The relationship between SAQA and the Quality Councils (QC) was discussed in the Portfolio Committee during the previous meeting.
The Select Committee convened to assess the merits contained in the submissions received from various institutions and organisations on the National Qualifications Framework Amendment Bill. The Department of Health was present to respond to, and explain the concerns raised in the written submissions.
The rationale behind the National Qualification Framework (NQF) Amendment Bill is to reduce the number of misrepresented qualifications that the Department of Higher Education (DHET) had uncovered in 2015. This Amendment Bill intends to set out clear penalties and consequences on persons whose qualifications are found to have been misrepresented or fraudulent. The proposed Bill intends to re-affirm the authority of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as the sole custodian of the National Learners’ Records Database (NLRD) and subsequently provides a set of parameters to ensure the coherence of verification policies.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) highlighted that some of the comments on the Amendment Bill were controversial and needed to be discussed when there was a quorum. They asked the Chairperson to recuse herself.
The Chairperson disagreed with the position of the DA and said that the Committee had a quorum. She said that five members was enough to meet quorum. She added that the Committee would not be voting on the Bill and that the purpose of the meeting is for the Department of Higher Education (DHET) to share their opinions on the submissions received.
The Chairperson said that members were welcome to withdraw from the meeting if they so wish.
The DA urged fellow members to be fully aware of the inputs in the submission and corresponding responses from DHET. Before the point could be finished, the Chairperson interjected to insist that the DA leave the meeting if they did not agree with her ruling.
The DA walked out of the meeting.
DHET stated that the submissions received did not make any new input to the Bill but were simply crafted in different wording. The Chairperson said that the members did not have sufficient time to peruse the submissions. It is therefore important that members are given time to read through the submissions and make comparisons with the draft Bill in order to have meaningful inputs. The Chairperson also urged DHET to take more time and apply their minds on the submissions made to make a sound assessment on the merits of the arguments raised.
Since there was no voting taking place on the day, the Chairperson suggested more time for deliberation on the proposed Bill.
The Chairperson read the memorandum and said that the Committee had received roughly 40 submissions. The Committee had to assess all the submissions and examine if there was merit in them. If a submission has merit, it will be taken into consideration during the Bill drafting process. The cost of implementation of the Bill will be the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) responsibility. The Bill is a certified document and does not affect provinces in a substantial manner. Thus, there was no requirement for each province to make submissions on the matter nor was it required for the Bill to be referred to the House of Traditional Leaders.
The Chairperson explained the submission process. It was said that the Select Committee called for further submissions from institutions and stakeholders on the matter after the briefing, with the deadline set at 12 noon on the 19th of February 2019. There were late submissions, but the Committee graciously accepted the late submissions from the organisations and stakeholders. Five submissions would be on the agenda of the day’s meeting. They are submissions from the Universities South Africa (USAf), Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), Umalusi and The Independent Institute of Education (IIE).
USAf requested for the Bill to be withdrawn and asked the Committee to think of a new Bill to deal with fraudulence in qualifications. MIE challenged the Bill, questioning why SAQA should have the monopoly of authority in the verification of qualifications. MIE stated that they were also supported by various universities as attached in their submission, who shared the same opinion on the matter. SAICA was supportive of the Bill. Umalusi questioned the absence of the Minister of Basic Education in the Bill. The IIE supported the Bill but needed clarifications on certain terms which would be answered by the representatives from the DHET in the meeting.
Apologies were received from Minister, the Deputy Minister and members of the Committee who could not attend.
Mr C Hattingh (DA, North West) raised the issue that there were some controversial points of concern and that there was no quorum since there was less than six Committee members present.
Mr Hattingh asked the Chairperson to recuse himself.
The Chairperson disagreed and responded that there was a quorum, and that five people was enough to form a quorum.
The Chairperson announced that no voting is taking place. The purpose of this meeting is to create a platform in which the DHET can express their opinions on the submissions received.
The Chairperson said it was fine if Mr Hattingh wished to withdraw from the meeting.
Mr Hattingh stressed the importance that Committee members ought to be made fully aware of the inputs in the submissions and the corresponding responses from DHET. And that this would not be the case under these circumstances.
The Chairperson interrupted and insisted that Mr Hattingh leave the meeting if he did not agree to her terms.
Mr Hattingh withdrew from the meeting.
In light of Mr Hattingh’s departure, the Chairperson explained the composition of a quorum. The Chairperson said that there had been many occasions where Bills were passed with five members of the Committee present since there were nine provinces in the country. Thus, if members from five provinces are present, a Bill can be passed.
Ms L Dlamini (ANC, Mpumalanga) said that Mr Hattingh’s behaviour was the typical Democratic Alliance (DA) tactic and should be of no surprise.
Ms Dlamini concurred with the Chairperson and reiterated that five members is a sufficient number to pass a Bill because there were nine provinces in the country. The notion is that number of members do not matter as much as the number of provinces that agree with a prospective Bill. Since voting would not be taking place, the Bill would not be finalised, Ms Dlamini made a suggestion to the Chairperson that the legal team be permitted to respond to the submissions received.
Ms Dlamini said that calling off the meeting would be a waste of time and this meeting should be used to listen to the merits that emerged in the submissions received. The absent members were missing an opportunity to be updated and kept informed of pertinent information.
Ms Dlamini made a point that some submissions received were influenced by political parties and sounded like the voice of some political parties.
Presentation of the Department of Higher Education and Training
Dr Shirley Lloyd, Director: NQF Directorate, DHET said that the genesis of the process comes from many senior people whose qualifications were found to be misrepresented. Consequently, it was agreed between Parliament and then Minister Nzimande that he should write to all of Ministerial counterparts in other government departments to implement the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) directive. The other directive from the cabinet meeting between Minister Nzimande and other Cabinet members was to leave the NQF Act in order to strengthen SAQA’s ability to deal with the situation and to also put in offences and penalties. This directive was given in 2015. The Bill as presented was the product of due diligence after a lengthy period of consultations with legal advisors and editorial work. The second reading of the Bill was held on 30 January 2019.
Dr Lloyd apologised for not having enough time to prepare the PowerPoint slides since the submissions were received at the eleventh hour. After perusing through all the submissions, no new issues were raised that had not already been considered.
SAICA was concerned that currently the Act only allows for editorial changes to existing qualifications. But given the rapid pace at which subject matter is evolving, it was insufficient to address the subject change.
Dr Lloyd said that the NQF Act dealt with qualifications. Institutions themselves were responsible for subject matter and curriculum. Therefore, this point does not apply to the Amendment Bill. The change in curriculum and subject does not affect the final outcome of an award and a qualification unless there is a change that exceeds to 60% or 80% in the whole purpose of the qualification.
Point number three talks about the record of achievement against legacy qualifications. Dr Lloyd said that the point raised was due to a misunderstanding. Irrespective of whether the qualification was de-registered or not on the NQF, the qualification remained valid. Point four was again considered as a misunderstanding from SAICA. Dr Lloyd explained that professional bodies did not recognise designations. Their role is to award or revoke a designation should there be a breach of ethical conduct. The NQF Act is clear that SAQA recognises professional bodies and registers professional designations. The amendment Bill is simply to separate the registration of a designation on the NQF and create a separate register.
On point five, Dr Lloyd said that SAICA erred in misunderstanding the terms. SAQA’s policy on recognition of professional bodies and registration of designations clearly deal with relationships. On point six, Dr Lloyd explains the data uploading process at SAQA. SAQA has two big data uploads every year which take place in January and July. The data is checked externally by an auditing body. The system will alert SAQA should there be inaccuracy. Furthermore, the Auditor-General (AG) and his team also scrutinise data in the system. Therefore, chances that errors may occur are minimal, though not impossible.
On the submission made by the MIE, Dr Lloyd drew the Committee’s attention to the document referenced as ‘Annexure A’. Dr Lloyd highlighted page four. SAQA works very closely with various external verification agencies such as MIE and the Purchasing Consortium Southern Africa (PURCO). DHET discovered two issues during the process. The first issue is that MIE does not have the ability to verify a qualification or the authenticity in the way that SAQA does because SAQA is the statutory holder of the National Learners’ Records Database (NLRD). The second issue is that when SAQA approaches a university to ask for verification of a qualification, it usually can take up to eight months for a university to get back to them; whilst if NSFAS or MIE approaches, a university immediately releases the information. DHET uncovers the truth every time. MIE verifies an application and a 40% fee will be paid quarterly to the institution from which the authenticity of the qualification was obtained. The amendment Bill thus aims to address the inefficiency of the lengthy waiting period.
Dr Lloyd affirmed that the new Act does not intend to close the avenues through which profits and businesses in the private sector are made. The objective is to re-affirm the central and official position of NLRD as the database for all qualifications.
Dr Lloyd said that point 20 in which the monopoly of SAQA in verification is mentioned in the submission is absurd, in her view. The SAQA Act and the NQF Act both require SAQA to establish NLRD. Therefore, she denied there being a monopoly. All other verification agencies also use NLRD as the database for qualification verifications. The socio-economic impact system on page five was confirmed to have been obtained after diligent work. The point raised in the submission was misinformed.
Dr Lloyd again rebuked the monopoly mentioned in Section 33. MIE misinterpreted the Bill again on point 42 that SAQA was barring the private sector from engaging in qualification verification matters. The DPSA directive even corroborated with MIE to do criminal checks which is evidence to prove that government has no intention to shut down business in this sector.
Dr Lloyd then discussed the third document related to the MIE dated 9 February 2019. On page seven, point five talks about the substantive shortcomings of the Bill which says that the Bill wholly ignores the ‘status as quo’ and the existence of infrastructure system processes. Dr Lloyd said that it was not true because SAQA relied on uploads and data obtained from institutions and there was a cooperative mechanism that SAQA used. On page eight, MIE raised the point of cost-effective recommendations. Dr Lloyd reiterated that the cost and turnover time at SAQA were presented in the last Committee. It is cost efficient and time efficient. With organisations like MIE, an individual is billed each time a qualification is verified. While at SAQA, it is free for individuals if they wish to obtain their own records. It is only in the case when an organisation asks, that SAQA charges a fee.
Dr Lloyd then discussed the submission from the Independent Institute of Education (IIE).
The Chairperson said she had not had the time to read through the submission from the IIE.
Dr Lloyd responded that she respected that and would give one or two issues arising from the submission. The IIE generally agrees with most components of the Bill. The concerns IEE raised on page two on the definitions of maintenance and authenticity were accommodated in the Amendment Act. On page three, the incorrect usage of qualification and certification was pointed out. Since the NQF-pedia is a joint document published by SAQA, the Quality Councils and DHET, and is revisited regularly, all definitions in the Bill are agreed on through a formal process and are in no doubt indisputable. On page four, Dr Lloyd confirmed that SAQA had a policy in practise to deal with fraudulent foreign qualifications. Should there be a fraudulently represented foreign qualification, it will either be sent back to the country of origin or be dealt with, within the Republic of South Africa.
On USAf, Dr Lloyd said that USAf made both an oral and written presentation to the Portfolio Committee. The submission to be briefed in this meeting is the third version, though there is no new issue in this version of the submission. USAf expresses the concern of the ‘in-consultation’ matter in point eight, which was also the key matter that USAf raised in other meetings. Dr Lloyd commented that two key issues should be remembered; the NQF Act requires SAQA to develop and publish a system of collaboration, and SAQA does this in consultation with the QC as well as the DHET. The system of collaboration sets out all the arrangements of collaboration around any issue related to the NQF Act and what each one’s roles and responsibilities are. In Dr Lloyd’s view, the collaboration process indeed gives QC more influence and reduces the role of SAQA. Dr Lloyd thought that perhaps USAf misunderstood the Bill.
The other issue that Dr Lloyd explained was that there were clear responsibilities within the QC. She was certain that there was no overlap or duplicating of duties and that there was no intention to deprive the Minister of authority. Regarding section 10(b) on page three, Dr Lloyd pointed out that there was a terminological error. There is no such terminologies as “claimed qualification” or “part qualification” as the document stipulates. Therefore. these terms will never appear in any legislations or policies.
Dr Lloyd concluded her presentation and thanked the Chairperson for the opportunity to present.
The Chairperson invited Advocate Eben Boshoff to speak.
Adv Eben Boshoff, Chief Director: Legal and Legislative Services, DHET reiterated that due to the late receipt of these submissions, there was little time for them to give a very substantive response.
Adv Boshoff agreed with Dr Lloyd in the aspects she raised. The submission of USAf, along with many others, raised the question of the rights of the body on which verification of qualifications can be relied. The emphasis of the Bill is to ensure the integrity of the NQF as the official body, the sole parameter which other verification agencies can use to verify qualifications.
Adv Boshoff gave two scenarios. If an agency or an individual is in possession of information which is not on the NQF, it gives SAQA the opportunity to correct and improve the database. If it is a fraudulent qualification case, a process will follow and only a court of law can pronounce an alleged fraudulent qualification is indeed fraudulent. Adv Boshoff emphatically stressed the point that fraud was a criminal offence and that only a court of law had the capacity and authority to carry out a thorough investigation and hand down a judgement which was also the purpose of the Bill. Furthermore, the expenses incurred from an investigation related to an allegedly fraudulent qualification is covered by the budget of the Department of Justice and thus will not cost SAQA anything.
Adv Boshoff concurred with Dr Lloyd on the issue of monopoly that there was absolutely no SAQA monopoly in the process. He argued that NQF and NLRD were instruments which delivered correct and credible information on qualifications to those agencies that were in the business of verification. The legislature granted SAQA the statutory right to establish a credible database and to represent South Africa, to communicate with other countries when it comes to qualifications. The rationale behind the NQF is not to strip off business opportunities of the private sector but rather to facilitate and guide the process and to act as a custodian of integrity. Thus, it is absolutely essential to have a sort of integrity protector such as SAQA for regulation. Adv Boshoff said that many of the issues covered by Dr Lloyd would again be discussed in the next meeting.
Adv Boshoff said that some comments made in the submissions were very partial, and the perspectives were not located in a broader framework in many cases. He reassured the Committee that there was no intention on the DHET or SAQA side to shut down the verification business to private agencies. The only difference that this Amendment Bill will make is to strengthen and improve the official database from which information will be obtained by these private verification agencies in any case. Adv Boshoff drew the Committee’s attention to the last comment made by USAf in which it says that the Bill presented was badly drafted and recommended to have their own experts drafting the Bill. He told the Committee that the Bill drafted by USAf themselves had indeed been presented to the portfolio Committee and it was the portfolio Committee’s view that the USAf version was not accepted and that the proposed Bill should remain as it is.
Providing documentation without cost is a view of the department which is in this Amendment Bill. From the submission, it seems that USAf feels that the issue of cost is a major problem. The information that these institutions possess must not be provided to SAQA at no cost whilst they fail to account for why sharing this information with SAQA should not be of no cost. In his view, it is for the integrity of the national database and to preserve that database which is in the public’s interest.
Adv Boshoff shared Dr Lloyd’s view that NQF was a system of collaboration and of which the majority of the fund came from government subsidies, and the information on the database was made available to these private agencies without cost. Considering this, Adv Boshoff said it was only justifiable and fair that institutions should provide information that they were in possession of at no cost.
The Chairperson asked the State Legal Advisors if they had more contributions to be made, to which they said no.
The Chairperson said DHET stated that the submissions received did not make any new input to the Bill and were simply crafted in different wording. The Chairperson said that the members did not have sufficient time to peruse the submissions. It is therefore important that members are given time to read through the submissions and make comparisons with the draft Bill in order to have meaningful inputs. The Chairperson also urged DHET to take more time and apply their minds on the submissions made to make a sound assessment on the merits of the arguments raised.
The Chairperson stated that as members of the Committee, their duties were to ensure that there would be no “come back” draft Bill before the official legislation. Since there was no voting taking place on the day, the Chairperson suggested more time for deliberation on the proposed Bill. The Chairperson then asked members to comment.
Ms P Samka (ANC, Eastern Cape) said that she agreed with the comments made by the department. Ms Samka said that although the Chairperson had indicated the wish of not rushing the Bill, the impression that she got from DHET was that it was an important and urgent piece of Bill to finalise.
Ms Samka criticised the behaviour of the DA and insinuated that this Bill was a matter of sensitive interests to many stakeholders involved. Although representation from the department had reiterated that business would remain ‘status as quo’, finalising the Bill would have the implication that money would be saved on the government’s side. Ms Samka agreed with the Chairperson that they should not rush the finalisation of the Bill. She also reminded the Committee that if they wanted to pass the Bill that day, the Bill could be passed.
Ms Dlamini said that members of the Committee should vote as individuals, not as provinces. The other issue that Ms Dlamini addressed was the criticism that the Bill had been badly drafted. She disagreed and said that the criticism had no merits because it was within the Parliamentarians’ expertise to judge if a Bill was poorly drafted. Essentially, members of the Committee are law makers. Should there be a badly drafted Bill, members would all be able to identify this. To safeguard the probability of producing a badly drafted Bill, there are State Law Advisors whose precise job responsibilities are to assist and advise Parliamentarians on the drafting of a Bill.
Ms Dlamini rebuffed the criticisms and stressed that Parliamentarians made their living on drafting Bills, thus, no one was more qualified than them to pick out a badly drafted Bill. In the Parliamentary procedure, the presentation of a Bill to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) is the final stage before the finalisation of a Bill. Thus, there is little chance that a Bill can be badly drafted at this stage.
Ms Dlamini agreed with the Chairperson that members of the Committee needed time to compare the inputs of the submissions and the draft Bill. She urged the Chairperson that finalisation of the Bill must take place in the next meeting.
The Chairperson confirmed the urgency to finalise the Bill. She agreed with members of the Committee that there was the sensitive issue of money involved in this Bill. Therefore, the oppositional force mainly came from parties whose business interest would be compromised should the Bill be finalised. But the Chairperson insisted that SAQA was the sole custodian of qualifications and that any request of qualification verification from any quality assuring bodies or institutions would have to be verified against the NLRD which was kept by SAQA.
Adv Boshoff emphasised the role of SAQA as the official body of qualification database despite of many private agencies having their own databases. Should discrepancy occur, it is imperative that the official body provides clarification. And should there be an error in the official database, SAQA could also be informed and mistake be rectified. Adv Boshoff denied that the intention of the Bill was to have SAQA monopolise the verification sector but to regulate the sector and establish SAQA’s position as the official body.
Dr Lloyd reaffirmed Adv Boshoff’s point and assured the Chairperson that the integrity of the system lied in the two checks in January and June to ensure the credibility and that proper procedures were followed in the auditing of data.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Researcher - Analysis of the National Qualifications Framework Amendment Bill
- Annexure A to Smart Vetting Solutions
- Umalusi comments
- South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) comments
- Universities South Africa (USAf) submission
- Independent Institute of Education comments
- Smart Vetting Solutions (SVE) submission
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