Walter Sisulu University controversy; Skills Training for Post-School Education and Training: HSRC / Labour Market Intelligence Partnership research

Higher Education, Science and Technology

06 September 2017
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chairperson opened the meeting by drawing Members’ attention to the issue reported in the media about the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student who had accidentally received a R14 million deposit from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The Committee decided to call a representative from WSU to attend the following week’s meeting, at which the University of Zululand (Unizulu) and the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) would be participating in discussions.

The Chairperson also updated the Members on court proceedings involving Unizulu, which the Committee, the Speaker and Minister were facing. The matter was with Parliament’s legal services, and another court date had been set.  The Members agreed that it would be handled by Parliament’s legal services, and expressed the view that it was a labour matter which should have been directed to the university authorities.   

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) briefed the Committee on skills training for post-school education and training. It said that the levels of education in South Africa as a developing economy were lower than those of other comparable economies, and there was an increase in the demand for graduates at the professional level. There was a need for the remediation of students who dropped out of the education system early, and the structure of the system and mechanisms to streamline the process had to be developed.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) reported on the progress with the establishment of a skills planning unit. The notion of an integrated education and training system required a coordinated front and a coherent approach to skills planning. The DHET had identified 27 priority posts to fill, based on the funding received, and would start the unit after recommendations had been made.

Meeting report

Walter Sisulu University (WSU) matter

The Chairperson said Members would be aware from media reports of the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student who had accidentally received a R14 million deposit from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). She suggested that at the next scheduled oversight meeting with the University of Zululand (Unizulu), the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) the following week, the Committee should call the WSU, the NSFAS and IntelliMali to brief it on the entire situation regarding the transfer, so it could decide how to proceed with the matter. The CPUT matter could be re-scheduled for the following day, since they would be having an inauguration ceremony for their Chancellor.


Dr B Bozzoli (DA) said that she was not sure about the reason for not calling CPUT, since they were already based in Cape Town and the matters involving the university included riots around accommodation and student uprisings, and these were a serious concern. She was wondering if there was not a way that they should be called, regardless.

Mr M Mbatha (EFF) said that CPUT Cape Town had been on fire the previous week, and it seemed the strike was still on, with the Vice Chancellor still on suspension. The Chairman of the Council had resigned under mysterious circumstances, and half the Council was not functioning. There was an executive director who had paid out money illegally and the institution had been on a continued downward trend since their 2014 meeting. It was a similar situation at Unizulu.

Ms J Kilian (ANC) said that the initial discussion to involve CPUT was in relation to a different matter, and there had since been some discussions and it seemed the student leadership was satisfied with the arrangements that had been made. She also believed it would be not right to intrude upon the CPUT festivities, so the Committee should call them to the first meeting when Parliament reconvened. The irregular payment issue at WSU and the long overdue issue on Unizulu should be handled at the scheduled meeting, as suggested by the Chairperson. Since they would have to deal with the Triple R report in the last term, they could just as well set up a meeting with CPUT.

Dr Bozzoli said that she did not see why CPUT should not be called in, as the festivities took only one evening. Since the oversight was scheduled for the following Wednesday and Thursday, CPUT should be asked to come in for some of that time. She also said that with Triple R in the last term, there would not be enough time to handle the CPUT matter.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) said that they should take into consideration that calling too many institutions at once would not help. The matter of Unizulu and the irregular payment was very important.


Update on Unizulu issue

The chairperson reminded the Members of the letter writing session on Unizulu and the consequent court proceedings the Committee, the Speaker and Minister were facing. The matter was with Parliament’s legal services, and another court date had been set. Members should all have received another letter from a legal person with all the names of the Committee Members except for Ms M Nkadimeng (ANC) on it, and this would also be given to Parliament’s legal services to handle. She reassured them that Unizulu would still have to appear at the scheduled meeting the following week.

Mr C Kekana (ANC) asked where the letter with all the Committee Members’ names had been sent to, as since their names were mentioned and they ought to access it and know what was being talked about.

Dr Bozzoli said that she suspected the person behind it was Josephine Naicker (ex-Unizulu chief financial officer), and she was wondering whether she should be called when Unizulu was called in, so that she could tell her side of the matter.

The Chairperson responded that the matter was already in court, and was a labour matter now. The letter addressed to the Committee had come from Macgregor Erasmus Attorneys, and did not indicate who it was on behalf of.

Ms Killian suggested that the Committee should not be involved in the matter, as the letter did not specifically say it was Ms Naicker. The committee was aware she was fighting her dismissal at Unizulu, so intervening would be inappropriate and unwise. She suggested that the peculiar issue of the letter to the Committee should be disregarded, as the attorneys clearly seemed to be unaware and ill-informed about the processes and the status of the university, which had a Council that would be the appropriate addressee of the letter.

Dr Bozzoli said she understood that the Committee was not being dragged into the labour matter. Ms Naicker’s claim was that she had been fired because she had exposed corruption and that she had been ignored, with no questions asked by the Committee when she wrote to them before their last visit to Unizulu. She was effectively saying the oversight at Unizulu had not been done properly. The Committee should not assume Ms Naicker’s claim was irregular, a a recent article in The Citizen had indicated that the Vice Chancellor had been charged with corruption and theft in court. Maybe Ms Naicker had been on to something that the Committee had neglected during the oversight visit.

Prof C Msimang (IFP) said that these attempts were a cry of desperation. A university had autonomy and could be very powerful, and the students and the workers did not know who to turn to for help. This was their way of reaching out, and he was glad the Committee would be meeting up with them. He hoped the people would make their presentations so they could be advised on how or who was handling the matter.

Mr Kekana asked where the letter was, as it could be subject to different interpretations. He suggested that if such occurrences came up in the future, the letter should be given to the individuals whose names appeared on the letter for interpretation purposes.  He did not recall issues with regard to corruption and malpractices being brought up in the initial oversight, but they needed to get to the root of this.

Ms Kilian said that it had been a very difficult meeting at Unizulu because of the infighting that was there, but no evidence with regard to corruption had been brought forward. She suggested that there had to be evidence produced and the Committee should not go beyond what they had found in the initial oversight.

Ms Mchunu said she believed it would not be good to call Ms Naicker in because there were a number of aggrieved employees. The Committee should conduct an independent investigation on the issues raised, since Ms Naicker might just be an angry ex-employee.

Mr Mbatha suggested having a combination of the executive management, the Council and the chair of audit so that the Committee could gain a fair picture of the issues at Unizulu. Ms Naicker had had access to reporting to the chair of audit by virtue of her job as CFO, therefore they had to bring the chair of audit in to see if Ms Naicker had taken this route. He added he was keeping the issue of the University of Johannesburg in mind, and that action should be taken in respect of all universities accordingly, so that the Committee should not be seen to be letting other institutions off the hook.   

Mr Kekana said that the issue that worried him was the lawyers not disclosing their client and telling the Committee that they had not done their job correctly. He regarded this as pure arrogance. There were appropriate structures that could deal with issues of corruption, and the lawyers had not taken the right approach.

The Chairperson encouraged the Committee to read the report they had written on the Unizulu oversight again and assured Members that the issues at the University of Johannesburg would also be dealt with.


Human Sciences Research Council: Skills Planning for Post School Education and Training

Dr Vijay Reddy, Executive Director: Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), said that the presentation was built on three main themes covering education and jobs, which linked mathematical literacy to jobs and tertiary education to labour market, youth transitions over five years in South Africa, and how the changing nature of work influenced skills development, because the link between basic education, higher education and jobs was one continuum.

She said that the levels of education in South Africa as a developing economy were lower than other comparable economies. With the changing nature of jobs and the increasing need for solving and analytical skills, there were not enough students with good numeracy skills to venture into problem-solving or analyzing at higher levels of education in South Africa. At the professional level, there was an increase in the demand for graduates.

She said that a helicopter view of progression from school to tertiary education showed that of 100 children that started school, only 60 wrote Matric, 37 passed, with 14 qualifying for a bachelor’s pass and 12 qualifying for a diploma. Of the 14, only 12 immediately went to undergraduate studies, and only six completed undergraduate qualifications within six years after Matric. There were stereotypical classifications as well, with fewer women in science-based programmes.

There had been improvements at the educational level, but the pace of change had to be improved. There had to be more enrolment in science-based careers, improved work conditions for science-based jobs and improved job flexibility. It was important to look at why people were not getting jobs and match the labour demand with the skills that students had acquired.

Key recommendations were that basic education must be improved, especially in numeracy, mathematics, literacy and languages.

Dr Kathryn Isdale, Research Fellow: HSRC, said that the report used SA youth panel survey data to examine the throughput of the educational system for a cohort of current South African youth. Students were followed year on year for five years, and the report looked at the characteristics of learners making different transitions and explored key predictors of those pathways. Learners matriculating failed to remain proportionate to increased enrolment rates more generally.

Those who sailed smoothly through the process were young learners, those with high expectations of education, those with a more positive attitude and belief about maths, and those who were not bullied. A quarter of those sampled had successfully matriculated. The vast majority in the sample got stuck at grade 11, and this staggered progression was really impeding a lot of young learners. There was need for remediation so that they could move forward.

Dr Angelique Wildschut, Senior Research Specialist: HSRC, said there was a decrease in artisanal work and the labour market had been declining since about 2008. There was a need to develop more artisans. She argued that the culture and the history of particular forms of training remained important to inform successful and appropriate education and training, and labour market interventions.The workplace remained a critical locale for understanding the types of skills required, but there was also a need to understand the pervasiveness of inequality in employment.


Progress on establishment of “Skills Planning Unit”

Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Deputy Director General: Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), said that the idea of a Post-School Education and Training (PSET) system planning and monitoring unit reflected the notion of an integrated education and training system, while the idea of a Skills Planning Unit represented only the training component of the PSET system.

The initial presentation had made it clear what needed to be prioritised to attain higher qualification levels, to prioritise more mid-level qualifications and to ensure that skills for sustainable livelihood were also prioritised. He also urged for an alignment in skills development and industrial strategy.  The work of the Skills Planning Unit had to be seen as a part of the other work being done in the DHET. A monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework had been developed that was part of institutional mechanism to assist in that regard. The PSET system was at an advanced stage, and its purpose was to manage planning and monitoring for the post-school education and training system as a coordinating unit.  The Department had identified about 27 priority posts to fill, based on the funding received, and would start the unit after recommendations had been made.


Mr Kekana asked about the bill that was in the pipelines to retain scarce skills in accounting, mathematics, science by allowing international students to obtain teaching jobs in the country. He wanted to know what was being done, and if these promises were being monitored. Could the statistics be related to practical things that he could relate to in terms of the total skills of development needed?

Ms Nkadimeng asked if the HSRC had also considered increasing the infrastructure and the number of academic staff to support their recommendation of increasing the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) enrolment target in tertiary education from 30% to 35%. She also asked if the comparative study between Rhodes University and Fort Hare University graduates’ employability was predetermined by one being predominantly white and the other predominantly black. Had the high unemployment in the Northern Cape province been due to a lack of universities, and now that they had a university could it be said that with time one would see an increase in university graduates being employed?

Dr Bozzoli (DA) asked whether the demand by students to become artisans was declining, or if it was the demand for employers to employ artisans that was declining. Something should be done about it, as this was the key to developing the economy. She suggested broadening the category of artisanship as one of the alternatives. She also wanted to know if the HSRC had considered extending the compulsory education gap to correct for the high dropout rate due to enrolment requirements in grade 9. Setting up a skills planning unit with 27 staff seemed to be outrageous, given that there were already skills planning units, and this would have to be rationalised in terms of cost. She said the list of skills compendiums that had been produced in 2014 and later improved was virtually unusable, and she urged that expansion of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) was a key take-home message.

Ms Kilian said it was a good idea as a nation to discuss the skills planning unit. Should it be linked only to the DHET or HSRC, and should it have a central position in government, as the realities of basic education could not be ignored. There was need to link it to the Department of Basic Education (DBE). There was a duplication of work with the establishment of these units, which would also create instability, so all of this should be linked to economic and industrial development. She asked to what extent the HSRC study had considered changes in the SA economy and compared skills with other countries to see how they had adapted their skills development programmes to suit the realities in the economy. She was concerned that money was being thrown around without considering basic education. There were a lot of reasons for this, including poverty, dysfunctional families, and inadequate access to early childhood development, but this report had to be taken note of. She lastly wanted more clarity on the panel of the SA Youth Panel Survey (SAYPS) because the results seem more skewed, and Dr Wildschut should highlight this as she thought more emphasis should be focused on quintiles 1-3 and identify additional blockages that impacted on learners in the early stages.

Ms Mchunu asked if the planning from Labour Market Intelligence Partnership (LMIP) had involved all stakeholders and the private sector, given that some of the causes of unemployment were not necessarily skills shortages, but shrinking in sectors like mining. She wanted the LMIP to share with the Committee if it had engaged with these sectors on their capacity to grow. She also wanted to know if the data provided to the LMIP from the sectors in the skills environment was accurate. Had any work done been by them or others to encourage mathematics literacy?  

Prof Msimang (IFP) asked about the recommendation to improve language literacy in higher institutions of learning, and how this was to be implemented.  He also wanted to understand the job percentage concentration as presented by the HSRC, and to shed light on the loss of artisan jobs with the increase in the TVET colleges.

Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA) asked what the Department’s plans were to create alternative development opportunities for learners who had dropped out of basic education system.

Mr N Khubisa (NFP) said that it seemed the problem did not begin at thetertiary level, but at the basic education level. There was a need to start changing from that level. He wanted to know if women did not follow the science discipline at the basic education level, or maybe they were not encouraged.

The Chairperson asked if the report from the Department that said that they were losing finance from their international people meant that this would affect the plans presented. She also wanted to understand why the programme that the Deputy President was spearheading in this area had not come up in their presentation. She asked to what extent there was research to address the questions posed, considering that things were always changing.

DHET response 

Dr Sishi responded that since there was a document that spoke about the unit, its location and size, it would be provided to give room for engagement. In the research conducted, there had been six possible units in government that could do it. In compiling the report, there had been merits and demerits for each consideration. In the configuration of the unit, two departments had been merged. The Department of Economic Development was also represented. The unit articulated its work in the council that was chaired by the President and entities which including labour and business. The big issue with skills planning was about the coherence of the system, and the only thing that sought to bring these together was the national qualifications framework (NQF). He was not saying this was an all-round solution, but it currently brought a balance to these issues. The bill on immigration to retain skills had been presented at the HSRC Council and concerns had been voiced which were being taken into account.

He said that South Africa would be chairing the Southern African Development Community (SADC) committee the following year, and at the first meeting there would be the tabling of the new regional qualifications framework led by SA, and this was good regional consideration.

Dr Wildschut said there were 1 600 occupations according to classifications, and 350 of those were in high demand. One of the ways this was being handled was through career guidance to students by giving them a variety of options for particular professions.

Dr Reddy said that at the previous presentation in May, they had just wanted to give a picture of what the skills planning mechanism was like. This had been an analysis of the demand for skills. The analysis of the demand had created much greater awareness, and it had tried to build data sources at the same time. It was not perfect, as there were estimations, but it was also a particular analysis. This did not involve only the DHET, as there were all kinds of players and it shaped a lot of aspects. Basic education was very important and in terms of the system there was a need to respond to both sides. Post-school institutions’ efficiency had come into question and the TVET system had to be improved to ensure numerous pathways for post-grade 9 school education. There should also be short-courses -- six month-courses that imparted a particular skill based on the demands of the economy. The flow of institutions and the regulations must be simplified in a way that focused on meaningful reading, mathematics, writing and reasoning skills.

Dr Isdale said they had used the 2011 study as a baseline, and had gone back to the same people, but there had been sample attrition. However, there was still a representative sample, and the results were justified.

Dr Wildschut referred to the question of gender in the workplace, where they had found that people of colour or women did not enter into apprenticeships immediately. There were differential pathways for them compared to men, but there could be various reasons for this.

Adoption of Minutes

The Chairperson presented the minutes of 14 June 2017, seconded by Ms Nkadimeng.

Mr Kekana proposed adoption of the minutes of 20 June, seconded by Mr Mbatha.

Adoption of the minutes from 21 June 2017 were proposed by Mr Kekana, and seconded by Ms Nkadimeng.

Ms Kilian proposed adoption of the minutes of 23 August 2017, and was seconded by Mr Mbatha.

The minutes were adopted.

The meeting was adjourned.


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