South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) & Council on Higher Education (CHE) on their 2014/15 Annual Reports

Higher Education, Science and Technology

12 October 2015
Chairperson: Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Council on Higher Education (CHE) and the South African Qualifications Authority(SAQA) each presented their annual report for 2014/15, after giving an introduction of their governing legislation and how they fitted within the qualifications frameworks in South Africa. SAQA noted that its advocacy was important to make SAQA more accessible to the public and relevant stakeholders. A new board would have to be in place for handover prior to the end of December. The composition of the Board and its committee structure was outlined. The SAQA committees showed racial transformation but still needed to improve gender balance, but SAQA's internal staffing showed good equity and disability representivity. SAQA was aware of the need to remain economically viable and thus had implemented a cost recovery model and had prioritisied important projects, including communication. Specific achievements in the last financial year had included the publication of the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policies, and completion of the National Qualifications Framework impact study findings, as well as the creation of a register for fraudulent qualifications. More foreign qualifications were being presented to the SAQA, and over 60% of applications for verification came from  Zimbabwe, United Kingdom, Nigeria, India and Democratic Republic of Congo, with 32  000 cases in the last financial year. SAQA gave advice to the Minister. In this year, it had  registered 222 new qualifications, reviewed the criteria for professional bodies and re-evaluated foreign qualifications, and it was now tracking the education achievements of learners. It paid significant attention to training, development and wellness of its staff. In this year, SAQA had been given a qualified audit report, but it was explained that this was largely due to incorrect reflection of the value of older assets, on which there was a difference of opinion between internal audit and the Auditor-General. SAQA had underspent, at 91% spending, because of relocation of the career directorate to the Department of Higher Education and Training, and because of vacancies in the qualifications directorate. Members asked if foreign qualifications evaluated related to scarce skills needed in South Africa, and whether the data on qualifications that did not meet the criteria was disaggregated, and what would happen if qualifications were misrepresented, and whether any accreditations were being held back, and also asked if the accreditation covered the honesty and quality of the institutions, as also whether accreditation was done for institutions, or for courses. They asked if South African qualifications were internationally comparable. Members enquired about the high number of resignations, and the reasons for dismissal of three employees, but were pleased to hear that SAQA was meeting transformation targets and enquired about performance bonuses. Several questions were directed to seeking clarity on the audit qualifications. Clarity was also requested on the position of the Education and Training Quality Assurance (ETQA) bodies. Members were generally pleased with SAQA's achievement of most targets.

The CHE noted that its current Council had come into office in December 2014, and an external performance evaluation and review of the previous Council had found good engagement of members with the work of the Council. In this year the strategic priorities included strengthening of relationships with stakeholders, increased level of engagement with Higher Education Institutions, restructuring to promote operational effectiveness and efficiency, including the merger or relocation of some directorates. The CHE had come close to completing the Higher Education Qualification Sub-Framework alignment project, had set up a regional quality assurance network and liaised with other agencies, participated in conferences and collaborations, and had received an unqualified audit. The CHE did face a number of challenges, including its dependence on external experts who could not always complete projects timeously, misalignment between project start and end dates and financial years, legal challenges and issues around the closure of first-cycle audits at some institutions. Attraction and retention of competent staff was another problem which gave rise to several projects not reaching targets. Although the CHE described its achievement of targets, at 60% achievement, as “above average”, Members did not agree that this was significant, and were critical of some of the non-achievements, reasons for which were outlined. In particular, they noted that some of the targets not achieved were specific legislative mandates, and enquired what the sanction was in the legislation for failure to achieve. The CHE was in the process of doing institutional audits, and reviewing qualifications for various degrees, having completed a review on social work qualifications that led to some courses being put on notice of withdrawal. CHE was aware that its annual performance plans and resources available to achieve the targets were mismatched and would have to align this better in future.  CHE would have to identify priority areas, address the staff turnover, have another look at business models, structure and ways to achieve better organisational performance. In this year, overall, CHE had over-spent its budget, by about R1 million, but still had a surplus from previous years. On some line items, there was underspending. Audit findings were set out, relating to non-completion of declaration of interest forms, performance of work by one employee without approval, and incorrect or non-disclosures. Actions plans had been developed to address these areas. Members were pleased with the audit result, but less pleased with the performance management, and achievement of targets. They asked how CHE would monitor the phase-out of qualifications that did not meet criteria, how the quality assurance programme worked and was measured, and sought more details on the legal challenges. They asked for further examples of de-accreditation, and asked how CHE would reconcile its call for more funding with the surplus, and the lack of capacity with the high vacancy rates.  Members wondered if the work done for the Minister was deflecting resources and attention away from  quality assurance of qualifications. They asked whether the composition of some committees should not be reviewed, and asked for progress report son the institutional audits at Walter Sesulu University, North West University, Malthusian University of Technology and University of Zulu land, the legal challenges and the fraud case. Members encouraged the CHE to work to fill the gaps and meet all its legislated mandates.
 

Meeting report

South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) Annual Report 2014/15 briefing
Prof Joe Samuels, Chief Executive Officer, South African Qualifications Authority, presented the annual report or 2014/15. The Qualifications Authority (SAQA or the Authority) was governed by legislation that he firstly outlined, before highlighting the overall objectives of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), and the focus of SAQA and the Quality Councils. He explained the NQF framework for the rating of qualifications and gave an explanation of each level. He particularly emphasised the strategic goal of advocacy work that needed to be done in order to make SAQA more accessible to the public and relevant stakeholders. He noted that the term of the present SAQA Board would be ending in December 2015 and it was very important that the new board should be in place before then, so that proper handover could take place. He noted that nominations would close on 19 October 2015. The board comprised 16 members; ten members from the education and training sector, two from organised labour and four were, ex officio, the Chief Executive Officers (CEO) Of the Quality Councils and from SAQA appointed member. The board had nine sub-committees which were each chaired by different members of the board.

The greatest achievement of the committees was to had achieved racial representative transformation, with black members accounting for 82% of  and white accounting for 18%. However the gender representation had not been met, as women accounted for only 37% of the members and men accounted for 63%. This was something that SAQA still needed to address in its efforts to reach the gender composition goals. The disability goal was also achieved, with SAQA staff representation of persons with disabilities at 2.87%.

In relation to the governance of SAQA, Mr Samuels emphasised the importance of keeping SAQA economically viable by implementing a cost recovery model and prioritising the funding of important projects. He also emphasised the importance of transformation both in the workplace and the social transformation efforts of SAQA in the general public. He said that SAQA had prioritised the communication avenues it had with its stakeholders, it was very important that SAQA had strategic conversations and created platforms for intellectual debates for its stakeholders. In recent times, there had been perception surveys done on SAQA, so the organisation now had a better understanding of the needs of its stakeholders and the gaps in its advocacy mechanisms.

Ms Julie Reddy, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, SAQA, said that amongst the government priorities, publication of the performance information of SAQA was very important. SAQA had published the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policies. It had completed eight NQF policies which were ready for implementation. The NQF impact study of 2014 had been submitted to the Minister, and by February 2016 a summarised version of the 500-page study and recommendations would be made available to the public. The register for fraudulent qualifications had been created, which was still an internal document, but presentations were made to the Minister regarding the progress of the register. Another key achievement had been the completion of the concept paper on the implementation of the White Paper on Post-School Education and Training, for the Minister.

She said that reports on the misinformation about qualifications had been in the media for many months. The recording of these cases had increased, and there were substantially more foreign qualifications  over time. This was due to the enhancement in the foreign qualification evaluation process which included a verification component, which required the assessment of the qualification and the institution regarding the qualification. Over 60% of the applications received for verification came from Zimbabwe, United Kingdom, Nigeria, India and Democratic Republic of Congo, and overall there were 32  000 cases in the last financial year.

She noted that when advising the Minister, SAQA provided briefing notes on the NQF and SAQA’s role, gave comments on the Ministerial Guidelines and Priorities for 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, and gave legal opinions on developing a register of Fraudulent Qualifications and implications of making that register public, as there was not a clear definition about what was meant by the word “fraudulent”. SAQA's information management system was up-to-date. Other achievements of SAQA included the registering of 222 new qualifications, the reviewing of the criteria for professional bodies and the re-evaluation of the foreign qualifications. It had become very important to track the education achievement of learners; there were 16 million learners registered on the National Learners Records Database (NLRD) and 17 million achievements and enrolments by learners had been recorded. Out of those reported, there had been 28  000 learners who had achieved. The achievement did not show how the learner gained that qualification, but the qualification itself was recorded. The database was very comprehensive, tracking every level of academic progression of every learner in South Africa.

SAQA provided its staff with support in regard to both health and education. 17 staff members were on education assistance and the whole cohort of staff would undergo leadership and staff development programmes. The staff had a monthly wellness programmes. Public positioning of SAQA had improved, and the social media reach and the advocacy work of SAQA had improved. Stakeholders and the general public had greater access to SAQA through various media platforms.

The human resource priorities of the SAQA were to improve learning and development and to encourage lifelong learning. R2 million was spent on the training and development of the staff, a leadership programme had been initiated in order to induct and equip leaders in the entity.
 

Ms Reddy described the staff demographic information, stating that SAQA had:
- 148 permanent staff members
- 60 interns with variety of skill set and qualifications
- Some members were on contract
- Some of the staff had been relocated to the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET or the Department) due to the restructuring
- In the management of SAQA, there was 50/50 gender representation

Mr Mark Albertyn, Chief Financial Officer, SAQA, gave a brief outline of the financial management information. SAQA had obtained a qualified audit, but he asked that there should be some discussion on the technical nature of the qualified audit. The issue with the audit was due to the incorrect estimation of furniture by SAQA, and the maintenance issues which were listed in the audit but not completed. The issue was essentially about putting a nil value on furniture which had been in use way beyond its utility date. The problem was rectified through a process of revaluation and the inclusion of nominal values of items. In this financial year, only 91% of the SAQA budget was spent, because of the relocation of the career advice directorate to the Department, and to vacancies in the qualification directorate, which meant that savings were made. Revenue collected from the verifications process was about 25% of total revenue. However, Mr Albertyn said that the revenue would change significantly now that the careers advice was no longer under SAQA, as it had contributed the bulk of its income. The maintenance plans for SAQA comprised maintenance to the main lift in the building and an improvement in the IT equipment capacity.

He noted that in the next financial year, SAQA would be aiming to ensure a clean audit, attend to induction of the new board and implement the various policies created, to facilitate the processes of verification of both foreign and local qualifications.

Discussion
Ms S Mchunu (ANC) asked whether the foreign qualifications which were evaluated were qualifications which were categorised as scarce skills needed by the South African economy. In relation to those qualifications cited which had been found to be misrepresented, she asked whether they had been disaggregated to indicate country of origin, NQF level and field of study. Thirdly, she asked about the qualifications that had passed the evaluation process, and how this figure compared to those that did not meet the criteria, and for what reasons they did not meet the criteria. Finally, she asked about the resignation of 17 staff members, and whether resignation interviews had revealed the reasons for resignation, as well as asking if SAQA had a strategic plan to address those issues.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) asked about the verification process of foreign qualifications and whether government institutions should have any reason to doubt the qualifications verification process of SAQA. He also asked what the recourse was for failed representation of qualifications. He commended SAQA for meeting transformation targets internally. He asked how many employees qualified for performance bonuses. He also asked for clarify about the findings of the Auditor-General since SAQA received a qualified audit, and why it was indicated that there was a technical mistake with the findings.

Dr B Bozzoli (DA) commended SAQA for achieving its targets. She asked about the criteria used for registering accreditation of private institutions; she wanted to understand what  process SAQA used to assign that accreditation. She also asked whether there was any truth in the rumour that SAQA was withholding accreditation for private institutions due to a dispute with the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) or Council on Higher Education (CHE).

Dr Bozzoli enquired why there was such a large number – 13 000 - accredited service providers and asked if SAQA did not run the risk of registering fly-by-night institutions. She wanted to know if these institutions were being evaluated for honesty and quality after accreditation, to ensure that they were not “rip-offs”. She asked whether accreditation implied that the institution was accredited, or whether it was selected courses that were accredited. She then asked about the role of SAQA in ensuring that South African qualifications were internationally comparable. Finally, she queried the high number of vacancies.

Mr Samuels responded that many vacancies cited in the annual report were due to the restructuring of the entity during this period. 49 vacancies cited arose as a result of the Career Advice Directorate being moved into the Department. He added that prior to 2008, under the SAQA Act, accreditation was centralised, but after 2008 the executive function of accreditation had been decentralised to education quality assurance bodies who were responsible for the quality assurance work. Under the NQF Act, the quality councils were responsible for the accreditation process, with guidelines to facilitate the process. SAQA, in terms of the NQF Act, was responsible for giving advice to the Minister and the entity did research to fulfil its advisory mandate.

Speaking to the number of providers, he indicated that the number of 13  000 reflected that all providers who were accredited were added onto a database of all approved providers. He explained that the provider was accredited for specific qualifications. The accreditation of an institution was for a fixed period, until it had to be evaluated again.

SAQA initially had the responsibility of registering qualifications on recommendation of the quality councils,but  subsequently there had been a creation of criteria used to compare qualifications. One of the criteria was that a qualification registered must be able to compete with equivalent international qualifications. The issue with qualifications was that it had been very difficult to assess these at curriculum level. SAQA ensured that the qualifications would meet international standards, but it was the responsibility of the providers to ensure that, at curriculum level, that standard was maintained.

Mr Samuels explained what was meant by the qualified audit being due to a technical error, the problem was about materiality of furniture. The issue was that the furniture that was used in the SAQA office had reached the end of its lifespan so it was included as items with a nil value. The SAQA finance committee found nothing wrong with how it was represented, so it remained stated this way in the financial statements provided to the Auditor-General (AG) for audit. However, this was a point on which the AG did not agree, and the qualified audit then meant that SAQA must recalculate and include the new re-calculated valuation of those assets.

Mr Albertyn added that the original statements did not include the values and expected lifespan of the furniture. The residual values were also a problem, as the AG determined that there was a need to account for he value of items that had been disposed of, in the financial report, although the financial statements had initially disregarded those disposed of through internal auction or donation.

Mr Samuels set out how the performance management was handled, noting that everyone underwent performance management, and that about 30 employees qualified for performance bonuses.

Mr Samuels then spoke to questions around the accreditation processes. He acknowledged that there was room for mistake by human error, as the process was still manual. The expertise of the entity had, however, evolved so the capacity to facilitate this process had improved. He admitted that in the past, the process involved a simple assessment of the certificates to determine whether they were authentic or not, but there was also a subsequent process against which the qualification was assessed to determine authenticity. The certificate could be revoked, but there was a reapplication process for those whose status had been revoked and if there was an error in the process such as the institution being the problem rather than the certificate, then a reassessment would takes place. There were errors, but these seldom occurred even with 32  000 applications received. He apologised for the errors that had crept in, and said that there was a policy and an appeals process for people who did not agree with the outcome of the evaluation.

In relation to the accreditation of foreign qualifications, Ms Reddy had looked at all 158 countries in which these qualifications were awarded. She had just listed the top five, but in the annual report there was a section where these qualifications had been broken down according to NQF level of qualification and field of study; thus there would need to be more information about those that had been misrepresented. 222 qualifications did meet the criteria because those were the ones registered by SAQA under the advice of the quality councils. Information about those who did not meet the criteria would be provided to the Committee at a later stage.

In relation to the resignation of staff members, it was noted that SAQA had a high number of long-term employees. SAQA did provide very valuable experience but the trend had been for younger employees to move on to better opportunities. Exit interviews were done and they were analysed for issues that were subsequently dealt with by management. The previous engagement between SAQA and the Committee had focused on succession planning, and subsequent to that discussion, a succession plan had been implemented. 

Mr Siwela asked about the reasons for dismissal of three employees.

Ms Mchunu asked whether SAQA would embark on advocacy to inform the general public and employers about the very necessary work that it undertook.

Dr Bozzoli asked about the the Education and Training Quality Assurance (ETQA) bodies, commenting that there seemed to be little oversight over them, and she asked whether each Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) had an ETQA, or whether they were more general. Dr Bozzoli also asked who was actually responsible for the accreditation of the 13  000 providers.

Mr Samuels explained that under the amended SAQA Act of 2008, ETQAs were removed, and the accreditation of providers became the responsibility of the various quality councils. The CHE and Umalusi were also quality councils. The SAQA had delegated some of the quality assurance to some SETAs as quality partners, who would then assess quality assurance. However, Umalusi had not delegated its quality assurance powers and still did its own accreditation.

In relation to the comment on advocacy, he noted that SAQA had done a lot of advocacy work. Information had been made available about bogus qualifications and the entity had been invited by many employers to do quality assurance of their employees and board members, including, for instance, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).

He explained the dismissals. One employee was dismissed for interference in the foreign qualifications evaluation process. Another person was dismissed for poor work performance. He said that SAQA would provide full documentation around these dismissals.

In closing, Mr Samuels invited the Committee to the first AGM of the new African Network of Verifications. SAQA had created a glossary of terms to enable people to understand jargon used in the qualifications and higher education sector. SAQA would provide all the necessary information in a folder that would be given to all the Members of the Committee.

The Chairperson thanked SAQA for its presentation and commended it on reaching most of its targets, and also congratulated the officials for their renewed commitment to efficient policy implementation.

Council on Higher Education (CHE) Annual Report 2014/15 briefing
Prof Themba Mosia, Chairperson, Council on Higher Education, presented on the governance structure of CHE and the achievements of the Council so far. He began by giving a brief background to the legislation that governed the Council on Higher Education (CHE or the Council) and noted that the Council had a number of committees, including the the Human Resources and Remuneration Committee, the Audit and Risk Committee, the Higher Education Committee and the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee. He noted that the current Council was appointed in December 2014. The previous Council underwent an external performance evaluation and the findings were that the council members had engaged thoroughly in the work of the Council. ~

Strategic priorities in the last year had included;
- Strengthening CHE’s relationship with key stakeholders: DHET and other Quality Councils (QCs)
- An increasing level of engagement with Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), through quality enhancement and promotion, and through a consultation process on the extended curriculum proposal
- Providing advice on policy-related matters

There had been a restructuring in the Council, to promote operational effectiveness and efficiency, and this included the merger of the National Review, and the Standards Development Directorates. The units t responsible for quality assurance and promotion of coordination, and capacity development had been relocated to the office of the CEO.

He outlined some of the notable achievements of the Council in the past financial year, which included:
- Higher Education Qualification Sub-Framework (HEQSF) alignment project had neared its completion date
- Increased activity in the international arena:
- The setting up of the Southern African Regional QA Network
- Liaison with the Scottish Quality Assurance Agency
- International collaborative projects
- Participation in conferences
- Attendance of international speakers at CHE events
- CHE having achieved a clean audit

Prof Mosia indicated that there were a number of challenges faced by the CHE. These included:

- Projects were often dependent on external experts in the sector who occupy full-time jobs in the sector: which sometimes caused delays in completion of projects
- The cycle of most projects was not in sync with the financial year, so that some projects were initiated in one year but implemented in another , meaning that it was necessary to roll over funding, and that gave the incorrect impression that the CHE was under-utilising its funding
- There were issues surrounding closure of first cycle audits at some institutions
- Legal challenges to CHE/ HEQC decisions
- Attraction and retention of competent staff

Prof Narend Baijnath, Chief Executive Officer, CHE, gave a performance reflection of the Council in this financial year. The overview of the performance summarised that there were 23 performance indicators and their corresponding targets in the 2014/15 Annual Performance Plan (APP). CHE achieved and/or exceeded targets on 60.9% of the indicators; specifically, it achieved its targets on 43.5% of the indicators and exceeded targets on 17.4% of the indicators. This was regarded as above average performance. He provided explanations for the targets not achieved, which included the following:

- Developing two templates for qualification types and field/subject specific standards
- Increasing, to 75%, the proportion of re-accreditation programmes of private HEIs that were adjudicated on by the HEQC within 18 months after receiving payment
- Finalisation of the National Report on the Review of the Bachelor of Social Work programme
- Establishment of criteria for the LLB review
- Holding of three quality assurance fora: one each for public universities, private HEIs and professional councils
- Development and implementation of a skills development plan
- Filling all vacant positions within three months
- Achieve 25% in the implementation of the Employment Equity Strategy and plan

The key outputs which had been very important for the Council had been the standards development, which was still in the draft phase, and which entailed the review of the qualifications for the Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Business Administration, Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Engineering and BSc in Engineering, and Diploma in Engineering.

Another important output related to the institutional audits which were conducted. Two institutional audits, for the University of Venda and University of Limpopo, from the first cycle, were finalised and closed. In relation to the Content Analysis of the Baseline Institutional Submissions for Phase 1 of the Quality Enhancement Process (QEP), a report was published. A Deputy Vice Chancellor Forum under the  QEP was established and four QEP institutional workshops were organised.

Thirdly, he noted that national reviews were held. These included:
- Findings and recommendations of the National Review Committee, on the national review of the Bachelor of Social Work programmes, were finalised
- Recommendations were approved by HEQC, relating to the social work study programmes from 16 institutions – in this regard three were fully accredited, eight were accredited with conditions, and five were placed on notice of withdrawal of accreditation.

Prof Mosia noted that a substantial proportion of the CHE projects were not completed within planned time frames, which impacted negatively on achievement of annual performance targets. The reasons were the lack of sufficient capacity in some directorates, and high staff turnover disrupted progress of projects. He repeated that some projects relied heavily on peer experts from the sector who delivered at their own pace

He noted that the APPs of the CHE were normally scoped to cover all areas of the legislative mandate, but these did not necessarily match the capacity and resources available, so that there was a mismatch between performance requirements and the capacity to deliver. Lack of capacity constrained the CHE's ability to work always with the required rigour in setting performance targets

The emerging issues which the Council would have to address in the current financial year would be, firstly, to take capacity and resource considerations into account when scoping the APP and setting performance targets. CHE would have to identify priority areas from the ever-increasing demands on CHE, in order to develop APPs for subsequent years. It was critical for the CHE to address the staff turnover.

In addition, Prof Mosia indicated that the CHE would have to look again at its business model, considering the proportion of out-sourced to in-sourced activities and formal performance based contracts for peers. It would also have to look again at its structure and the possibility of shifting from a rigid directorate-based structure, to a matrix structure in order to increase efficiencies in the use of personnel. It must look at ways to obtain better organisational performance results from the implementation of the HR performance management system and competency framework.

Mr Thulaganyo Mothusi, Chief Financial Officer, CHE, presented the financial management information. In a brief presentation, he noted that the CHE had overspent on its budget by around R1 million, but there was still a surplus which came from the previous financial years. The reasons for the budget differences were:
- Revenue from exchange transactions was higher than budget, due to more applications for accreditation being received from private institutions
- Revenue from non-exchange transactions was lower than budget, due to the Standards Developments pilot phase only being completed at the end of the current year. The late completion of the pilot phase meant the Directorate was not operating at full capacity. This Directorate had now been merged with National Reviews in order to effectively carry out the CHE mandate
- Employee costs were under budget due to vacancies that were in the organogram being unfilled during the financial year
- General expenses were under budget, due to delayed projects in directorates. These projects had been carried forward into the new financial year and completion was expected in the new financial year.

He noted again that the AG had provided a “clean” audit report, with some findings. These included:
- SBD4 forms (declaration of interest) were not always completed prior to a transaction taking place, but the SBD4s were obtained subsequently, and there were no conflicts identified
- There was an employee who performed remunerative work without approval. However the entity with whom this employee transacted was not connected to CHE
- One contract was awarded to bidders who did not declare whether they were employed by the state
- There was an incorrect disclosure of Trade Receivables as Prepayments.

A strategic audit action plan had been developed to address all audit findings identified by the AG and progress was monitored by the Audit and Risk Committee.

Discussion
Mr Siwela commended the Council on this audit result. However, he asked about the performance management assessments and why only 41 out of 46 had been assessed. He also asked how many of those assessed qualified for performance bonuses. He noted the comment on the withdrawal of the Social Work programmes at five institutions and the fact that they were required to produce improvement plans before 31 March 2015, and he asked that these institutions be named. Finally, in relation to private institutions, he asked how CHE would monitor the phasing out of the process of the qualifications which did not meet HQESF criteria.

Dr Bozzoli said that the achieved of targets statistics given the CHE were not “above average” and in fact were very low in comparison to other institutions. She said that it was a legislative requirement that CHE should undertake institutional audits yet it had failed to do so, and she asked what the penalty was for it not undertaking a legislative requirement. She asked when the first audit was going to take place and how the process would be managed.

Dr Bozzoli asked how the quality enhancement programme worked and how it was measured, and asked for an illustrative example.  She asked for more detail on the legal challenge to the withdrawal of accreditation, and commented that it was “bizarre” that CHE could be taken to court over this, and this implied that there were flaws in the process of accreditation. She then asked about the grounds on which an institution could take CHE to the High Court and what the Council’s defence was.

Dr Bozzoli also asked about the five Social Work programmes which were reviewed, and asked for further detail about the process of de-accreditation. In relation to the funding, she noted that CHE had a surplus of R14 million, but still argued that there was inadequate funding. It was also noting that it had lack of capacity, but it also had unfilled vacancies, and she asked how CHE planned to reconcile both situations.

She was concerned about the number  of research projects which were undertaken by the CHE on behalf of the Minister, and said that this seemed to take away from the essential job of the Council, which was the quality assurance of qualifications. She noted that some of the members of the committees of the Council had sat on these committees for a while and her concern was about redundancy, so she asked whether CHE had considered reaching out to retired Deputy Vice Chancellors of Teaching and Learning to sit on these committees, as the committees need to be revamped.

Prof N Khubisa (NFP) said that on slide 17, there was an indication that the projects undertaken by the Council could not be completed on time due to a lack of capacity in some directorates, and he asked whether the lack of capacity was due to lack of expertise, experience and competencies, over and above whether more numbers were needed. If this was the case, as he suspected that the problem did not just lie with the numbers, then he wondered what was preventing the Council from getting sufficient capacity in those directorates. He commended the fact that the CHE had done away with MBA programmes which did not meet the criteria. In relation to the Social Work programmes which were under review, he asked what was being done to facilitate the changes that were needed at these institutions. He commented that he had picked up some of his information from media reports, and these might be incorrect, but he asked what the plan of action was for the institutions that did not have appropriate programmes in place.

Ms Mchunu also commended the clean audit but she asked the CHE to share the strategic plan that it had developed to deal with the Auditor-Genera’s recommendations. She commended the Department for the timeous appointment of the Council. She said that the 60% achievement of targets being described as “above average” implied a level of complacency within the entity. She asked for a progress report on the institutional audits at Walter Sisulu University, North West University, Mangosuthu University of Technology and University of Zululand. Lastly, she asked what the progress on the fraud case was.

Mr Mothusi responded to the performance bonus question, and said that the figures were correct. There were 38 employees who indeed qualified for the performance bonuses. There were seven employees who did not qualify because they joined mid-financial year but one employee did not qualify because of poor performance, and thus measures were put in place to improve that performance. The surplus amount of R14 million was not presented as due to the vacancies in the Council, as there were only five vacancies that need to be filled. The majority of the funding was for the post of CEO, which had subsequently been filled. The issue was also around the completion of projects, and there was an agreement reached with National Treasury which would require the Council to give a plan of how the money would be spent and how spending would be subsequently monitored. The surplus amount would probably be put towards the legal costs of the current court case in which the Council was involved. The CHE was in the process of getting access to the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission database to ensure that the suppliers did not present a conflict of interest, and the list of directors of supplier-companies would be made available. He said that reconciliation of expenditure needed to take place monthly, to avoid the incorrect listing and categorising of expenditure. If it was done monthly then there would be little space for error.

He reported that SAPS had decided to close the fraud case as there was no need for further investigation; the ID number used to commit the fraud was stolen and thus it was very hard to trace the perpetrator. Not all the relevant documentation was made available timeously to the SA Revenue Services, who had also decided not to continue with the case as the perpetrators no longer worked for the Council. The figures involved would be removed from the financial statements.

Prof John Mubangizi, Member of CHE, responded to the quality enhancement project question. He said the project was in its first phase and it had a number of subsequent phases so it would be hard to give a comprehensive example and assessment on its progress. He said that there was cooperation from the institutions involved, and full engagement, and the first phase was well under way.

Prof Mubangizi also answered questions around the legal challenges. There had been exponential growth in the Higher Education sector and as a result the number of applications for accreditation by private providers was also growing, but the issue was that capacity was not growing. Private providers had the money to challenge the decision of the Council, but this did not imply that the processes followed by the Council were flawed. The current case could be classified as sub judice at the moment; the CHE still awaited judgment in this matter. The processes followed were defended by the Council and the judgment would be scrutinised when it was handed down.

He also responded to the concern about the CHE being used for research projects by the Minister. He said that the CHE had been mandated to advise the Minister and it subsequently undertook research projects to effectively fulfil this mandate.

Commenting on the term limits of the members of committees, he said that members of committees had a three-year term and so there was already a high turnover rate. The function they performed required a high skill set, which was limited in this context, as the money earned from the committees was strictly according to work done, and it was not a conventional salary.

Dr Denyse Webbstock, Director: Monitoring and Evaluation, CHE, responded to the enquiry on the de-accreditation of the Social Work programmes at the five 5 identified institutions. She said there were processes, which were on-going, on evaluation, as set out in the annual report. The institutions identified had to submit plans to the institutional audit committee and they were reviewed, in conjunction with the HQCs, to determine whether these programmes could continue There were three institutions which had been completely de-accredited, because they lacked the capacity and planning necessary for the programme. UNISA was developing a new programme because the design of the existing programme was a problem. The approach had been to transfer students into other programmes while the new programme was developed and then submitted for accreditation. The institutions shown to have lack of capacity would probably not submit plans for re-accreditation as their capacity problem was not short-term. This was also the case with some MBA programmes which had their accreditation withdrawn. The legal challenge that the Council was dealing with currently related to an education programme for a private provider, and accreditation here would be withdrawn if necessary.

Dr Webbstock said that the issue with targets had been that some were deceptive. Some targets were difficult to pre-plan in relation to certain aspects required by the target. An example was the planning of workshops, since the targets did not take into account any workshops which were run jointly or had to be moved back to accommodate changes in the year. Some targets were not met due to technicalities, and this could not be accounted for in the auditing process.

Dr Webbstock also commented on the issue of capacity. She noted that quality assurance work was very hard to do and for the amount and level of work it undertook, the Council worked with very few staff. The absence of one administrator could severely affect processes, especially in the accreditation directorate, because this meant that pressure was put on everybody else. There had been high turnover in the lower levels of staff, particular the administrators, due to the limited career opportunities, but there was little change in the management level.

Prof Mosia responded to the issue of audits, and said the CHE was working on a programme that would guide the audit process. The CHE also needed to plan for the auditing of the private providers as they were legally entitled to an audit. The programmes still needed to be finalised, but would probably be ready before the next quarterly report. There were a number of gaps in the system which still had to be addressed. He noted that the CHE would complete the audits. The CHE had created a plan with the University of Zululand because systems in that university had completely collapsed.

Prof Beverley Thaver, Council Member of CHE, responded to the issue of research as a mandate and the issue of auditing. She said the strength of the Council had been the ability to have a process of oversight of the institutions; it was not easy getting into the ground-level of institutions. The research function of the Council was to meet the legislative mandate, and also to allow for careful investigation of the gaps in the system. The research was then made available to the Members of the Committee and was then put into operation at institutional level. An example of this was the measurement of research output. The other issue was capacity. She said that the key to quality assurance at university was the system of peer-review. There needed to be an investigation about how the work of academics on the ground could be rewarded through promotion and funding. Another issue was that the representation of the committees could be made more dynamic by adding more people who represented the views of society rather than university experience.

Mr Firoz Patel, Deputy Director General, Department of Higher Education and Training, said the mandate of the CHE was to advise the Minister, and the Minister was required to consult CHE when dealing with policy that directly impacted on Higher Education. There had only been two instances where the Minister had drawn on CHE's advice; the first was the measurement of research and the second related to the Ministerial report. The issue of advice was distinct from research, but the CHE was also free to conduct research.

Dr Bozzoli welcomed the clarification. She commented that page 25-27 of the annual report set out a list of projects listed which were large, and could consume considerable time and resources and this could be a problem if the CHE maintained that it had funding and capacity issues. She pointed out that the CHE would have to achieve a balance between all facets of its legislative mandate

Prof Mosia said that there needed to be more synergy in CHE, but each mandate of the Council had its own directorate to ensure compliance with mandated functions. He thanked the Committee for its input.

The Chairperson thanked CHE and congratulated the CEO on his appointment. She said that CHE needed to work towards filling its gaps and meeting all its legislated mandates.

The meeting was adjourned

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