Higher Education Amendment Bill [B36-2015]: public hearings Day 2

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

17 February 2016
Chairperson: Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

In their submission, Universities South Africa stated that they supported the Bill in general, with some improvements, but that they were concerned that the Bill eroded institutional autonomy and gave the Minister of Education unrestrained power and control over the Higher Education sector. Universities South Africa therefore urged the Committee that when it reflects on transformation, institutional autonomy and public accountability, to remember the importance of striking a balance between different forms of power, because both public accountability and institutional autonomy are needed to create and maintain a flourishing Higher Education system.

The Deputy Director General of University Education for the DHET said that it had no intention of taking institutional autonomy away from universities, and that the Act rather seeks to clarify institutional autonomy. The reason for taking transformation and lifting it up as one of the key policy issues was not to deny that there are other problems in the sector. The Act has purposefully been very inclusive in defining transformation as the DHET realised that it would face problems in the future by defining transformation at this early point, as this is something that needs to be deliberated on by the various stakeholders.

In their joint submission, COSATU and NEHAWU stated that they support the Bill, along with COSATU’s proposed amendments. They argued that there should be a fleshing out of what transformation means because if the definition of transformation is ambiguous, higher education institutions will be able to get away with not adhering to transformation directives. They supported the Bill’s enforcement of public accountability of higher education institutions. They also want the Act to capacitate government; ensure accountability of HE institutions; tackle transformation, access and fees; and ban outsourcing and labour broking. They would like HE institutions to be accountable to Parliament and would also like to see the amended Bill urgently passed.

In their submission the Independent Institute for Education called for clearer definitions of registration and standards for sites, main campuses and satellite campuses, and for distance and contact education. The institutions represented by the IIE would like to be held to the same regulations as public HE institutions, which would enable the private HE institutions to make an application to be considered a university.

Transformation Stellenbosch, in their submission said that one of the main issues that they had with the Bill was to replace the word ‘directive’ in section 24 with the word ‘instruction’ as ‘instruction’ is a much more powerful term in this context.

The Congress of the People Student Movement (COPESM) submitted that it disagrees with the creation of the HEQSF. There was no clear indication in the Bill of what the HEQSF’s role is or reasons given for it being established. COPESM believes that it will be more beneficial to the sector to empower the DHET to properly execute management of the DHET than create another government entity. This is a waste of money as this money could be better spent funding needy students. It called for the section of the Bill which deals with the creation of the HEQSF – section 6a – to be deleted from the Bill.

Some Committee members were suspicious of why USAf felt the need to address transformation at this moment in time, as it is only now that government is intervening that the HE institutions wanted to argue that they were thinking critically about transformation of HE institutions. They said government had to be seen to be doing something about transformation within HE institutions and the government is attempting to intervene through this amendment to the Higher Education Act.

Meeting report

Universities South Africa (USAf) submission
Prof Adam Habib, Chairman of Universities South Africa and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, stated that, in general, USAf supports the Bill - with some rewording and suggested improvements - however it does have some concerns. Their single biggest concern relates to institutional autonomy, which USAf believes is sacred.

On the accountability of higher education institutions, public HE institutions are held accountable in some important ways. Each public HE institution’s council must submit an Annual Performance Plan (APP) to the DHET by 15 December each year, and must report against this at mid-year and at year end, and the APP must include its transformation plan. It must submit audited financial statements by 31 July each year and this audit is supervised by the Auditor-General. In addition it needs to submit its proposed offerings (in the form of a Programme Qualification Mix) for approval by the DHET, and its enrolment plan for approval by the DHET and the Minister.    
On the principle of institutional autonomy, USAf is aware that there are a number of stakeholders who have argued against institutional autonomy, and there are a number of student groups, who have argued that because of institutional autonomy, there has been a lack of transformation at their universities. However, the problems in our HE system have nothing to do with institutional autonomy but, in fact, they are part of systemic decisions made by government.

On transformation, over the last 20 years many HE institutions have made huge strides in transformation. One example of this is Rhodes University, in which an incredible majority of the student body, approximately 65%, is Black. If one looks at all of the universities in the country, many of them have made great progress in transformation, therefore one cannot blame institutional autonomy for the failings of some universities to transform. USAf is committed to transformation, but it is also committed to institutional autonomy. There has been significant transformation that has taken place. That does not mean that there are no problems and that does not mean that there is not more to do. However, USAf emphasises that by extending the Minister’s powers to transformation, the Bill erodes institutional autonomy. In addition to this, the Bill needs to define what is meant by transformation. Speaking on behalf of USAf and all public HE institutions, he stated that USAf is committed to transformation, but it is also committed to institutional autonomy, and USAf does not believe that the two are incompatible.

There is an urgent need to clarify what it meant by transformation, does it concern the demographic changes of the students, is it about institutional culture, is it about previously disadvantaged students having access to the best institutions and the best programmes in the country, because all of these things are elements of transformation.  Prof Habib and his colleagues in USAf believe that there is an urgent need to reflect on what is meant by transformation, and all twenty universities represented by USAf need to come to this agenda as a collective and commit themselves to determining what transformation means. However, if the Committee insists on legislating on transformation, then what USAf argues is that it is necessary to define what is meant by transformation. But ultimately, engagement with the public deliberative process that involves all stakeholders in defining what transformation means, would be most desirable.

He said that USAf is deeply committed to transformation, but it is also deeply committed to institutional autonomy and USAf believes that it is possible and necessary to put both on the table if the country is to have a transformed HE system that is globally competitive and locally responsible.

A second issue that USAf is concerned about relates to the typology proposed in the Bill, that of universities, university colleges and higher education colleges, which fails to take account of the current and evolving landscape of universities, universities of technology and comprehensive universities, and leaves undefined the position of technical and vocational education and training colleges.

USAf also believes that there is too much power afforded to the Minister of Education in the Bill (in Section 3(1)) and that the Bill affords the Minister unrestrained power.

As the Bill reads now, it will prevent HE institutions from making the kinds of investments that will enable them to be sustainable enterprises. It also creates a system that does not allow universities to realise the full benefit of their intellectual property.

Striking a balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve, but if it is not achieved, it could tilt the entire HE system into crisis, and if the Committee and stakeholders do not allow for a thoughtful engagement with this issue, the sector could end up destroying the HE system.

The Committee and stakeholders also have to ask questions about how to finance our HE system, because HE is outside of the financial capacities of much of the middle class and poor people. And the Committee needed to think about how to transform the higher education system, and how to ensure that it is globally competitive, locally appropriate and guided by thoughtful activism.

Forty years ago, in the early 1970s, in many parts of the country, the debate that is currently happening in the sector around institutional autonomy and public accountability was happening widely on the African continent. Those people who were sure of political gain came together in 1992 in Uganda and wrote the Kampala Declaration. The Kampala Declaration is a document written by the students of the 1970s who became the academics of the 1990s, and what they lamented is that they had a situation where they had allowed institutional autonomy to erode. They realised that by doing that, they had been destroying the HE system on the African continent.
This is the one HE system on the continent that works, it produces incredible leaders, incredible professions and some of the best doctors and engineers in the world. Keeping that HE system working is fundamental to the Bill. It is not in the interests of ending inequality for the HE system to be destroyed because the rich will fly their children overseas to get a better education, but the poor will not have that luxury. And what will then happen is that the sector will enforce inequality, the very inequality that the country has now.

Prof Habib urged the Committee that when it reflects on transformation, institutional autonomy and public accountability, to remember the importance of striking a balance between different forms of power, because both public accountability and institutional autonomy are needed to create and maintain a flourishing higher education system.

Dr B Bozzoli (DA) asked if Prof Habib thought that the Bill was unconstitutional, as academic freedom is embedded in the Constitution as a fundamental right.

She asked if USAf had considered that the Council on Higher Education (CHE) is currently a shadow of its former self. She asked what USAf thinks needs to be done to enable the CHE to fulfill its role properly.

Her last question referred to what other African countries did to transform their universities in a positive way?

Prof T Msimang (IFP) said that he wanted the HE system to be able to drive itself. He also stated that universities had been inconsistent in recognising the difficulties that the poor are facing. They had had the opportunity to raise these difficulties with the Committee before, but had not done so but now wanted to demonstrate to government that they were concerned with and trying to do something about these issues. HE institutions are not catering to the poor and the poor were therefore trying to fight for their right to education from within the HE system because they want to demonstrate that the system rejects them. He therefore wanted the Committee to take students seriously when they told the Committee that the system offers them different accommodation to other students on the basis of race or income. He said that the Committee suspects that sometimes the universities forget the principles that they are asking the Committee to espouse.

Ms J Kilian (ANC) said that according to her reading of section three of the Bill, she does not believe that the Bill gives the Minister complete power and control over the sector, as he or she will still have to consult with the Council of Higher Education (CHE).

The second issue she raised was related to typology and creating a new system for categorising HE institutions, and not differentiating the different institutions adequately to maintain international standards.

The issue of institutional autonomy and public accountability is obviously a very important one. She said that if one looks at our system of HE, it is clear that unfortunately it has become necessary to ensure that government entities are accountable to the public.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) asked how the sector could achieve financial sustainability.

Mr C Kekana (ANC) said that his comment was about institutional autonomy and public accountability as they relate to transformation. USAf had raised the issue of transformation, and he wanted to know when the sector will know exactly what transformation is, because when those in the sector use the term transformation, it is necessary to know what they mean by transformation. Prof Habib said that the definitions of the different types of universities, contained in the Bill are vague, and he wanted further clarity on a university of technology and how it differs from a university. His understanding is that universities are more academic but universities of technology are more practical. He hoped that this provided clarity on this confusion. He acknowledged that some universities have problems related to transformation.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) noted that transformation of universities does not relate only to transformation of the student body but also the staff body and asked USAf about the staff profiles of their universities and whether their staff profiles had transformed.  

The Chairperson asked what motivated USAf to feel that they needed to transform now, when they had not been doing so for the past 22 years of democracy. She said that something must have triggered their response to suddenly start transforming now. She wanted the Committee to have a common understanding of what had triggered that. She asked Prof Habib why, after having had the transformation charter for 21 years, the HE institutions had not transformed. She said that she was not blaming the HE institutions, but wanted USAf to understand that given that HE institutions had not transformed adequately, it was necessary for the government to step in, and the amendments to the Bill allowed it to do so. There had been no control over how HE institutions were transforming, and the Bill introduced a policy to which all HE institutions are bound, and allows for the government to implement such policy. She wanted USAf to understand that the Bill was allowing the government to intervene in the HE institutions’ processes of transformation. Even USAf blames the government for their failings at transformation.

Universities are think tanks and they teach students about research; universities should be getting students to conduct research on transformation at their institutions. But she was suspicious of why USAf felt the need to address transformation at this moment in time, when government was intervening in the transformation of HE institutions. It is only now that government is intervening that the HE institutions want to say that they are thinking critically about transformation. After the outcry from various groups, government had to be seen to be doing something about transformation within HE institutions. So the government is attempting to intervene through this Bill. She asked  Prof Habib and his USAf team to respond to the questions.

USAf response
Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Rhodes University, said that the Committee needed to consider what had happened to many countries in other parts of the African continent, when they decided to forego institutional autonomy and social responsibility. He said that there is a false dichotomy between institutional autonomy and transformation and there is no reason why they cannot be combined as they are not incompatible. He disputed the idea that if one has institutional autonomy, that one cannot also have public accountability. He also emphasised that academic freedom is enshrined in our Constitution. He said that USAf would make the Kampala Declaration available to the Committee as he thought that it is important that members read it and that the sector does not repeat the mistakes that were made in the past.

Another of USAf’s concerns is that the Minister cannot, on his own, decide what transformation is. Transformation is a social compact and it is something that has to be deliberated over. He said that it was a very dangerous thing for universities to decide by themselves what transformation is. He emphasised that USAf was not suggesting that the changes in the Bill were designed to purposefully erode institutional autonomy, but that this may be an unintended consequence of these changes.  

Mr Hugh Amore, Consultant for Universities South Africa and Registrar of the University of Cape Town, said USAf believes that the proposed definition of transformation needs to be narrowed down. It is also concerned with the definitions of employee and spouse within the Bill, as these terms needed to be more inclusive to take into account relationships in which people are not married, but for all intents and purposes, are long-term partners. This was needed as the definition of employee and spouse impacted on which public HE institution employees had to complete conflict of interest forms.

Prof Ahmed Bawa, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Durban University of Technology (DUT), said that the government and institutions had made great progress as far as transformation is concerned. In historically white universities in the 1990s, there was not one cent available for Black students, but today the government has given over R10 billion to the sector for Black students. And if one looks at the development of HE institution campuses, today, more than half have transformed. However, transformation should not only be a numbers game, it should also be about the way HE institutions teach their students, engage with their communities and conduct research.

Prof Habib said, on the concerns raised by Prof Mbatha and Mr Kekana, that even though there have been some failures in transformation, HE institutions have not yet failed completely at transformation. But it is important for the sector to ask what the responsibility of the state is relating to transformation. Everyone in the sector needs to have the courage to admit that they are responsible for the failings in transformation. Vice-chancellors are responsible but they are not the only ones that are responsible, the state is also responsible. Everyone is collectively responsible for having failed our young people. USAf wants to sit down as partners with various stakeholders and government and determine how to fix the problems, to figure out what the problems in the system are and to fix them and to determine how to build the system together with other stakeholders and government.

He asked what was wrong with the public deliberative process? He said that, as USAf, he would love to have a meeting with the Portfolio Committee, in which the Committee would have the right to challenge USAf, and USAf would have the right to challenge the Committee, so that they could craft in partnership a way to go forward. USAf wants a public partnership with government.  

The Chairperson stated that, “working together we can do more”. She then asked for a response from the state law advisor.

The state law advisor said that there is a clear linkage between subsection one and subsection three of the Act, the two subsections talk to each other.    

The Chairperson then requested the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to respond.

Ms Diane Parker, Deputy Director General of University Education for the DHET, said that the DHET had no intention of taking institutional autonomy away from universities. The Act rather seeks to clarify institutional autonomy. She said that the reason for taking transformation and lifting it up as one of the key policy issues was not to deny that there are other problems in the sector. The Act has purposefully been very inclusive in defining transformation as the DHET realised that it was likely to ‘shoot itself in the foot’ by defining transformation at this early point, as this is something that needs to be deliberated on by the various stakeholders.
There have been problems and those problems have been coming to the surface and the Act tries to deal with those issues so that the sector can move forward. She said that if the wording in the Bill gives the impression that it is undermining institutional and academic freedom then the DHET needs to consider the wording again and determine what the wording needs to be.

On Prof Habib’s request for a partnership between USAf and government, she said that such partnerships already exist and that the government already works in partnership with various other stakeholders in HE institutions. The DHET does engage in integrated planning using these partnerships. She wanted to reiterate that the DHET has negotiations on an ongoing basis with various stakeholders. Those partnerships are already in place, they are not something new that need to come into place. It is now important to determine how to strengthen these partnerships and make them more appropriate in order for the sector to move forward. She said that the highlighting of these particular policy issues does not mean that DHET does not think that other factors should be in the Act. The issue of what transformation means is described in the White Paper.

The DHET is not trying to create new kinds of universities at all. There was confusion over what university colleges and higher education colleges are, and therefore it was necessary to put in a definition of these for the sake of clarity. The definition was not included to create new types of universities. 

The Chairperson then asked the parliamentary law advisor to respond.

The parliamentary law advisor said that the finding of the state law advisors has already been that the Bill is not unconstitutional and at face value it does not pose any direct threat to academic freedom. He said that the argument that academic freedom is linked to autonomy is an interesting argument and that there is no ruling to support that. And as a constitutional principle, academic freedom is provided to all education institutions in the sector, not only to universities. Academic freedom also affects schools and colleges, it is something that is extended to all education institutions, it is not only limited to universities.

The Chairperson thanked members for their questions and USAf for providing replies. She noted that while the meeting was not running according to the scheduled times for submissions, that there had been a lot of interest and engagement from members and stakeholders on the submission by USAf, and that it was important to allow time for that. She noted that the meeting would need to wrap up that section of the meeting and to move on, but that the Committee would engage with the issues raised at a later date, and would debate the issues and try to find solutions.

COSATU / National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) submission
Mr Matthew Parks, COSATU Parliamentary Officer, presented the joint submission and said that they were always available to meet with the Committee. COSATU and Nehawu supported the Bill and feel that it is long overdue. The recent student and worker uprisings at HE institutions were a good wake up call for everyone in the sector, and the sector will face similar uprisings in education in the future.

In terms of the context, COSATU and NEHAWU are always guided by the 34% unemployment rate and the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. South Africa has a 34% unemployment rate in the country, yet it also has a shortage of 50 000 truck drivers in the economy. On unemployment, many graduates are still unemployed two years after graduating.

University fees are unaffordable. Government has done well with NSFAS, however, the income threshold for getting NSFAS excludes the majority of workers, and this is the frustration for COSATU and NEHAWU.

The sector should not be satisfied with the lack of transformation. South Africa has now had 22 years of democracy and it does not take 22 years to train someone up from a bachelor’s degree up to a lecturer.

COSATU and NEHAWU support that the Bill provides for financial and transformation accountability to the Minister in the form of annual reports which must be submitted every six months or every year.

One of COSATU and NEHAWU’s main concerns is that there should have been consultation with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), unions and students, giving them a chance to engage with the Bill; but this did not happen. Given the outcry of students last year, symbolised most clearly in the Fees Must Fall campaign, COSATU and NEHAWU would have thought that Parliament would have been eager to engage students on this Bill, however this did not happen.

COSATU and NEHAWU have some proposed amendments to the Act. These include the investment conditions for HE institutions, as they believe that HE institutions should be allowed to invest locally in the economy. There should not just be a complete ban on investing public money. However, there should be a Bill attached to how HE institutions can invest public money. COSATU and NEHAWU’s proposed amendments also includes a ban on outsourcing, labour broking and privatisation. HE institutions should also not be allowed to hire workers on three month contracts.

The Labour Relations Act limits temporary jobs to three months. To get around this, labour broking companies used by HE institutions will employ someone for three months, and then fire them after three months and simply replace them with someone else. Therefore, it collapses collective bargaining when HE institutions engage in outsourcing. People who are the cleaners and caterers of universities work for ten to twenty different companies and are often only employed for three months. Many of these workers are too scared to take Christmas leave, because when they come back from Christmas leave, they have been replaced by someone else.

COSATU and NEHAWU appreciate that the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) made a commitment to end outsourcing, there is nothing wrong with that. However, we need to also ensure that workers are not retrenched. The President says that companies will not retrench workers. However, retrenchments are still happening on a wide scale. 13 000 workers were recently retrenched. To provide context, at Telkom, some workers who work for Telkom get paid a decent salary, other people who work at Telkom work for a broking company and they get paid half the salary. At the post offices, workers did not even get overtime last year. These are the real frustrations that workers are experiencing. There should be accountability of universities to the DHET, to the Minister, to Parliament and to the Portfolio Committee. This would be a further step towards ensuring good governance.

There should be a fleshing out of what transformation means as COSATU and NEHAWU are concerned that if the definition of transformation is ambiguous, HE institutions will be able to get away with ignoring it. Government and public institutions right now are found wanting too often. COSATU and NEHAWU want Parliament to take transformation into account and to ban outsourcing and labour broking.  

In conclusion, COSATU and NEHAWU support the Bill’s amendments to the Act, along with COSATU’s proposed amendments. COSATU and NEHAWU want the Act to capacitate government; ensure accountability of HE institutions; tackle transformation, access and fees; and ban outsourcing and labour broking. They would like HE institutions to be accountable to Parliament and COSATU and NEHAWU would also like to see the Amendment Bill urgently passed.

Independent Institute of Education (IIE) submission
Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of the Independent Institute of Education, stated that the IIE’s interest in this Bill related to the body being a registered private provider of HE, serving in the region of 25 000 students with more than 90 registered HE programmes. The IIE has been involved in various negotiations with the DHET since its original submission on the 2010 Amendment Bill. In August 2010 the IIE came before the Committee, arguing three basic principles: regulation and protection of SA students is right and necessary -  and therefore we support regulation; Amendments to the Act at the time would not achieve the aims of regulating relationships between distance education providers and contact centres as the definition of ‘provision’ was not being changed; and caution should be exercised in making amendments that would isolate SA without achieving the regulatory and quality assurance protection desired.

The IIE has called for clearer definitions of registration and standards for sites, main campuses and satellite campuses, and for distance and contact education. Without attending to these calls for clarity, there has been pressure on providers such as the IMM Graduate School of Marketing, the Open Learning Group and UNISA to discontinue their tuition support partnerships on the argument that they constitute outsourcing, which they do not; that they violate the definition of provision – which they do now; and are not permitted by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) – with nothing other than reference to the notion of outsourcing and franchising (which they are not).

The tensions that have been set off are as follows: Distance Education Policy recognises that distance students need support and that contact centres and sharing of resources is an efficient and effective way to achieve that. However, amendments to the Higher Education Act undermine that – and no alternative model in terms of quality assurance or regulation has been offered – and is simply trying to deal with the complexity of a necessary evolution in HE through blunt instruments of changing definitions of provision and thereby “banning” partnerships.

She said that there is still no useful recognition of partnerships or the forms they can and should take and it is not clear what these amendments mean for activities such as writing exams for international qualifications at British Council Offices.

With regard to part qualifications, the definition of HE in the Bill, (clause 1 – amendment to section 1 (h)) includes reference to part qualifications on the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-framework (HEQSF) – but the HEQSF has no provision for part qualifications so it is not clear what these are and if this is an attempt to also regulate course provision directly (or to make it possible to do if not registered on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)). This has serious implications for many issues, such as Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
She noted that the Bill also did not supply an adequate definition of main and satellite campuses and that this was important as there is a very unequal provision of resources to main campuses and satellite campuses.

On new institutional types, section 1(i) and (u) criteria need to be set soon and applied fairly – this possibly represents at least one step to leveling the playing field for private providers to be recognised for their contribution across the scope and range of HE activities.

Mr N Khubisa (NFP) said that, from what he could understand from the IIE submission, it welcomed the interventions and amendments in the Bill, but that it was concerned that HE institutions would not be able to engage in partnerships in the future. He agreed with this concern and said that it is a problem if HE institutions were no longer able to engage in partnerships, and that this needed intervention from the DHET.     

Prof T Msimang (IFP) said that COSATU/NEHAWU made a very strong case against outsourcing. However, he was concerned that banning outsourcing could aggravate the financial burdens of the universities and he asked Mr Parks for a few ideas on how the trade-off between banning outsourcing and higher financial burdens for universities could be resolved. He also wanted to know where the government should make cuts in the budget in order to allocate more money to HE.

Mr M Mbatha (EFF) asked Mr Parks how the HE sector could deal with outsourcing, as outsourcing and labour broking are new practices in South Africa, that began with the dawn of democracy and the liberalisation of the market. It was meant as an improvement of the functioning of universities but has exacerbated inequality.  

Speaking to the submission by the IIE, he also said that private HE institutions are quick to try and see how they can benefit from partnerships with public HE institutions and are quick to suggest and use public HE institutions, and public funds, but private HE institutions do not consider where they can benefit public HE institutions. Private HE institutions can enrich the path of young people who are studying by providing them with resources that will enable them to complete their studies. However, he wanted to know how private HE institutions would deal with geopolitical issues that impacted on their ability to provide resources to public HE institutions and communities that required the use of such resources.

Ms Mchunu said that the Bill should acknowledge the role played by independent HE institutions in providing tuition, which the Bill attempts to limit and regulate.

Mr Kekana followed up on Mr Mbatha’s question on outsourcing. He said that it was true that outsourcing was an outcome of democracy as it had its advent in democracy. He wanted to know what the attitude is of the international community toward outsourcing.

The Chairperson reminded Mr Kekana that the Committee was only asking questions for clarity on the submissions at that point and that he should confine himself to clarity seeking questions.

Dr Bozzoli stated that this should be a point of order, as outsourcing was not relevant to the discussion of the amendments to the Bill.

The Chairperson agreed and said that members could embark on a vigorous debate on this at a later date.

Mr Kekana said that he was not sure what the IIE was saying about the criteria for being registered as an HE institution. He asked if the IIE was suggesting that there was too much or too little regulation of HE institutions. He noted that control of the registration of HE institutions is very important as this was needed to prevent ‘fly-by-night’ institutions from operating, the kinds of institutions which will take a student’s money and promise them a recognised degree, but then disappear a year or two after the student starts a qualification with them, or does not in fact provide recognised qualifications.   

Ms Kilian referred to standards and the amendment to section 52 in the Bill. She said that it could be argued that it should be quite clear that the DHET and the Minister have a responsibility to ensure that standards comparable to those used to register public HE institutions are used to register private institutions of HE. She therefore asked what addition to the Bill the IIE would like to see in that regard.

Mr Parks replied to the question from Prof Msimang, saying that people should have job security, they should be able to negotiate with their employer. Outsourcing makes it very difficult to ensure that workers had job security, were paid a decent wage and were not being retrenched as the companies that employ the workers prioritise their profit over the needs of workers. They wanted to make a profit regardless of the consequences to their employees. He gave an example of difficulties faced by workers of outsourced companies, saying often these workers were afraid to go on leave over Christmas as they sometimes found that when they returned to work, they no longer had a job as they had been replaced by another worker. Similar conditions were faced by outsourced workers from many different companies. He gave the example of cashiers at Shoprite, who work under terrible conditions and earn a pitiful wage and were trying to send their children to university on their low wages and were really battling to do so.
Dr Coughlan said that large institutions such as the Independent Institute of Education also have institutional audits. The institutions represented by the IIE would like to be held to the same regulations as public HE institutions, which would enable the private HE institutions to make an application to be considered a university.

On the changing of the definition of provision of HE, Dr Coughlan  said this has been changed from one in which all the functions needed to be carried out in order for ‘provision’ to be established. Now, however, this has changed to a definition stating that any one of the functions being carried out results in ‘providing’. The amendments state that if an institution is providing HE, even if they are operating as an independent organisation, that that institution needs to be registered as an HE institution.

She agreed with Mr Mbatha that private HE institutions should provide support and resources to public HE institutions and their students. However, she believed that private HE institutions should be able to provide more than just administrative support, which the Amendment Bill no longer makes possible. The Amendment Bill prevents HE institutions from providing more than just administrative support to public HE institutions and their students as it did not allow for such partnerships of public and private HE institutions.

On Ms Mchunu’s question about what addition the IIE would like to the Bill On registration of private HE institutions, she said that private HE institutions were required to comply to the same criteria as public HE institutions in order to be allowed to register as an institution of HE. There are many details that needed to be supplied by private institutions when they were applying for registration as HE institutions. This is necessary as it is the only to manage the sector and prevent the registration of ‘fly-by-night’ institutions. Information is therefore gathered from the institute applying for registration as an HE institution and the DHET can use this information to regulate the sector. The IIE was therefore not arguing for protection at all, but was arguing for regulations that protect students from ‘fly-by-night’ institutions.

Dr Coghlan noted that she had chaired the Council for Higher Education in the past, and was a member of the Higher Qualifications Standards Committee board for six years. One does not automatically become a member of the board, or chair the council after a certain number of years of membership. People are invited from the private sector and from the public sector on the basis of their own standing.  

With regard to the question about standards, she said that the Independent Institute of Education (IIE) is required to keep to the standards of comparable HE institutions, but, that with respect to public HE institutions, the IIE sometimes did not want to aim that low.

Transformation Stellenbosch submission
Ms Zandile Mantile, a Stellenbosch University student representing Transformation Stellenbosch, stated that Transformation Stellenbosch is a group of students and general workers who, in line with the Republic of South Africa’s Constitution, strive for the promotion, protection, development and attainment of equal rights at Stellenbosch University. Transform Stellenbosch accepts the Bill in good faith, nevertheless it raises serious questions about the Bill being management-centric. At Stellenbosch, the SRC, given the racial composition of the university is largely unrepresentative of the black minority at the University and the Fees Must Fall campaign has taught the sector that it can ignore students at its own peril. It is unacceptable that the Bill addresses transformation in very general terms, without providing remedies for lack of transformation and racism. Racism, which is the antithesis of social cohesion in terms of government outcomes, is still prevalent at the university. Transform Stellenbosch argues for more activism from the Minister with regard to university management, especially Stellenbosch University, instead of the arms-length approach currently contained in the Bill.

Mr Sandile Ngobeni, a student and activist from Stellenbosch University and a representative of Transformation Stellenbosch said that one of the main issues that Transformation Stellenbosch has with the Bill is section 24 and the use of the word ‘directive’. Transformation Stellenbosch wants the word ‘directive’ in this section to be replaced with the word ‘instruction’ as ‘instruction’ is a much more powerful term in this context than ‘directive’.

Transformation Stellenbosch also believes that Stellenbosch University (SU) is not producing critical thinkers, but rather job seekers and workers. There is therefore a change needed in the teaching paradigm of SU. Universities tend to hide behind the concept of institutional autonomy, which allows them to evade transformation. The SU council was not going to make the necessary changes at the university to implement transformation, deal with racism and change the teaching paradigm as it was made up of a group of people who were all friends and all had the same interests, which are in conflict with the interests of minority groups at the university. Transformation Stellenbosch referred to these council members as the Stellenbosch mafia who hid behind the concept of institutional autonomy.

In section 23 of the Bill, which relates to people who work at universities, Transformation Stellenbosch is very concerned about outsourcing, as outsourcing companies seemed to be immune to the laws of this country which should prevent them from hiring people for only three months at a time. Outsourcing companies seemed to be largely unaffected by the country’s labour laws.

Section 27 of the Bill and language policy is a very serious issue for Stellenbosch University. He said that the language of instruction should not be left to the SU Council to decide as they come from the same circle of friends and all have the same interests in maintaining the status quo. The Council would therefore never give any consideration to the demands of Transformation Stellenbosch and other minority groups at SU. The problem is not about Afrikaans itself, as the majority of people who speak Afrikaans in the Western Cape are not White, but rather that Afrikaans is being used to exclude poor, Black students.

Transformation Stellenbosch is concerned that the majority of the student body is White. Students should not be disadvantaged merely to protect the ‘holy grail’ of institutional autonomy and if it was necessary to suspend institutional autonomy to protect students then this was a worthy sacrifice. Universities were largely untouched by calls to transform as they used the principle of institutional autonomy to avoid transforming.

Congress of the People Student Movement (COPESM) submission
Mr Khotso Mofokeng said that COPESM welcomed the Bill, however, with special emphasis on some sections. He said it is very important to note some parties are concerned about institutional autonomy.

COPESM is concerned that the Bill gives the Minister quite a lot of power, and believes that the Bill needs to provide some restraint to the Minister’s power.

COPESM also disagrees with the creation of the HEQSF. It was impossible to have a government that was dedicated to cost cutting measures when at the same time it was creating new government institutions. He said that there was no clear indication in the Bill of what the HEQSF’s role is or reasons given for why it should be established. COPESM believes that it will be more beneficial to the sector to empower the DHET and hire more people who would be able to properly execute management of the DHET and effectively deliver services to the student community of the country. COPESM feels that the Bill is essentially calling for the creation of another DHET. This is a waste of money as this money could be better spent funding needy students. Recently there was an incident in which a student had died because he was denied funding. He emphasised that the creation of the HEQSF would be a waste of money as it is not needed and the chapter in the Bill that addresses the creation of the HEQSF should be deleted altogether. It does not make sense that the sector is debating the feasibility of free education when it is also spending money on creating the HEQSF. If the government is serious about the future of the country then it should delete this chapter of the Bill. In conclusion, COPESM supports the Bill with the exception of Chapter 6a.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) said that the statement made by Mr Mofokeng about a student who died because of a lack of funding, needed to be corrected, as he was not portraying this incident accurately. Addressing
Transformation Stellenbosch, he said that the ‘directive’ is as good a word to use in the context of section 24 as ‘instruction’. He was not sure that replacing the word ‘directive’ with ‘instruction’ in section 24, was actually going to make any impact on the Bill. He also asked for clarity on the assertion that historically disadvantaged universities should have an opportunity to invest public funds.

Mr Khubisa commended the Transformation Stellenbosch submission, which really opened the Members’ eyes to some of the issues at Stellenbosch University. However, he wanted to note that universities cannot be divorced from the locality where they are situated, and that this needed to be taken into account when considering teaching and learning and research at SU. The issues of inequality, language and culture that Transformation Stellenbosch spoke of in their submission are very important. However, they were advocating that a directive or instruction from the Minister should deal with these issues, but he believes that transformation would be stronger if it started from within the university. He believes that because this matter involves institutional culture, that it would be helpful for various stakeholders at SU to meet, speak to each other and air their views and that this would have more of an effect on institutional culture than the Portfolio Committee being dogmatic and issuing a directive forcing the university to change its institutional culture.

COSATU and NEHAWU believe that universities should be able to invest public money but mechanisms should be put in place to manage those, such as requirements for universities to report to the Portfolio Committee on a regular basis. At the same time, they thought that universities should have measures for ‘tightening their belts’, in order to save money that can then be used by students to further their academic interests.

Ms Mchunu asked Transformation Stellenbosch what their submission would be to tackle racism specifically at Stellenbosch University. The incident mentioned by Mr Mofokeng, of a student dying because of not getting funding, was under investigation, and in fact the student had been given NSFAS funding and had been informed that he had received this funding.

Mr Kekana asked Transformation Stellenbosch if they were proposing that the word ‘directive’, as contained in the Bill, be replaced with the word ‘instruction’.

As Mr Kekana understood it, Transformation Stellenbosch was also calling for a change in the teaching paradigm of SU, and their motivation is that SU is producing job seekers and workers, rather than thinkers. His criticism was that universities throughout the country are producing very academic and theoretical students, but it was necessary to produce students who can practically address the needs of the economy. At the moment, universities were only producing thinkers. Given how much time it takes to produce a university graduate, it is necessary to produce graduates who can contribute to the economy and find jobs immediately after leaving university. So while many stakeholders wanted universities to produce thinkers, the challenge is that creating thinkers will not help ease the problem of graduate unemployment. And similarly, changing ‘directive’ to ‘instruction’ in the Bill would also not alleviate graduate unemployment. What Transform Stellenbosch really needed to be concerned with is the fact that approximately 10% of university graduates are unemployed, and that that is one of the biggest challenges facing HE. Any change to the HE system needs to be guided by the principle of producing students who are employable, and replacing the word ‘directive’ with the word ‘instruction’ in section 24 of the Bill was not going to help that process.

The second point he raised was on the language policy at SU. SU has agreed to the use of both English and Afrikaans as mediums of instruction, and it was using both languages in teaching, and he believed that this was sufficient.

On Transformation Stellenbosch’s comments about the business mafia, Mr Kekana said universities had to remember that business plays an important role in the HE sector and universities should therefore operate in partnership with the private sector because the private sector controls the economy. And even if universities were producing thinkers who created their own companies, those thinkers would need to approach the private sector for funding. The role of the private sector in universities is therefore important and Transformation Stellenbosch should be careful not to alienate the private sector through the use of terminology such as ‘mafia’.

Ms Kilian commented that the Committee welcomed the submissions. Many of the issues raised in the submissions have in fact been covered in the Bill to a large extent. For instance, language is addressed in section 23 and strengthening public accountability is also addressed.

On the request by Transformation Stellenbosch for ‘directive’ to be replaced with ‘instruction’ in the Bill, she read a definition of directive - a directive is an official order or instruction, something that serves to direct, guide, especially an official instrument, issued by a high level body or official. Based on this definition, if one weighs up the difference between directive and instruction, directive could in fact be even stronger than instruction in this context.

The Chairperson said that she wanted to set the record straight on the assertion by Khotso Mofokeng from COPESM about a student who died because he did not get NSFAS funding. She had reliable information that the student who died, was actually a UNISA student, who had received funding. It was important to have accurate information and not mislead the public.

The Chairperson took issue with Mr Ngobeni’s use of the word ‘mafia’ when referring to companies in the private sector. Parliament aims to build the nation, and it cannot build the nation when people bring such negativity into meetings with parliamentary committees. She therefore did not agree with his use of ‘mafia’ and asked him to refrain from using such language in the future. She asked for responses to the questions.

A student representative of Transformation Stellenbosch replied that investment is a serious issue that Transformation Stellenbosch is researching. He asked what would happen to universities if the market collapses and they have invested public money in private companies. Would we then see a 5% increase in student fees at HE institutions? HE institutions should therefore think very carefully before investing public money. He asked why HE institutions could not save money, as the market is very uncertain and there is no assurance that public money is safe when it has been invested in the market.

On research, he said that research is one of the challenges facing the HE sector as most of the Black universities are left behind in terms of research, as they are not able to engage in the kinds of research that White universities can, because of historical and ongoing disadvantage. It was important to capacitate those universities that had been left behind in their ability to conduct research, otherwise these universities would remain Bantustan universities and will never be able to catch up with historically White universities.

He argued that thinkers can also create work as most innovations in society and in the economy come from thinkers. And if universities did not create a generation of thinkers, they would create a generation of people who will always look for a job, rather than creating employment opportunities. Thinkers were needed to unemployment and poverty in society.

On the language policy, Transformation Stellenbosch maintains that Stellenbosch University violates the language policy and is actually in contempt of the Constitution which states that all languages are equal in South Africa, that no language enjoys a better status than other languages; but at Stellenbosch University Afrikaans is favoured above all languages.

A student representative of Transformation Stellenbosch spoke of racism at SU. He detailed some of the difficulties faced by Black students at SU. He said that when a Black student and a White student apply for university residence accommodation, SU will consider the White student before the Black student, without any consideration of the White student’s academic merit. Black students have to stay in places like Kayamandi and Cloetesville because they are not given university residence accommodation in Stellenbosch and have to take shuttles to and from the campus. These shuttles are of a much poorer quality than the ones that are used to transport White students. White parents would never allow their children to be transported on the kinds of shuttles that were being used to transport Black students. A further incident of racism related to access to the administration buildings, as there were times when Black students had to present their IDs or student cards to gain access there but White students were not asked to present these.

The Chairperson interrupted the student and asked him what part of the Bill he was referring to, as the meeting was concerned with considering improvements that stakeholders would like to see in the Bill and his input should therefore be able to assist the Committee in that regard.

The student replied that he was answering a Member’s questions relating to racism and wanted to give the Committee an idea of some of the difficulties faced by Black students at Stellenbosch University.
Mr Mbatha said that it might be helpful for the student to indicate the amount of racism, rather than detailing and explaining specific incidents. He said that the Committee should also make an effort to meet with Transformation Stellenbosch to discuss issues at SU that are not directly related to the Bill.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would be going to Stellenbosch on 2 March. She then asked for responses from Mr Mofokeng.

Mr Mofokeng said that his intention was not to provide false information, but rather to highlight and give an example of some of the issues that students face.

The Chairperson closed the meeting by commenting that the meeting was one of the best that the Committee had ever had, as it had allowed for engagement with the broader community. She thanked the Members and the key stakeholders in the sector for all their relevant questions on the submissions. She said that the students’ participation was highly commended because it is not only adults who can fix problems in the sector, because working together, everyone could do more. She thanked the general public and the media for coming and showing interest in the work of the Committee. The Committee had received sixteen written submissions from different HE institutions on the Bill, and of those 16, many universities, such as the University of the North West, DUT, and Stellenbosch University all felt that they were going to be well represented by USAF, so they decided not to come.

The Chairperson said that the Committee had come to the end of the public hearings. The Committee would deliberate on all the submissions made to them on the Bill, but only those submissions that relate directly to the Bill. The Committee would sit down with their legal advisors and state law advisors when considering the submissions. She noted that all the Committee’s meetings are public meetings so stakeholders and the public could come to the meetings that deliberate on their submissions. The process was continuing and she welcomed people to be involved and attend meetings where they were able to. She ended the meeting by thanking everyone for their participation in this law making process.    

Share this page: