Higher Education and Training Portfolio Committee Legacy Report

Higher Education, Science and Technology

13 March 2019
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training considered and adopted the Legacy Report covering its oversight role over the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) during the past five years. It was the final meeting for the Fifth Parliament Committee, and the meeting focused on concluding matters and making suggestions for the Sixth Parliament to carry through.

The Committee wanted the Sixth Parliament to focus on developing the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector and to continue their efforts to enhance the quality assurance of education in South Africa. Members were also concerned about how the operational costs for new colleges would be funded and sustained in the future. Accountability and monitoring were key areas the Sixth Parliament needed to strengthen. The adequacy and structuring of the support staff component, and meeting time allocations of the Committee, were aspects the Members wanted their successors to revise.

The meeting ended with Members saying their final remarks and farewells.

Meeting report

Draft Legacy Report

The Chairperson presented the 72-page document which was structured according to matters such as placing the five-year period of the Committee in context, policy and legislation concerns, current and amended legislation, the Committee’s efforts to strengthen accountability, to deepen engagement and monitoring and intergovernmental relations. It also featured the Committee’s focus areas, such as universities, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, community colleges, funding and skills development, and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

The report included sections on oversight of the budget and the annual report and budget review processes undertaken. There were also suggestions made for the Sixth Parliament to follow up on matters such as strengthening oversight over the Department and entities, the migration of TVET colleges, and their issues. She asked that the Sixth Parliament renew the efforts made on the certificate backlogs and related matters.

The task of transformation of the higher education sector was not complete, but the Committee had interacted with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) as part of transforming the sector. The Department had informed the Committee that it had a transformation unit that was up and running, but the Committee was unable to monitor the functioning of the unit. The unit needed to be monitored by the Sixth Parliament. The roll-out of the Student Fund, oversight visits, strengthening of cooperative governance and whether higher education should be a national competence, should also be followed up by the Sixth Parliament.

She suggested a section on the Committee support staff be included, as there were challenges in this regard. An organogram for the Committee support staff was necessary. There had been a “floating” secretary and challenges in hiring a researcher, which had resulted in the content advisor having to fill the role of researcher as well. The Committee was not aware of the status of filling the researcher post. All the difficulties faced by the Committee due to the lack of an adequate support staff component were not acceptable, and the matter had to be addressed. It was an area of weakness of Parliament that had to be addressed.

The Committee had always met on Wednesday, but it was agreed that this should not continue because the Committee needed more time for oversight, and a new schedule had to be developed despite venue challenges.

Discussion

Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA) gave thanks for all the hard work that had gone into the report and said the word “College” had been omitted after the word “TVET” in the report, and asked that it be corrected in the final editing. He was willing to send his copy of the report with tracked changes.

On page 5, the Community Education and Training (CET) colleges mentioned nine new community colleges, but it should be clarified that it was the merging of Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) centres to make the nine new community colleges. The figure nine could also be further explained.

Some TVET college campuses’ property did not belong to colleges and the properties had to be transferred from the provincial and national government to appropriate colleges.

In the last sentence on page 29, the table indicated 16 colleges campus that were updated. He asked if the campus visited outside Mangaung, which was a success story, was included.

The Chairperson said it would not be included in this category and table.

On the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) and training provided by it, Mr Van der Westhuizen wanted the Committee’s successors to look at the cost effectiveness and quality of training through SETA. He said there should be interaction with the industry bodies to monitor if SETA training was in line with future requirements.

On the Committee having meetings on Wednesdays, he agreed with the Chairperson that more meeting time had to be allocated to the Committee, and added that sometimes in meetings it felt too rushed to deal with matters appropriately. 

Dr B Bozzoli (DA) said the report was a good indication of the last five years. The comment on page 28 which said “educational attainment in South Africa was lower than most economically productive countries,” indicated a key theme and was the main point of the Committee’s oversight. She was not sure if the Committee had conducted this oversight correctly and pushed for the quality of education and improved educational attainment. The Committee had pushed on issues such as funding, bureaucratic matters and certificates, but not on the quality of students being outputted.

She said there had been many cases where she felt the Committee’s strategic plan had not been adhered to. She was not blaming the Committee for not fulfilling the plan, because they had attempted to do so, but the report had to include that the Committee did make attempts but had faced various challenges, such as limited time. It was a huge portfolio with many entities and could not be dealt with in three hours per week.

Page 13 on certificates showed progress due to the Committee’s efforts, and it had been a nagging issue for the Fifth Parliament.

On page 20, in the middle paragraph, she asked if the Committee was not concerned about the dropping of charges against students, because charges got dropped too many times after illegal acts were committed.

The Chairperson said it had been decided that the matter had to be referred to the Portfolio Committee on Justice, and there had to be a discussion on the matter.

Dr Bozzoli referred to issues for follow up by the Sixth Parliament, and proposed that an item be included on funding sustainability and the promised increase of the budget to 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP). There also had to be enhanced oversight of SETAs, TVET and CET colleges in the future.  

There was a table of planned new TVET College campuses, and the spending on the Thabazimbi campus was 445% of what was already allocated, but the Committee never heard about this. Spending four times what was allocated did not sound good.

On issues for follow up by the Sixth Parliament, she said there were contradictions because on the one hand the report said all these new campuses had to be built, but on the other hand the Committee required it to ensure there were operational costs for remaining campuses. Should the operational costs not come before the building of new campuses? It was contradictory to advocate more building instead of providing money for operational costs. She suggested that there should be a hold on new buildings until it was ensured that there would be funding for these new buildings’ operational costs. She feared that the new buildings would be white elephants, as there would be no money for operational costs and staffing.

The Chairperson said the Department in its 2014-2019 plan had outlined the number of universities and colleges, and this had been referred to. What was promised and revised was not all achieved.

Dr Bozzoli said the Committee was asking for the new buildings to be achieved, but how would they be run if there was no money? She asked how new campuses could be built if operational costs were not funded.

The Chairperson said it was a moving target, and that was being referred to.

Dr Bozzoli suggested it be inserted that the Department had to ensure operational cost funding before the new buildings were built.

The Chairperson said the decision on funding operating costs and building had to be made together.

Mr Van der Westhuizen added that in Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the head count was capped at 700 000 for staffing, and it seemed that the money for operating costs was not provided for in the medium-term budget. The budget might not be able to cope with the expansion, and this could lead to serious challenges and the building of “white elephants.”

Dr Bozzoli was not sure how new staff and additional students making use of the buildings would be funded -- they could end up as white elephants.

The Chairperson said the decisions on building new campuses had been made after research on what skills and requirements were necessary.

Dr Bozzoli said the Department’s budget had not been increased, and all the money would come from SETA, and that would not be sustainable.

Department’s  response

Mr Theuns Tredoux, Chief Financial Officer (CFO), DHET, said based on the MTEF, there was money for the operation of new campuses, but it may not be enough. The amount allocated was based on TVET initial frameworks, and it was close to R1.2 billion. The money allocated would be factored into the existing TVET subsidies as well.

On staffing, there was a cap on the compensation of employees, but the new norms for staff would give direction for compensation, and it was an issue the Department was working on. Partially there was funding for new campuses’ operational costs, but if it is was enough, this would have to be determined in the next year or two.

The current concern was that if the funding injected into the higher education and training sector would be utilized effectively to achieve quality education. Did the institutions need more money or efficient utilization of the funding?

The Chairperson agreed, and added that monitoring and evaluation had to be strengthened.

Dr Bozzoli said the two new universities were funded from a special fund, and she was concerned about what would happen when they switched over to the normal funding formula. Building a new university without putting permanent money into it was a fault of the Department.

Mr Tredoux responded that the existing funding for those new institutions was part of the Departmental money allocated by Treasury. The understanding was that the money would be worked into the total university sector fund and block grant. New institutions would not lose their funding -- it would go into the block grant and be distributed to the institutions.

Discussion

The Chairperson added that it was not wrong for the Committee to raise concern, because it was about what had been experienced previously and what it wanted the Sixth Parliament to investigate. It was a matter that had happened in Basic Education with new schools as well, and it was an internal matter that had to be addressed

Dr Bozzoli said she did not understand the paragraph that said higher education was not a concurrent function.

The Chairperson said that it was not a concurrent function, according to the Constitution.

Dr Bozzoli asked why it was being mentioned.

The Chairperson responded that the heading was “Strengthening Cooperative Governance to improve Intergovernmental Relations,” and the matter fell under that area.

Ms J Killian (ANC) commended the quality of the report, the Chairperson and the team for their work. It was a good record of the work done. She supported the comment about support staff -- there had to elaboration on it in the report. She made a general comment that it was good that there were discussions around the budget and baseline funding.

In response to Dr Bozzoli on strategic planning, she said the Committee did its portion on improving access to education. The Legacy Report was not a performance assessment report. The Committee was an oversight committee and there were multiple programmess it had to oversee in the sector, as well as Parliamentary limitations. The report had to be a relay to the next Parliament that would be handed over.

One thing that she felt exceptionally frustrated about was how to turn the Parliamentary oversight budget around to make provision for anticipated pressure, which was likely to be the TVET colleges. Operationalisation was very important because new facilities could just not be built to create opportunities for young people. The Sixth Parliament and the Department had to improve their capacity in this regard, and unless this was done, goals would not be achieved.

She added that it was a good and valuable assessment, and that the Committee achieved top marks on the Report. The next move had to be for quality assurance and accountability which had to be concerns that the Sixth Parliament dealt with. 

Ms B Ndlovu (ANC) said that her contribution to the Report was minimal, as she had not joined the Committee at the beginning of its term and she was not present for certain topics, but when she was present the Committee’s contributions had been relevant. She could not critique the report.

Mr R Mavunda (ANC) said it was a lengthy report, and the issues in the Report would exist beyond the Sixth Parliament if not addressed.

The key challenges on page 39 were well stipulated and followed by recommendations. Bullet two of the recommendations spoke to increasing funding for the Department to fulfill its mandate. He asked if it was really a funding, or financial management, issue. Consequence management had to be prioritised as a recommendation, because often there was a lack of accountability.

On the third bullet from the bottom, he said that before the audit report came to the Committee, the Department had presented its internal audit to the Auditor General (AG) to reduce friction.

The Chairperson said the Department did meet the AG beforehand.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) agreed with Members that the Report was good work that captured the essence of the Committee’s work. On issues to follow up, she said CETs was one of the sectors that could empower people greatly, and there had to be something included in the Report to push this in the right direction by the Sixth Parliament. CET colleges should be directed towards achieving, but currently they were not what had been envisioned in the White Paper.

On the issue of the National Certificate Vocational (NCV), there were challenges, but there was no movement, so the area needed attention and there had to be monitoring to finalise the matter. The curriculum was being reviewed but was not completed.

Mr C Kekana (ANC) said the next Parliament should focus on TVET colleges and the output of artisans. The lack of a Committee researcher had influenced the Committee’s lack of current knowledge and what trends would be in the future. The TVET sector had to be properly guided and researched by the Sixth Parliament so that it kept up with future demands.

The Chairperson asked the CFO if he had anything else he wanted to mention.

Mr Tredoux said the Report was relevant from the Department’s side. It had been picked up from the past that there was not a good link between the Report and the Department. Some of recommendations and how they factored into the new strategic plan had to be aligned with the Department. Otherwise, it was a good report.

The Chairperson said the Member’s additions and recommendations would be considered. The link to the Department and entities in relation to the Report would be worked on. She was not aware if Parliament would send the Report to the Department, but it had to be shared. She gave thanks to everyone involved.

The Chairperson asked if anyone opposed the Legacy Report. No one opposed the Report, and it was adopted with corrections.

Adoption of minutes

Ms J Kilian moved for the adoption of the minutes of 27 February 2019, and was seconded by Mr Mavunda.

Ms Kilian asked when the minutes for the current meeting would be adopted, as the term was ending for the Committee.

The Chairperson responded that these were the final minutes the current Committee would adopt.

 

Farewell Remarks

The Chairperson opened the floor for Members to say their final goodbyes.

Mr Kekana gave thanks to everyone. He said the ruling party and the Opposition had worked well and there was positive antagonism and criticism, and all parties showed commitment to the nation. It was unfortunate that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were not present, but he hoped they would return.

Dr Bozzoli gave thanks and said that she had learned a lot in the past five years. She was quite shocked at the problems and challenges in higher education that still needed to be addressed. She commended the Chairperson and support staff for their work, and all the past and new Members.

Mr Van der Westhuizen gave thanks and commended the parties for all working together well. He had opted for his name to be on his party’s provincial legislature list and therefore he knew he would not be seeing Members in the next Parliament. It had been a great experience for him and he had many memorable moments.

Ms Kilian said it had been an amazing five years and a privilege to serve the Committee. It was important to be exposed to the real South Africa and its challenges in higher education, and contribute to South Africa’s youth. She believed South Africa would progress because it had the right people and efforts had to be continued to improve. It was good to see opposition Members make constructive contributions and seeing parties working together. She thanked everyone, and she would always remain committed to this cause in South Africa and would be watching. She wished everyone well.

The Chairperson said it was an important meeting, as it concluded all the Committee’s efforts to shape the future of Higher Education and Training in South Africa. She suggested those who wanted to should write a little book on the Fifth Parliament Committee on Higher Education. Carrying out oversight on institutions where they were not welcome at times due to protests, had been a challenge. She thought the Committee had made a good contribution to the Fifth Parliament. The Committee was not able to engage everyone efficiently, especially students. Societal aspects such as poverty levels also had to be considered when looking at higher education and training.

She hoped the Sixth Parliament would achieve all the goals set out by legislation, policy and the Constitution, and that the new Committee could converse beyond the differences they had. She wished everyone well. She thanked the Department, entities and the Ministry for responding to the Committee’s questions and concerns.

Mr Tredoux gave thanks and said there were memorable interactions between the Department and the Committee. It had been a good five years, despite turmoil, Committee and political changes. It was a good working relationship, and he hoped for the best for the next five years.

The meeting was adjourned.

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