NSFAS payment of student allowances; with Minister; NQF Amendment Bill: Department response to submissions
Higher Education, Science and Innovation
12 September 2018
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)
The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training heard briefings by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) on updates in the payment of allowances due to students at universities and TVET colleges. The DHET also gave a response on stakeholder’s submissions on the National Qualifications Framework Amendment Bill (B20-2018). The Committee has noted the positive movement regarding the disbursement of funds to students by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Members heard that the NQF Amendment Bill (20 of 2018) sought to address issues of misrepresentation, the consequence management of misrepresentation and strengthening the State’s ability to deal with these issues.
The Committee found the work that has been done encouraging, and felt that closer collaboration with students was needed to take this work further. The welfare of the poor and working class students at colleges and universities should be a priority, especially in 2019.She said the Committee wanted a smooth application process this year, where certainty is given to students, parents and guardians when it comes to applications and the registration of new and returning students. The disbursement of funds needs to go together with a national framework agreement that addresses not only the challenges of free education, but also issues of accountability from the Department of Higher Education and Training and NSFAS on the expenditure of funds.
The Committee heard that the number of students requiring NSFAS funding will increase dramatically in the 2019, which will result in serious administration challenges at colleges. The NSFAS is working to resolve these challenges, however, all NSFAS’ programmes to address the current challenges related to disbursement backlogs. In anticipation of the 2019 academic year, the Committee was told that ‘an effective and realistic plan for the 2019 funding cycle’ was required. Existing structures, systems and policies, and ‘steer’ interventions would be strengthened.
Members felt that the Bill rightfully provided for public access to public databases, the ‘publicness’ of which could not be taken away by the POPI Act. One Member did however feel that the Bill did not give one the ability to respond. In general Members thought that there were intricate issues in the Bill that needed time in order to be dealt with properly.
The Committee said that the issue of the regulatory framework on ensuring accountability from colleges was questionable and asked why it was still a problem. Members asked what is the communication protocol for funding; what does 46% utilisation of funds mean; Has the Department looked into cell phone toll free numbers or allowing a free website for NFSAS; and can there be a review of the appeals process for students to be able to appeal financially and not just academically.
The Minister said that it took ‘several years’ for government to respond appropriately to ‘growing public concern’ about the scheme’s ‘inability’ to ‘efficiently administer application and disbursement processes’. Members eventually welcomed the decision by the Minister to appoint an Administrator to oversee the Scheme.
The Committee welcomed the overall approach to the student-centred model and said it wants to see an improvement in the quality of education and the provision of more access to deserving students. The Committee also said the Department must be mindful of those who came from rural areas and information should be made available to them as well.
The Minister of Higher Education and Training Ms Naledi Pandor was present. The Chairperson of the Committee welcomed the delegation and outlined the agenda.
NSFAS Administrator Report briefing
Dr Randall Carolissen, Administrator NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) said that although R11bn had been paid as upfront payments to institutions, no remittances were sent as at 31 July 2018. This means that institutions could not properly credit students and maintain accounts. In some cases institutions accumulated large cash reserves by the end of July 2018.
The measures taken were:
- As an interim measure institutions used data generated during the registration period to determine the amount of payments due to students;
- Appeal process in in process now and given priority;
- Securing support of institutional and student leadership;
- Deployment of senior managers to institutions to resolve and reconcile accounts;
- Improving access for students;
- Instituting disbursement procedures to adequately deal with risk controls;
- Dealing with low level of motivation;
- Improving data integrity and systems integration;
- Managing shareholder expectations; and
- Improved administration of remittances
Situation at TVET (Technical and Vocation Education and Training) Colleges:
- 52 000 top-up funding relating to allowances. Will release further sub allowance payment;
- 30 000 unfunded students for variety of reasons being elevated for accuracy;
- 36 228 unsigned TVET contracts remains a serious challenge to disbursing funding to the sector;
- Closing off unpaid 2017;
- TVET requires reconsideration of policy and progress;
- Short turnaround times for funding, especially trimester students;
- Lack of system integration; processes are manual;
- Lack of financial and office structure; and
- Variance in allowance values between TVET and University students
There are big problems with the TVET colleges due to large outstanding and unsigned contracts. The Department will meet with the Auditor General to resolve the problem. There is low integration with TVET colleges. There is also variance in allowance values between TVET and University students and the Department plans to standardise as far as possible.
Dr Carolissen also spoke to the progress the Department has made thus far as at August 21, and as at September 21. Amongst them was the 421 831 disbursements that were processed but most remittances were outstanding making it difficult for institutions to pay students. He also gave a summary of the NFSAS update on disbursements as well as payments to sBux (These are allowances in the form of cell phone vouchers for food, travel, books and accommodation students who qualify for NSFAS bursaries will receive) The more the Department standardises the easier it will be to deal with the disbursements. A summary of backlogs was given as well as an update on the 2019 application status. As applications are received they will be processed immediately. The process will be facilitated by a third party such as SARS (South African Revenue Services), UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) and SASSA (South African Social Services).
The 2019 application statistics are as follows:
- NSFAS Website has recorded 159 268 visits.
- 47 754 potential applicants have created ‘my accounts’, which indicates intent to submit applications
- From opening date September 03, 2018, 33 243 applications for funding were received
- Over 50 NSFAS officials trained and deployed across the country to assist students
Stake holder engagements include:
- TVET College Principals Engagement – September 11, 2018
- Financial aid officers and practitioners Engagement – September 10, 2018
- University SRC ( Student Representative Council) Engagement - September 09, 2018
- SAUS - NSFAS Engagement – August 31, 2018
- TVET SRC Engagement – September 15, 2018
The Department needs and will provide for a technical team with necessary technical expertise to provide support during the period of administration. The institution needs to be redesigned from deep reflection and several consultations with stakeholders.
Aspects for consideration about the future of NFSAS:
- Empowerment of stakeholders
-Institutional key account managers
- Student support and development
- Process driven organization based on logic business design
- Systems integration
- Data integrity
- Risk assessment using third party validation
The Chairperson asked the Department to speak to the issue of certificates.
Dr Aruna Singh, Chief Director, DHET replied that the difficulties with the TVET system lie with the colleges themselves. Tuition is going closer to the 50% mark. Colleges have only utilised about 25% of the total Bursary Allocation for 2018. There are three main colleges that have not reported any allowance disbursements namely Vuselela, Ingwe and Taletso. Certain variations have taken a toll on the colleges and their decision making.
The Chairperson asked the Department to go back and reflect on the key problems that caused students not to receive their allowances. One of the key problems was the fact that the students were not issued with the necessary certificates. The Department has not addressed the key issues that the Committee asked about in the last meeting.
Mrs J Kilian (ANC) said the Committee was very concerned about what was going on. However it was refreshed after hearing the presentation. The issue of the TVET colleges is a problem. South Africa must get higher enrolment in the TVET sector. The issue of the regulatory framework on ensuring accountability from colleges is questionable. Why is it still a problem? There must be uniformity for colleges to report back. Has the Department engaged the Auditor General on colleges who are not complying and checked where the money has gone? There are limits to financial resources and every Rand must deliver on what is anticipated.
Mr C Kekana (ANC) said the presentation by the administrator has given new hope to the Committee. It is good to know that there are experts to make sure systems are in place. TVET is where the Committee thinks a lot of students will be produced. For a long time TVET has been downplayed and undermined. There is a stigma that one goes to a TVET college because one has failed somewhere; the stigma needs to be broken. Students need to be engaged in order to help gather them so that they can sign the relevant contracts; perhaps Student Representative Councils need to be involved. If the TVET issue is dealt with a lot of jobs will be created in the country.
Mr A Van der Westhuizen (DA) said there is an issue with the flow of money. In order to enrol in an academic institution more than other things one needs the necessary funding. What is the communication protocol for funding? What does 46% utilisation of funds mean? On the NSFAS call centre; in many areas land lines are not common anymore and toll free only applies to Telkom services. Has the Department looked into cell phone toll free numbers or allowing a free website for NFSAS?
Ms H Bucwa (DA) asked if there is a system developed for adequate communication with institutions and students especially due to protests. Secondly with regard to the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) the SRC has been engaged with it would be good if NSFAS has its own campaign. Thirdly, on the process of allowances in terms of decision making; many times institutions pay tuition first but not for accommodation and study material. This can be problematic as later on in the year students find themselves without text books and accommodation. Lastly, can there be a review of the appeals process for students to be able to appeal financially and not just academically? Meaning; if a student was excluded on a financial basis; they should be able to appeal against that.
Dr B Bozzoli (DA) mentioned that the presentation was really encouraging. The biggest problem before was that no one was listening to each other (University vs students vs government). She asked how budgeting will be done in future when eligibility is relatively open because the prediction is that applications will be doubled in 2019. However the funding may not be enough and most students won’t be admitted anyway. Because there are no rules it is easy to go over budget. TVET colleges do not have proper financial aid but also certain universities are problematic. She said she is not confident that the issues will be dealt with by next year.
Ms S Mchunu (ANC) said the Department must be mindful of those who come from rural areas and make information available to them as well.
The Chairperson said that the framework is quite important. She suggested that the Committee must go out to the colleges and universities and compile a report for the Department which includes the issues at certain problematic universities and colleges to point out where exactly the problems have been experienced. She asked for the Department to have another look at the matrix that has been done. She commented on the appeals process for students saying that there are different systems for appeal but they are not integrated. The administrator needs to provide an aspect of certainty and stability by stating what is envisaged for the year. The Committee must also engage with the Auditor General separately concerning this issue.
Response by the Department (DHET)
The Minister began to answer a few questions and said she will leave the expert matters to the Administrator. She said that indeed another way needs to be found to help students manage their funding. On TVET, the Department wants to develop the administrative capacity and strong support is needed there. She agreed with Mr Kekana that the TVET colleges should be destigmatised and become institutions of choice and be made well equipped with strong industry links. This will assist in determining the training that the country wishes to have at universities. On the reporting framework, it is something that definitely needs attention especially with regard to administration. That was why NSFAS personnel have been deployed to universities and was having engagements with SRCs. On the issue of SOPs; the Department has been asking SRCs and institutions to identify the students who need to sign the contracts. The Minister also spoke to the quality of reports and said that monitoring every six months and reporting less frequently could bring substance to reports. There have been difficulties in some universities and not just in the student domain but also for example with paying staff. Hopefully enough will be done to avoid a crisis for next year. It was not a good image for South Africa to constantly be in an academic crisis. The credibility of the status of South African institutions needs to be restored. She welcomed the report that the Committee plans to compile. The importance of the academic criteria should not be diminished. The matter of accommodation was a sore point. A built programme within institutions and investment in the maintenance in TVET colleges is very important. South Africa has not fully understood the concept of a ‘university town’. It contributes much to the livelihood of a town or city so hopefully in the future South Africa can focus on including universities in town planning to better the accommodation situation. If town plans took universities into account it would lessen some of the problems for students.
Dr Carolissen spoke to sBux and said the contracts are being reviewed. Extensive engagements are being made with SRCs and the TVET leadership. Students however change their cell phone numbers very often and universities are being encouraged to open email addresses for students. The relationship between academic eligibility and financial eligibility needs to be communicated better.
NSFAS Acting Chief Financial Officer Mr Morgan Nhiwatiwa said the recovery of debt is continuing at the moment. Feedback from the ministry is being awaited.
The Chairperson said the Committee will continue to carry out oversight on the matter.
SAQA legal opinion
Ms Amielah Arnold, State Law Advisor, Office of the Chief State Law Advisor, said that the legal and constitutional issues that stood out are mainly on the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act and Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA). The Bill violates people’s personal information. What if one’s name is on a fraudulent register what about their recourse? In the Act, personal information includes education and criminal history i.e. fraudulent qualifications. There is no total ban on dealing with personal information. A redraft has been proposed and the verification process is subject to PAJA and the POPI Act. (See document: SAQA legal opinion)
The Chairperson asked the Committee if they had any questions to ask.
Ms Kilian gave one suggestion on the top of page 10; she said that reference can be made to personal information and as for the rest it is unnecessary.
Ms Bozzoni said that the Bill provides for public access to public databases. The Department will answer to that. The Committee needs to just make sure that everything is constitutionally sound.
The Chairperson replied that it has nothing to do with the Department at this stage.
Ms Bozzani replied that the publicness of the database cannot just be taken away by the POPI Act. It is a challenge.
Ms Kilian confirmed if Ms Arnold was saying that the verification process must be fair.
Ms Bucwa referred to 1b on page 9 and said the Bill does not give one the ability to respond.
Mr Kekana said that in the future more time is needed to discuss this. It needs to be further explained because if it is saying a person needs to be informed before their name is published, what happens if the name of the person is wrong. Will their name be withdrawn? He said he thinks the point is that these are intricate issues that need time to be dealt with properly.
The Chairperson commented that the State Law Advisor was just highlighting some things but the whole POPI Act is not being read. There may be a clause in POPI Act that may clear things out.
Ms Arnold said POPI Act recognises Section 14 of the Constitution and that the POPI Act tries to balance this. Section two explains this balancing. Section 3 is applicable as it says it must be interpreted as we have the right to access information. As long as personal information is lawfully processed there is no problem. There are eight requirements and amongst them is accountability, openness, specific reason, limit to information and so forth. It is unnecessary to duplicate provisions of PAJA or the POPI Act. In Section 13 Clause 4 of the Bill it is indicated that the verification and evaluation process is as prescribed. There is a provision to make regulation for anything prescribed in the Act.
Mr Gideon Hoon, Principal State Law Advisor, added that there needs to be regulations that will take PAGA and POPI into account further.
National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Amendment Bill: Response to capacity, resource, relational and autonomy issues
Dr Shirley Lloyd, Director, National Qualifications Framework gave the presentation the NQF Amendment Bill which gave a response to capacity, resource, relational and autonomy issues.
She said the purpose was to present responses and solutions to the Portfolio Committee
on Higher Education and Training on issues related to SAQA’s capacity, Quality Council autonomy, relationships, and verification by external bodies raised in the public hearings on the NQF Amendment Bill on 5 September 2018.
This NQF Amendment Bill (20 OF 2018) therefore seeks to address issues of misrepresentation, consequence management of such, and related issues to strengthen the State’s ability to deal with these issues
The Amendment Bill seeks to amend the Long Title, to provide for:
- New definitions
- For the registration of private education institutions or skills development providers to offer qualifications or part-qualifications or any component thereof as contemplated in the principal Act
- For the verification of all qualifications or part-qualifications referred to SAQA
- To provide evaluation of foreign qualification by SAQA, and the formulation of evaluation criteria of foreign qualifications
- The establishment and maintenance of separate registers of misrepresented and fraudulent qualifications, and professional designations by SAQA
- The legal duty to report misrepresented qualifications by education institutions, providers and employees
- The referral of certain employees qualifications or part-qualifications to SAQA for verification
- To create offences and impose penalties which have a bearing on fraudulent qualifications; provide for transitional arrangements and for matters connected therewith
Generic issues raised in the recent public hearings were:
- SAQA’s capacity;
- Autonomy; and
- Verification services
A brief expansion on some of the points on the generic issues raised in the public hearings: SAQA’s capacity, turn-around time-frames and differences between SAQA and other agencies’ verification processes were as follows:
- SAQA has developed and successfully piloted the e-Certificate for verification
- SAQA is busy with a digitisation project that includes teacher qualifications records, held by DHET and Grade 12 records held by DBE
- SAQA: Registration of qualifications: 100% done within 2 to 4 months; (CHE: 6 to 12 months to accredit learning programmes)
- Verification of national qualifications: 91% done within 2 to 5 working days; rest within 20 working days
- Evaluation of foreign qualifications: 15 days depending on the country of origin
- Other agencies only establish whether the learner has obtained a qualification
- They don’t establish whether the qualification is a registered qualification on the NQF, whether the provider is accredited or the qualification is at the appropriate level and
Implementation Evaluation Research into the NQF Act 2008 to 2016: Findings and Recommendations
Dr. Lloyd then moved on to present on the implementation evaluation research
into the NQF Act 2008 to 2016 and said that the key findings of the research were as follows:
- The NQF is commonly accepted as an essential part of the Education and Training system, with relatively few voicing fundamental disagreements to the NQF.
- The majority of interviewees reported that the NQF is contributing significantly to objectives related to (i) access, portability, progression and articulation, (ii) enhanced quality of education and training, and (iii) redress of past unfair discrimination.
- In terms of Funding, the NQF system has become severely underfunded. Funding constraints impede the ability the NQF bodies to carry out their functions and place the quality of education and training at risk.
- The Act clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the NQF bodies (SAQA and the quality councils), but does not provide any clarity on the roles or responsibilities of other stakeholders such as education and training providers
- In terms of governance/coordination structures: The NQF Forum is a critical mechanism for the Minister and DG to steer the NQF and hold NQF bodies accountable for outcomes but has not met since 2012.
- The CEO Committee and the Inter-departmental NQF Steering Committee are functioning, but some issues need clear leadership to resolve.
- Reporting lines of the quality councils create tensions either in terms of their independence, or of the NQF bodies to speak with a consistent, coherent voice.
- There is a lack of accountability by SAQA and the QCs when targets are not met
- Articulation challenges remain in the TVET system, (e.g. NCV) the QCTO (Quality Council for Trades and Occupation) system and between Historically Disadvantaged HE (Higher Education) Institutions and Traditional Universities, and in the professional body space.
- Recognition of prior learning (RPL) is seen as a key mechanism to address past unfair discrimination. The OQSF remains well ahead of the GFETQSF (Further Education and Training Qualifications Sub-Framework) and HEQSF (South African Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework) when it comes to RPL, with many respondents stating that the CHE RPL policy is restrictive and creates barriers to lifelong learning
The Emerging impact findings were:
- After an extended period of significant policy reform, it is too early to tell whether the NQF will achieve its intended impacts.
- What is emerging from the analysis is that the reforms introduced by the NQF Act are embedding themselves in some parts of the E&T system, as evidenced through increased quality assurance capacity within some providers and emerging partnerships being built to enable articulation between sub-frameworks.
- Most importantly, the NQF appears to have gained widespread acceptance within the E&T system.
- In some parts of the system, there is a need for better guidance, leadership and coordination to steer the E&T system towards better quality; particularly the TVET and Community college sectors.
- The high degree of policy and funding instability and uncertainty present throughout the PSET system puts the achievement of the NQF’s objectives at risk.
Advocate Eben Boshoff, Chief Director, DHET, noted some technical amendments’ to the Bill (see document), and spoke to key issues such as the following:
Clause 1: Definitions:
• Certifying body
• Fraudulent qualification of part-qualification
• Misinterpreted qualifications
• SAQA Evaluation Certificate
Clause 4: Section 13- Functions of SAQA
• Reciprocal clause- dealing with consultation between SAQA and QCS vis-à-vis section 27 (f)
• Clause 4 (a) - added word “evaluate”
• Clause 4 -clustering of all registers under one subsection
• Clause 4 d- addition of the word policy
• Clause 4e –aligned with the definition of “misinterpreted qualification”
- Clause 5 a: section 27 (f) - Reciprocal dealing with consultation between SAQA and QCs(for more see document)
Advocate Boshoff said that a major challenge is the length of time it takes to receive accreditation for a learning programme.
Ms Bozzoli asked for the discussion to be paused because documents were not given beforehand for the Committee to engage with.
Mr Van der Westhuizen asked if it is possible for the Committee questions to be sent to the Department later.
The Chairperson agreed. In addition she suggested that work must be done on everything that was received and Parliament’s legal person had to go through the documents. All of this could lead to the amendment not being changed.
The meeting was adjourned.
- NSFAS Administrator Report
- DHET - Update in the payment of allowances due to students at universities and TVET colleges
- Synthesis of recommendations and development of improvement objectives
- DHET -Implementation Evaluation Research into NQF Act 2008 to 2016 Findings and Recommendations
- DHET - NQF Amendment Bill: Response to capacity, resource, relational and autonomy issues
- SAQA legal opinion
September, Ms CC
Bozzoli, Prof B
Bucwa, Ms H
Kekana, Mr CD
Kilian, Ms JD
Mavunda, Mr RT
Mchunu, Ms S
Pandor, Dr GN
Van der Westhuizen, Mr AP
Wolmarans, Mr M
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