, the Minister can appoint an Administrator to take over from the Vice-Chancellor. In 1994 to 2004, Assessors were appointed at six institutions and Administrators were appointed at three institutions. From 2004 to 2014, there were eight Assessors and seven Administrators in institutions. Despite the mergers and despite the various interventions four institutions had Assessors in both periods and two had Administrators in both periods. The next chapters will look at the core functions of higher education; teaching and learning, research and community engagement - the chapters highlight the importance of institutions adopting all three core functions of higher education.

Teaching and Learning
The cohort analysis between 2006 and 2008 looks at the number of students that that completed their studies on regulation time plus two years; it assess the three year diplomas, three year degrees and four year degrees. During the 2006 regulation time only 20% students with diplomas, 30% students studying the three year degree, and 37% were studying the four year degree managed to obtain their qualification. There was an overall rate of 27%. In 2008, only 19% got their diplomas in the regulation time, 30% of students got their three year degrees on regulation time and 42% got their four year degree on regulation time. There was an overall of 29%. These results show that there is a greater need for intervention. The throughput rates by race for the three year degree with first year enrolment in 2008 showed that, in 2013, 55% Africans, 51% Coloureds, 61% Indians and 65% of White students graduated with a degree after 6 years. She added that the dropout rate is a problem for all students and not only those that come from the previously disadvantaged group.

The Council has identified that the throughput rate has become low and it is a big concern for the department. Further, it will have to develop Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Colleges nationally and scholarships of Higher Education teaching and learning.

Research
A much greater collaboration between the education industry and civil society is important. The research output for publications shows a much better picture; the number of publications are shown in units which are calculated based the number of book publications, journal publications and conference proceedings. The research output has increased from the 6606.24 in 2004 to 12 363 in 2012. Although there is growth in the number of doctoral graduates the number is still very low. In 1994 there were 737 graduates, 1 103 graduates in 2004 and 2 051 graduates in 2013. A key challenge to completing doctoral studies is that there is a lack of available supervisors; there are a few people in universities that have doctorates and they have a huge number of students which need to be supervised. The National Research Foundation (NRF) Centres of Excellence were launched in 2004 with four centres and there are now 13 centres in 2014.

Community Engagement
Through a survey of higher education institutions, conducted in 2013/14, it showed that 26% of institutions have considered, and have committed to, community engagement as a means of hiring academic staff. 57% have integrated criteria related to community engagement into performance review systems for the academic staff. 42 and 47% institutions provide awards to recognise outstanding contributions to community engagements for staff and students. 31% have established initiatives aimed at building the capacity of staff in relation to community engagement, and 47% of institutions periodically organise institutional colloquia to promote awareness about community engagement within the institution. She added that there are challenges pertaining to community engagement. Measures on how to assess the quality of community engagement has to be developed, there is a lack of funding for community engagement initiatives and what type of incentives would be appealing to universities to try and encourage them to conduct community engagements.

Academic Staffing
The Council has looked at ways to attract qualified teachers to teach at institutions of higher learning. One of the issues is that many complain about the salaries being too low. There is also a growth in the enrolment of students (30%) versus permanent academic staff (13%). In 1994 there were 495 348 students and 12 852 academic staff to accommodate those students. In 2004 there was a growth in academic staff but not enough to cater for the 744 489 students, and in 2013 there were 983 698 students and only 17 638 permanent academic staff. An increasing problem is that academic staffs are being appointed on contract; employees want security and if they are offered permanent employment somewhere else they will leave the institution. In 1994 there were more permanent academic staff males than women. In 2004 they saw an increase in men and women but with men still taking the lead as permanent staff in institutions. The number of permanent female staff saw an increase in 2013, a much closer number to that of the males, with 8 056 female and 9 782 male permanent staff. She added that this is not only a South African problem, but it is also happening in America. The numbers of women that teach at the undergraduate level have increased from 2004 to 2013.

Funding
The Council has developed scenarios for the next ten years which could help alleviate funding problems; the first scenario assumes a constant share of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and an increased enrolment based on secondary school leavers. The second scenario assumes the funding but with a 0.98% growth in enrolment and the last scenario assumes an increase in the GDP and cost saving measures. The university funding which NSFAS receives does not accommodate the increased student enrolment. In 2008/09 NSFAS was receiving just above R15 billion and in 2013/14 it is receiving R26 billion. The average full cost of studying has also increased through the years; in 2007 the cost of studying was R35 806, in 2010 it was 47 101 and in 2013 it had increased to R60 000.

Discussion
Dr B Bozzoli (DA) said it sounded as if the Council is not focused on trying to increase the number of students in universities but rather they focused on the funding and the failures of the universities. The problem is not necessarily with universities but with the schools; the quality of education which is received by school learners is low and they are expected to cope with the challenges and workload of university. The government cannot expect the universities to drop their standards to accommodate learners that are not doing well in school. She added that the Council is not challenging the form of basic funding.

Ms M Nkadimeng (ANC) said the representation of women is a concern; there are only four female Vice-Chancellors in universities. She asked what the number of female Council Heads is, and how will the Council ensure that universities offer academic programmes that are relevant and provide scarce skills in the market so as to avoid unemployment.

Mr M Mbatha (EFF) complained about the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The reason there are not enough students furthering their studies is caused by the lack of funding, and NSFAS does not offer funding for post-graduates. There needs to be an increase in the number of black students at universities and the universities should stop hiring lecturers with no basic teaching skills.

Ms J Kilian (ANC) said the report has confirmed the Committee's concerns and it has portrayed some positive trends. However, the report has not reviewed the colleges; she asked if colleges were not part of higher education. She asked if there were any academic programmes which could pose as a threat to the National Development Plan (NDP), which academic programmes have a higher dropout rate, and compared to the other BRICS countries, how is SA performing with regards to its education system.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) said that there is not enough transformation in the universities. She added that there are too many white professors and what can be done so that more black professors are employed. She asked what the main reasons for students dropping out are.

Dr Simpson replied saying the CHE has analysed all the throughputs. She agreed with Dr Bozzoli that universities cannot drop their standards; rather schools need to be improved so that learners will meet the requirements of institutions of higher learning. There is a low level of representation of women at the higher level of institutions; she added that it is of concern to CHE as well. The rate of unemployed graduates, compared to international standards, is low. The rate of unemployed graduates is 5%. There are no particular fields of study which have shown to have increased in unemployment or dropout rates.

Prof John Mubangizi, Council member of CHE, said the problem with most universities is that there is a problem with the administration. Universities have admitted that although they do not always employ people with teaching skills, they have made resources available to teachers which would allow them to improve their professional teaching competence within the university system. He added that there are different ways in which SA can be compared to other BRICS countries. For example, the university rankings will not always be good examples of ways of comparing BRICS with SA but the rankings take certain criterias into consideration when a comparison is made. One of the criteria that is evaluated is the projects which are carried out by universities; the projects help to determine the pass rate of a university.

Mr M Mpontshane (IFP) asked what causes a delay in the funding being given to students. Is it possible that the NSFAS can be changed to a full bursary as paying back the loan becomes a burden to students. They are blacklisted when they are unable to find employment to pay the loan back.

Mr Kekana asked if it is possible for government to deduct the university students funded directly from the GDP instead of before tax deductions are made.

Ms Kilian asked what the cost drivers in education fees are that causes them to increase.

Prof Mosia replied that the NSFAS is best suited to answer the question about GDP deductions; however he is aware that two models are used for deductions.

Dr Simpson replied that when comparing SA with BRICS countries, SA's throughputs rates are very low. The participation rate of China and Russia are very high compared to SA.

Prof Mosia thanked the Committee for the positive engagement. He added the CHE will continue to make positive changes to institutions of higher learning.

Mr Manana also thanked the Committee for allowing the CHE to present their report. The report shows a definite improvement in the education system; it is in a much better position than it was in 1994.

The Chairperson made her final remarks on the presentation, saying the Committee had benefitted from the report, and the Department is also made aware of what the major challenges are in the education system. The report has given insight on the key milestones and areas for improvement in the higher education sector. The interesting observations from the presentation are the significant increased enrolment of students from 1994 to 2013. However, the number of students versus the number of academic staff is worrying. Major improvements need to be made on this matter and the number of black professors also needs to be increased.

The meeting was adjourned.

Apologies received from: Mr Y Cassim (DA) and the Minister, Dr Bonginkosi Nzimande.

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