The Select Committee met to receive briefings from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) on the status of registrations at universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges. It was also updated on the revised Addis Convention report on the Recognition of Studies, the 2018/19 annual performance plan (APP) of NSFAS, and a budget and progress report by NSFAS on student funding for this year.
The DHET reported on the impact of the Presidential announcement on funding for poor and working class students, the registration period at both universities and TVET colleges, areas where registration processes had been affected negatively, progress on the Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) for 2018, and enrolments, planning and spaces for first-time entering students in 2018. It reported that there had been disruptions of academic programmes due the change in NSFAS registration processes and late receipt of student allowances, but the disruptions had been resolved. Both universities and TVET colleges had also analysed the effects of the fee-free subsidy on enrolments for 2018.
The Department provided a background to the Addis Convention, explaining how it differed from the Arusha Convention, the role players that would be involved in its implementation, its objectives and its implications. As the Addis Convention had no self-executing statement, it should be ratified in Parliament in terms of Section 231(4) of the Constitution and be enacted into law.
The NSFAS briefing included the implications of fee-free higher education, the challenge of integrating its systems with educational institutions, as the lack of data or slow receipt of information impacted negatively on the funding decision process. Limited NSFAS resources had affected productivity, and the late availability of funding in 2017 had disrupted the institutions’ operations. The migration from being a loan provider to a bursary provider had affected organisational operations, creating process and people capacity issues. The Presidential announcement on fee-free higher education had resulted in challenges because the NSFAS systems were not flexible enough to respond to the changes required in a short time frame.
The Committee asked the DHET about corruption allegations at the University of Zululand and the fraud allegations at the University of KwaZulu-Natal medical school; the Central Applications Clearing House and the Central Application Office system; the funding of TVET colleges; over-enrolment and the quality of education at the colleges; the number of higher education students studying abroad and foreigners studying locally. It asked NSFAS questions on its bursary applications, its key performance indicators, and the need to establish system linkages with institutions.
The Committee expressed concern that despite its position that TVET colleges must make efforts to increase their funding, they had not yet made any conscious effort to do so. It asked the DHET to formulate a policy to ensure that graduating students funded by the government were retained in the public service for some time before they moved to the private sector. It also resolved that the Addis Convention needed to include policies that would ensure that qualifications obtained outside the country were accepted in the country, and the TVET college model in Singapore should be reviewed to seek ways of collaboration.
The Chairperson expressed concern that the team from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) did not have a political leader, and said even if officials were busy the team should have been led by a political leader. The Committee would therefore write a letter to the Minster to ask why the team did not have a political leader in attendance at the meeting.
The purpose of the meeting was to receive briefings on the status of registration at universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, the revised Addis Convention report on Recognition of Studies, the 2018/19 annual performance plan (APP) and budget of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and progress report from NSFAS on student funding for 2018.
She also regretted that the Committee had not been informed of the death of the Mr Firoz Patel, Deputy Director General: Technical and Vocational Education and Training, DHET, and called for a moment of silence to honour him.
The Committee was interested in the status of registration at institutions after the Presidential announcement of fee-free education in December 2017, policy issues relating to allowances given to students, academic courses offered, how funding would be disbursed, the student allocations given for 2018/19 and the status of students’ registration access.
DHET’s preparations for 2018 academic year
Ms Thandi Lewin, Chief Director (CD): University Governance and Management Support, DHET, said the report would give an overview of the DHET’s preparation for the 2018 academic year, the impact of the Presidential announcement on funding for poor and working class students, the registration period at universities, areas where registration processes were affected negatively, an update on the Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) for 2018, and university enrolment, planning and spaces for first-time entering students in 2018.
During 2017, significant protest actions that led to disruptions of academic programmes had occurred at universities, but the majority of institutions had successfully completed their academic programmes. On 16 December, 2017 the President had announced that the government would be introducing fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South Africans for first year students in 2018. Estimates had been done on the basis of enrolments in the system, and approximately 40% of new students were expected to qualify under the new scheme.
To implement the scheme, the DHET’s general fund for poor South African students had been converted to a bursary scheme for poor and working class South Africans for five years. The announcement aimed at bursary support for students from families below R350 000 thresholds for first-year entry students. Although returning students were still subject to the previous NSFAS income threshold of R122 000 from 2018, the funding was now a bursary. The new bursary covered tuition, an agreed amount for accommodation and food, and approved tuition materials. The announcement had some policy impacts, and included additional subsidy funding for universities, aiming to increase higher education funding to 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) over a five year period.
The DHET observed that the registration process had been peaceful because universities had allowed walk-in students who qualified for NSFAS to register. Analysis of registration trends, challenges and successes would be completed when reports had been received from all institutions and would be sent to the Committee. This analysis would ensure that planning was done for the 2019 intake before 2019 registration started.
During the registration period, some institutions had been affected by protests. The common causes were the change in the NSFAS registration processes and the late receipt of student allowances. Other issues were staffing and salary negotiations, accommodation and student housing. In some cases the universities that experienced disruptions had closed, but the issues had been resolved.
Ms Lewin gave an update on the Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) for 2018, the enrolment planning process, the actual and projected targets for the first time entrants and total student enrolment between 2015 -2019. She said the way forward was continuous implementation of the new bursary scheme by the DHET, universities and NSFAS; the introduction of a student funding policy and fee regulation framework; analysis of the 2018 registration process; ensuring that universities remained safe and open for learning; ensuring careful planning for the next academic year; and a possible funding scheme for the ‘missing middle’ students.
TVET Colleges’ preparations for 2018
Mr Mandla Buthelezi, Acting CD: TVET Colleges, DHET, said a strategic meeting of TVET colleges had been convened in preparation for the 2018 academic session. The meeting had addressed the planning for Ministerial programmes funded by the DHET and the occupational programmes that were not funded by the DHET. TVET colleges received 80% funding from DHET, so the programme was limited compared to occupational programmes that were funded by private sector. His brief would focus on the National Certificate Vocational (NCV) and the National Diploma 1 and 2, which were Ministerial-funded programmes.
The DHET had introduced a system which surveyed student places filled and admitted in TVET colleges, and had requested the colleges to upload the information. Although the system had had some challenges when it started, the challenges had been overcome and the system had allowed the DHET to collect data on enrolments. Results of the survey showed that out of the 298 000 spaces available nationally, an over-enrolment of more than 7 000 was observed in 2018. At the time of request, the DHET had not received data from four colleges in KZN and one college in the Eastern Cape.
Registration issues included a student stampede at the Capricorn TVETC, Polokwane, and student unrest due to the late collection of NSFAS accommodation allowances at Ehlanzeni TVETC. Both issues had been resolved through the regional offices. Other registration issues included outstanding examination results, certificate and diploma queries; disruptions that occurred due to requests for payment of application and registration fees by some principals, despite fee-free education; non-admission of returning students due to outstanding fees or subject failure, which had been resolved; confusion over an online application which involved a new student who wanted to register on a returning student’s portal; non-recognition of the Central Application System by some colleges and complaints by students who had to use the CACH portal to register twice at the same college.
Mr I Joubert, CD: Financial Management, TVET Colleges, DHET, said he would brief the Committee on the correlation between funding and enrolment. A total baseline of about R5 billion had been received for the 2018/19 financial year and the increase in subsidies had been about R2.6 billion. The funding policy of TVET colleges was different from that of Universities. The 80% funding subsidy from government had not been met, which meant that there was a shortfall and in the past only 54% of the funding had been met. The proposed model was that funds would increase to 69%, 73%, 76%, 80% over the next four years to ensure that TVET colleges reached the 80% bar by 2021/22. This was a phased-in approach for free education, so TVET colleges could expand in only four years.
Analysis of the head count enrolment in TVET colleges funded by the state showed the numbers had slightly increased, those funded by the colleges had decreased, while those funded by other sources had not increased. There had therefore been no growth in enrolment at TVET colleges, but the DHET expected an expansion in four years’ time.
Mr D Stock (ANC, Northern Cape) observed that Mr Joubert had not presented the brief correlating the funds to enrolment at TVET colleges to the Committee.
The Chairperson asked Mr Joubert to send his brief to the Committee.
Mr Joubert said he would make it available to the Committee.
DHET on Addis Convention
Dr Shirley Lloyd, Director: National Policy Framework, DHET, said the Addis Convention replaced the Arusha Convention of 1981, and sought to provide guidelines on the recognition of studies, certificates, diplomas, degrees and other academic qualifications in higher education in African states.
She gave a background to the events that had taken place at the Addis Convention. An important consultation had taken place with internal departmental branches and relevant external stakeholders to ensure alignment with entities that were an important part of the development of the revised Addis Convention. The DHET had consulted with organisations, professional bodies and affected government departments. The organisations were South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), the three quality councils, education and training providers in the private and public sectors, and sector education and training authorities (SETAs). The National Skills Authority, organised labour and community constituencies were also consulted. The Departments of Basic Education, International Relations and Cooperation, Home Affairs and Justice and Constitutional Development were also part of the consultations.
The Arusha Convention had been signed by a number of African States in 1981, but South Africa was not a signatory. It clearly differed from the Addis Convention because it sought to provide an enabling environment across African states for higher education qualifications by accepting principles of harmonisation and referencing of qualifications as agreed by the signatories. Proposed amendments to the Arusha Convention started in 2014 with the launch of the ‘second decade of education in Africa (2006-2015) plan of action, which referred to higher education as one of the seven areas of focus. It had considered the paramount role that the systems of education could and must play in promoting continental integration through cooperation between higher education institutions. It also reaffirmed the ‘world declaration on higher education for the twenty-first century: vision and action’.
The development of National Qualification Frameworks (NQFs) focused on the recognition of prior learning, and the articulation, mobility and access to lifelong learning opportunities informed the revision of the Arusha Convention. The country had participated in the December 2014 meeting to revise the Convention, and the DHET and SAQA had initially provided written inputs to the revision before the meeting. The DHET had requested a consultative workshop hosted by SAQA in 2015 to discuss the proposed revisions, and South Africa’s inclusions were presented and agreements were reached on the proposed revisions to the Arusha Convention.
The revised Arusha Convention had been adopted on 12 December 2014 and renamed the Addis Convention. Although It was signed by 17 member states based on Article v2(a), South Africa was part of drafting it but had decided to use Article v2(c), which required a country to deposit an instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession before signing. The Convention comes into force once 10 member states have ratified it.
Some of the objectives of the Addis Convention included:
- Strengthening and promoting inter-regional and international cooperation in the field of recognition of qualifications;
- Defining effective quality assurance and accreditation mechanisms at national, regional and continental levels;
- Encouraging optimum use of human resources available in Africa to limit the brain drain and speed-up development in African countries; and
- Facilitating the mobility of students, teachers and researchers in the continent by recognising qualifications delivered in order to pursue higher education.
The implications of signing the agreement were strengthening and promoting multilateralism and international cooperation, enhancing South Africa as an educational destination, and supporting the country’s draft policy on internalisation of higher education, in line with the 2013 White Paper on post-school education and training. Another implication was to ensure credible and reliable recognition of qualifications achieved across countries on the continent, and to this end SAQA had launched electronic certification to vet fake qualifications and protect the quality of certificates. The agreement also contributes to the harmonising of qualifications, and the presence of foreign students adds value the research productivity of the country in the square kilometre array (SKA) research projects.
The DHET was aware that the agreement would have implications for organisations in terms of personnel, finances and communication, and had laid down strategies to implement policies. In preparation for the implications on vulnerable groups, the DHET had developed a draft internalisation policy in line with the 2013 White Paper on post-school education and training. The draft policy recognised the global trends of migration and mobility of people, including vulnerable groups. Legally, the State Law Advisor (SLA) had advised that the Convention was consistent with domestic law and the Constitution, and that it did not violate international law. The SLA had also advised that the NQF Act, read together with the Higher Education Act No 101 of 1997, was consistent with the revised Addis Convention.
Dr Lloyd said the DHET recommended that as the Addis Convention had no self-executing statement, it should be ratified in Parliament in terms of Section 231(4) of the Constitution and be enacted into law. The implementation of the Addis Convention was enabled through the NQF Act No 67 of 2008 and was already supported in the provisions made in the NQF Act.
NSFAS on student funding for 2018
Mr Steven Zwane, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): NSFAS, said the implications of the fee-free higher education’s fully-funded bursary with no limits had some challenges. There were system integration challenges between NSFAS and educational institutions that impacted on data exchange and funding delays; the timelessness of data exchange that impacted negatively on funding decision processes; limited NSFAS resources that impacted on productivity; the late availability of funding in 2017 which had negatively affected institutions’ operations; negative organisational operations due to the migration from a loan provider to a bursary provider platform; and process and people capacity issues.
An analysis of applications showed that NSFAS had received 258 000 student applications from universities, and 152 000 from TVET colleges. Based on admissions data, NSFAS had confirmed and communicated funding for 103 000 first time entry students at universities, and for 81 000 students at TVET colleges. A total of R1.93 bn in upfront payments had been made to universities and TVET colleges in January.
NSFAS was responsible for administering funds to some institutions, but without registration data it would not be able to pay the institutions. The lack of data and slow receipt of data from institutions had impacted negatively on the speed with which NSFAS could make funding decisions. The Presidential announcement had led to manual “workarounds” in order to make funding decisions and new agreements had delayed contracting with students because NSFAS systems were not flexible enough to respond to the changes required in the short time frames. NSFAS still battles with key main dependencies, staff resource constraints, process and system issues, so that they impacted on its progress.
The Minister of Higher Education and Training had confirmed a revised 2018 allocation of about R21 bn to NSFAS, which included additional funding for fee free education of R2.6 bn for TVET colleges and R4.6 bn for universities. The additional funding would apply to first time entrants, while the original funding would apply to returning students. The total upfront payments in 2018 were about R16 bn to universities and R5 bn to TVET colleges.
Mr Zwane informed the Committee of NSFAS’s efforts to finalise 2017 issues, including an update on 2017 payments and the capacity and consolidation programme for TVET application programmes. The capacity and consolidation programme for TVETs included the capturing service extended to all TVETs across the country to assist with a smooth application process.
Although the R350 000 threshold provided more students opportunities for education, the change had occurred after the 2018 applications had been closed, and this had impacted on the planning processes. NSFAS policies provided that in the absence of signed agreements, loans would not be disbursed. In 2017, NSFAS had experienced challenges in fund disbursements, including students who did not sign agreements, delays in signing agreements by students due to lost phones, technical challenges experienced by NSFAS, and TVET colleges wanting to claim allocations without accounting for registered students through signed agreements.
NSFAS had been working been with the DHET and TVET colleges to address issues since October 2017 to ensure better implementation. Disparities in student allowances for books, food and transport had been identified as a funding challenge, so a standardised national allowance of a 90% quartile had been confirmed by the DHET.
Mr Morgan Nhiwatiwa, General Manager: Administration, NSFAS, gave an overview of the key changes in the APP in the past year. NSFAS had added two strategic objectives to its APP -- improving the efficiency of the application, evaluation and funding of students, and improving service levels to customers and stakeholders. NSFAS had removed the strategic objective of the cumulative percentage of students that migrated to the student-centred model. He also outlined the key changes in the key performance indicators (KPIs) in the past year.
The administration revenue of NSFAS had increased by about 17% between 2017/18 and 2018/19 because of critical changes at NSFAS. Total transfers received had increased from R15 bn to R22 bn between 2017/18 and 2018/19. The fee-free education subsidy had led to an increase in NSFAS budget expenditures, with similar projected increases for the next two financial years.
Mr M Khawula (IFP, KwaZulu-Natal) asked the Department to briefly outline the corruption allegations in the University of Zululand’s degrees-for-sale scandals and the University of KwaZulu-Natal medical school’s admissions. What would be the impact of the Central Applications Clearing House on the Central Application Office in 2019? He also asked why four KZN TVET colleges had not supplied information on their admissions. He observed that students were not making TVET colleges’ their institutions of choice because the government had prioritised funding for universities, rather than TVET colleges. What were the DHET’s strategies to enhance the funding of TVET colleges? He asked if the brief on the Addis Convention had been a formal briefing.
The Chairperson responded that it had been formal, but the Concention still needed to be ratified by Parliament after the Committee had engaged on it.
Mr Khawula asked how the DHET would fund the programmes that would arise as a result of the Addis Convention. How would NSFAS handle past students that owed money to the entity? Would NSFAS approve bursary applications to students who were presently eligible for other categories of support because of the threshold increase to R350 000? He expressed concern about the funding of universities as against TVET colleges, and commented that the colleges were grossly affected. He did not support the removal of the KPI of sourcing funds from other government departments.
Ms D Ngwenya (EFF, Gauteng) also expressed concern about the value of NSFAS funding to TVET colleges, because it was lower compared to that of universities. What was the Department’s level of preparedness for enrolment in the next academic year? She criticised the lack of facilities, or their quality, at some colleges. She asked the DHET what it was doing to address the issue of returning students who had not been admitted because of outstanding fees. What was it doing to address the concerns of students over receiving certificates and diplomas after graduation? How would the Department prevent the charging of admission and registration fees at colleges, since this had debarred some students from registering? She asked if the DHET had data on foreign students in South Africa, if there were foreign students at TVET colleges, and the level of response from the foreign countries. Was there any way the Committee could assist NSFAS to get data on admissions from institutions to ensure that more students received bursaries? Did NSFAS think giving funds directly to students was better than giving funds directly to institutions?
Ms L Dlamini (ANC, Mpumalanga) said Mbezana and Southbroom in KwaZulu-Natal had requested the DHET to set up TVET colleges in the area because universities were very far away. She observed that despite the Committee’s position that TVET colleges should make efforts to increase their funding, they had not made any conscious effort yet. The purported increase was due to the government’s pronouncement of fee-free bursaries. She was tempted to say that the Committee would not support its budget proposal, as agreed by Members initially. The DHET could not play down the importance of colleges because the majority of students attended colleges. She supported Mr Khawula’s concern over the lack of registration data at TVET colleges. The DHET should mobilise its regional offices to get the information because NSFAS was mandated by its Act to pay only when it received proof of registration.
She was concerned for the welfare of the students, because even if the students were allowed to register and attend classes, they needed to be accommodated and fed to ensure that female students did not fall into prostitution. She asked NSFAS if it was still an institution that funded students, because presently some universities funded students directly. She linked this to the increased administration budget, and asked NSFAS to clarify what would happen to staff who had been employed to collect the loans given to students who had graduated. Why were the NSFAS systems not linked to those of educational institutions, because data could be received through IT from students’ matriculation numbers? She observed that Malaysia and Singapore had good TVET college systems, and asked if DHET had information about South African students studying abroad. She observed that DHET had not given the Committee the full information on university protests, and asked it to clarify.
Ms Lewin said the management of the institutions affected had alerted the DHET, and intervention efforts had commenced. The Minister was expected to visit the institutions affected.
The Central Application Office system was still in operation in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) until the Central Applications Clearing House was approved.
The former Minister had commenced inquiries on the corruption allegations at the University of Zululand and the University of KZN. The current Minister was engaging on the interventions raised in the reports and the situations were being addressed.
Some of the issues with NSFAS were policy issues. The NSFAS board had said it had to prioritise funding for new students, so it had not stopped raising funds. Students were not being abandoned Universities had allowed students who were qualified to register, and some universities had borne the risk of allowing students to register and stay in residences. However there were students that were qualified for NSFAS funding, but had not been given admission.
TVET colleges certainly had many challenges, and she was aware of the many years that the DHET and National Treasury had been engaging over their funding.
Mr Buthelezi said he agreed with Mr Khawula and Ms Dlamini that the TVET college arm of the DHET was not taking charge, because it could get information from its regional offices. There would be consequence management for colleges that did not send information to the DHET.
The Department was implementing strategies to address over-enrolment at colleges, although it had space constraints affecting its capacity to set up more colleges. Ms Ngwenya had talked about the quality of colleges, but it might be that the programmes for a particular college may not justify high quality equipment, especially for administration programmes. The DHET was making progress in setting up model TVET colleges, and he made a commitment to liaise with the infrastructure department to give written reports to the Committee.
The challenges on outstanding results were not the students’ fault, but were due to the DHET and TVET’s management. This was because the programmes required both school-based and DHET assessments. The DHET had earlier given status reports on National Certificate Vocational programmes to the Committee, but with the National Diploma programmes the DHET needed to receive information from Skills Education Training Authorities (SETAs) and the Chief Directorate of Examinations. He made a commitment to obtain the status of progress on National Diploma programmes from the Chief Directorate of Examinations, and send reports to the Committee. The issue of setting up TVET colleges in the Imbezana and Southbroom area in KwaZulu-Natal, had been noted, and the DHET would raise it within the branch and the infrastructure division..
Dr Lloyd said there were other role players to standardise qualifications -- SAQA and the three quality Councils -- and the DHET would liaise with these entities to ensure that the quality issues on TVET colleges were addressed.
She did not have information on TVET student enrolment from foreign countries, but the country had a lot of foreign students studying at local universities. She promised to send written reports to the Committee on the students that came into the South African TVET system to get qualifications in the scarce skill areas. Based on bilateral agreements, Hungary admitted some TVET students, but, SAQA was still resolving qualification issues for TVET students that wanted to study in Malaysia.
The funding source for the Addis Convention programmes would be determined by the consideration of what the country deemed fit, as modalities for the agreement were still being considered.
Mr Zwane said NSFAS had skipped on system integration with institutions in the past because it had been dealing with its South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and Department of Home Affairs (DHA) objectives, but it would prioritise it now.
NSFAS had noticed that paying funds directly to students generally led to the misuse of funds. However, experience had shown that some second and third year students were better at managing funds than first year students.
NSFAS would send recommendations on how the Committee would be able to assist it with getting data on admission from institutions.
NSFAS had launched a funding resources programme that allowed South Africans to donate towards education. NSFAS funding would continue for continuing second and third year students, based on the R122 000 threshold levels, while the free-fee threshold would operate for new students. NSFAS would continue to collect debts for students that had graduated with loans until it was instructed to do otherwise by the government. The DHET had agreed to fund students that owed, so no returning student would be denied registration as a result of debt.
The Chairperson said the DHET still needed to finalise its outstanding policies on student housing, transport, meals, books and travel allowances, and also the policy on academic requirements. She asked if DHET had a policy to ensure that graduating students funded by the government were retained in the public service for some time before they moved to the private sector. The Addis Convention needed to finalise policies that would ensure that qualifications obtained outside the country were accepted within the country. It would resolve the recognition of medical and other certificates received outside the country. Also, before the DHET completed its work on the Addis Convention, it needed to visit Singapore to review its TVET college model and seek ways of collaboration.
The DHET should give the Committee the names of the colleges that had not submitted the needed admission information in Kwazulu-Natal to ensure that the Committee would visit the colleges and find out why it was not submitted. She observed that the country regarded some skills as critical under the TVET college system because these skills were required for economic transformation, but the TVET arm of the DHET was not interested in funding the programmes. She therefore agreed with Members that the Committee may have to take drastic measures in respect of TVET college funding. She asked NSFAS to send its fund-raising strategies in a written format.
The meeting was adjourned.