The Department of Higher Education and Training briefed the Committee on the revised Addis Convention on the recognition of studies in higher education in African States. The Convention had been conceived in Addis Ababa in December 2014 as a replacement for the Arusha Convention of 1981. South Africa had not been a signatory to the Arusha Convention.
Signing the Addis Convention strengthened and promoted multilateralism and international cooperation, ensured credible and reliable recognition of qualifications achieved across countries on the continent, and safeguarded those qualifications. It also enhanced South Africa as an educational destination.
The Department reported that all relevant organisations and government departments had been consulted. It also provided an opinion from the Chief State Law Advisor who had advised that the Convention was consistent with South African laws.
The Committee inquired about the actual changes made in the revised Addis Convention, as the changes did not seem significant, especially taking into account the amount of time that and work that had been involved from its conception to ratification. Members queried the implications of its implementation. One Member raised concern about the poor performance in mathematics and home languages in schools and wondered how South Africa could be seen as an example of excellence in education. Another Member hoped that the Convention would assist in some way to ensure that more of South Africa’s scientists and engineers used the country’s own resources to develop local products and to contribute to job creation.
The Committee agreed to proceed with the ratification of the revised Addis Convention.
Aims of revised Addis Convention
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Deputy Director-General: Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), explained that he was presenting the revised Addis Convention with the intention of obtaining approval of the Convention by the Committee. He began by giving a brief history of the Addis Convention, as well as the Arusha Convention, which was its predecessor. The Addis Convention had been conceived in Addis Ababa in December 2014 as a replacement for the Arusha Convention of 1981. South Africa had not been a signatory of the Arusha Convention.
The presentation shed light on the aims of the revised Addis Convention’s implementation, as well as its legal, organisational, financial, communication and personnel implications. Signing the Addis Convention strengthened and promoted multilateralism and international cooperation, ensured credible and reliable recognition of qualifications achieved across countries on the continent and safeguarded those qualifications. It also enhanced South Africa as an educational destination. Approximately 66 000 foreign students were studying in South Africa at this time.
All relevant organisations and government departments had been consulted. The Department also provided an opinion from the Chief State Law Advisor, who had advised that the Convention was consistent with the laws in the country. Following Parliamentary approval, the instrument of ratification would be sent to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) by the Department for International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).
Dr B Bozzoli (DA) said that there was not much in the revised Convention that was not already being done, and so she wanted more clarification on what exactly had changed and what was going to be different going forward. She also wanted to know more about the comments made by higher education institutions, since they were the ones with the on-the-ground experience.
Dr Shirley Lloyd, Director: National Qualifications Framework (NQF), DHET, responded that one of the significant issues that the Convention dealt with was the credibility, validity and reliability of equivalence of qualifications. That was the area where the workload was quite substantial. The Department had to make sure that a student coming from another country had better, or the equivalent, qualifications. Where South Africa had the NQF with a number of levels, for example, other countries would in future be required to have some continental leveller and descriptor which would make their qualifications relevant. It would help the Department to address the issue of misrepresentation and fraudulent qualifications far more swiftly. The Department had consulted mainly with universities in South Africa.
Mr C Kekana (ANC) asked for a summary of the amendments made to the Arusha Convention, as that would be of greater benefit to the broader community, because they would be able to see and understand the changes that had been made. For a long time, the country had had a subordinate approach. If South Africa were to adopt a new global approach, where Africa made advances in science and engineering, the people of the country should be informed of what changes were being made. That was important if the country were to develop into a first world country and eradicate poverty by creating its own products and being less dependent on first world countries. It was no longer enough just to state that South Africa’s certification was of a global standard. The Department had to clarify what had changed from past approaches.
Dr Lloyd explained that the Arusha Convention had simply not been strong enough. It had sought to create an enabling environment across African states for higher education, whereas the Addis Convention provided a lot more. It provided the general guidelines for implementation, and that was what would work best towards the recognition of foreign studies.
Mrs J Kilian (ANC) wanted to know what was anticipated should the new Convention be adopted. She also pointed out that there had been many presentations, and that she too had a hard time identifying anything different in the revised Convention from what was already being done. She also raised her concerns regarding the length of time involved in adopting and ratifying a new Convention. Why had it taken so long to get to that point?
Mr R Mavunda (ANC) said that the presentation was well drafted. He referred to where the presentation indicated that South Africa had an excellent education and research system, and wanted to know in exactly which areas of research South Africa excelled. He also inquired about the poor performance in mathematics and home languages and indicated that as a result of those poor performances, he found it difficult to see the excellence in the South African education system.
Mr Ghaleeb Jeppie, the Chief Director for International Relations, of the Department of Higher Education and Training, stated that the topic was a contested one. He indicated that it was in the Sciences where South Africa had the greatest capacity on the continent. Although development was unequal, it was certainly an area which South Africa could promote to the rest of the continent.
Mr Eben Boshoff, Chief Director: Legal and Legislative Services, DHET also made the point that there were students from other countries who came to South Africa to gain their higher education qualifications and sometimes even stayed to work in South Africa. He also mentioned that the head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States was a South African, and a product of higher education in the country. Such examples indicated that higher education qualifications from South Africa were well recognised. The Convention would provide opportunities for many more students.
The Chairperson said that in most instances where SA was involved with international bodies, the issue of finance arose. She therefore wanted to know if DIRCO had indicated the likelihood of a scenario in which certain bodies, being unable to fulfil their financial obligations, would become a burden to South Africa.
Dr Lloyd said that the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) had a cost recovery model which could be used in the verification of both national and foreign qualifications.
Mr Ghaleeb Jeppie, Chief Director: International Relations, DHET, in his response to the Committee, addressed two points. The first was about South Africa’s commitment to the international organisations in which the country participated. To fulfil those commitments, the country would be required to report on progress in relation to the recognition of foreign qualifications. Regarding the additional workload, he said that that would entail submitting reports to the regional committees on the implementation of recognition of foreign qualifications.
The reason it had taken so long to get to that point was a measure of the Department’s ability to scrutinise documentation and ensure that whatever agreements and conventions the Department entered into would, in fact, be in the best interests of South Africa. From the South African side, the procedures for entering into those things were quite onerous, but within the scrutiny lay the success of having considered all the implications.
Finally, Mr Jeppie addressed the issue of funding. The Convention did not address the setting aside of funding, but instead spoke to raising additional resources within the SAQA budget.
Mr Kekana said that, considering the issue of poverty, if one had a country that was rich in mineral resources, the country needed engineers to create original products, rather than for it to sell raw materials to other countries. South Africa needed to be creating its own job opportunities instead of just fixing products imported from other countries. He hoped that if the Convention were to be ratified, he would see more of South Africa’s scientists and engineers using the country’s own resources to develop local products and to contribute to job creation.
The delegation noted those concerns.
Ms Kilian wanted more clarification on the recognition of partial studies in South Africa.
Dr Lloyd said that currently, three out ten countries had ratified, and that should South Africa ratify, it would be the fourth country on the African continent to do so. In response to Ms Killian, she added that the NQF Act allowed for the recognition of partial studies as well.
Dr Bozzoli said that she was very happy to support the Convention and to ratify it. However, she made a point which she felt had slipped past people -- 92 to 95 percent of university graduates got a job, and that was not the case with Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. Surely that was the point of excellence which other countries in Africa wanted to replicate?
The Committee agreed to ratify the revised Addis Convention.
The meeting was adjourned