The Committee was briefed by the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology on its Annual Performance Plan. The Minister provided a brief overview on the goals and focus of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) for 2019/20. The Committee was informed by the Minister that there was a need for the DHET to extend its focus not only to access to education but also to improving the success of learners in these institutions. Crucial to this was a bigger effort to increase the responsiveness of post school training to the requirements of the economy.
The Committee heard that Artisan development and training was a need that the Department intended to address with sincere commitment. The 2019/2020 Annual Performance Plan (APP) and Budget of the Department was presented to Members. Members heard that the DHET’s budget was dominated by University Education which represented 82% of the budget in 2019/20. This was mainly because of the subsidy payments to universities and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The Committee welcomed many of the initiatives described in the presentation, such as initiatives to capacitate and develop local academics through supporting 50 academic university staff to enrol in PhD programs. Another well received initiative was increased investigation into how to generate more black and female academics at South African universities.
Members suggested the need for the DHET to adopt an overarching ‘political objective’ to inform its policies. Concern was raised about the management of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) which lead to the question about what monitoring and oversight processes were in place to improve on it. Concerns were also raised regarding the low certification rate of Level Four qualifications and the backlog of outstanding certificates to TVET college graduates. The Committee enquired about the amount of vacancies within the DHET that needed to be filled and the deadline by which to fill them. The Committee asked how the DHET proposed to retain quality academics at public institutions when they might be offered better remuneration in the private sector; whether the international scholarship initiative by the DHET extended to technical and vocational education training (TVET) colleges or only higher education institutions; what was happening with the question of free education on tertiary education level. With regard to free education Members asked directly: Is this dream still achievable and what progress has been made in this regard?
The time constraints did not bode well for the meeting as most of the questions posed were unanswered. The Committee and DHET agreed to organise another occasion to discuss the issues raised in this meeting. The Committee Members raised the issue that many of these questions were time sensitive as details of the DHET’s APP would only be discussed at the upcoming budget vote debate. It was agreed that further questions were to be submitted to the Committee Secretary, answers to which would be submitted in writing by the DHET.
The Chairperson welcomed the representatives of the DHET to the meeting. He hoped that the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Art and Culture would gain a better understanding of the DHET’s plans and programs for the coming year. He trusted that this meeting will shed some light on the DHET’s plan to ensure uniformity among the various colleges and elaborate on the position and development of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
Briefing by the Minister
The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Mr B Nzimande thanked the chairperson and extended the apology of the Deputy Minister, who could not attend the meeting today as he was abroad. The Minister expressed appreciation for the opportunity to present to this Select Committee. He explained that in the Sixth Administration he was currently the Minister of two departments; the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), as well as the Department of Science and Technology (DST). He said that these currently existed as two separate departments; however, they were represented by one minister. Whether they would remain two separate departments will be decided during the course of the financial year. The Minister said that the DHET would present its APP today. This was an important document for accountability and more than just a gesture of compliance. The DHET took it seriously and it gave them an opportunity to show their progress toward the National Development Plan (NDP). The Minister underlined the commitment of the Department to tap into South Africa’s capable work force through an inclusive growth path in a non-racist/sexist democratic manner. The Minister said that he encouraged the Committee to request the DHET’s presence to speak to the Committee regarding points of clarity or questions. For instance, if the Committee would like the DHET to present or elaborate on the NSFAS, the DHET would be happy to oblige. The Minister said that the scope of this meeting however, was more overarching in nature, and that they cannot necessarily go into detail on every aspect.
The Minister continued by saying that a key focus of the DHET this year is to expand access to the post-school education and training system. Why post-school and not higher education? The Minister disambiguated by explaining that in 2009, when the Department was split into 1) Basic Education (which deals with schooling), and 2) Higher Education and Training, the mandate of the DHET focused on South Africans who had not attended school and those that had attended some schooling but had not and did not intend to complete their schooling. The DHET defined its task as provision for post school education and training. That was why the Minister said that they used this term, as it better captured the mandate of the DHET.
Minister Nzimande further listed the need for better quality education and training as well as ensuring and monitoring better success rates among students. Policies tend to focus mostly on access, but the success of the education had to be focussed on as well. The Minister referred to a finding by the Director General of Statistics for the DHET which maintained that 40% of university students failed their first year. The minister said that a big focus of the DHET was also to increase the responsiveness of post school training to the requirements of the economy. He said that the DHET had developed a career advisory system, to inform South Africans of educational training opportunities and prospects. These services will assist in developing skills in coordination with the skills that are in high demand. This will help employment and career development prospects.
As mentioned during the Minister’s budget vote, the DHET has identified 13 priority trades and occupations comprising skillsets in the following areas; bricklayers, electricians, boilermakers and automotive mechanics amongst others. DHET has entered into service level agreements with major industry partners specialising in these trades. They have further targeted 26 technical and vocational education training (TVET) colleges. The Minister mentioned that it is often thought that some skills like welding are widespread, however in reality, this is not true, especially in terms of accredited skilled artisans. The Minister said that the DHET will focus intently on the development of artisans who are key to large government projects such as Strategic Infrastructure Projects, (SIPS), Operation Phakisa and the War on Leaks.
Minister Nzimande added that the DHET will also present the results of its strategic plan for 2015-2020 as well as its plan toward part of the seven priorities outlined during President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation (SONA) address. Here the DHET falls under Priority Two’s scope namely Educations Skills and Health.
Furthermore, the Minister spoke to the key deliverables of the DHET in 2019/2020. The Department planned to release a report about the skills supply and demand in SA. This will be important for planning and the provisioning of education and training. In the near future, the DHET also planned to release a draft regulatory framework for university fees in a fair and objective manner. This is necessary, the Minister said, as in the past it has been observed that when more money is allocated to the NSFAS and student funding, universities tend to increase their fees. The Minister proceeded to explain the changes to the NSFAS funding since its inception. Since the early 1990s the NSFAS was a loan system. Students coming from families with below an annual income of R120 000 qualified for a student loan. Since 2018, this income ceiling was increased to R350 000 and funding has also shifted from a loan to a bursary, which students do not need to pay back. The Minister admitted that the guidelines to this scheme post 2018 was not comprehensive enough and will be reviewed and improved upon.
Finally, the Minister talked about a project the DHET would undertake to support 50 academic university staff to enrol in PhD programs. He mentioned that this was a key initiative as in some public universities (especially historically black universities) only 20% of the academic staff had PhDs. The DHET also planned to investigate how to generate more black woman academics in SA universities. Another key goal for the DHET this year is to develop regulations for TVET colleges, as well as strengthen the capacity of community colleges where adult education took place. The goal is to provide more than traditional adult schooling which mainly focusses on academic education. The Minister explained that these institutions must pivot and focus on practical skills education to be applied in the economy.
He concluded by thanking the Chairperson and the Committee for the opportunity to present the DHET’s APP today and said that this Department will soon be finalising its first Quarterly Progress Report presenting on its performance regarding the commitments made.
Briefing by the DHET on its 2019/20 Annual Performance Plan
The Director-General of Higher Education and Training, Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde said the DHET was in the final year of its five-year strategic plan of 2015 – 2020.
He elaborated on the administrative targets for the branch in the overall management of the DHET in 2019/20, and listed the progress made in this regard.
- Vacancy rate is at 6.2% and the average number of days to fill vacancies is at 159 days;
- Finalised and approved the interim Organisational Structure for Head Office and Regional Offices;
- Finalised the Post Provisioning Norms for TVET colleges to be implemented in the next financial year;
- Developed the e-performance management system for roll-out in 2020/21;
- Implemented e-leave management, submissions, invoice tracking and placement of orders as part of the automation of business processes;
- Secured NSF grant and signed the MOU with South African Broadband Education Networks (SABEN) and current processes of procurement for proposals in for the provision of access network circuits connecting Technical and Vocational Education and Training College Campuses to the South African National Research Network. SABEN will utilize the grant funding to cover the capital expenditures (up-front costs) for the envisaged connections;
- The new examinations system in final stages of development, to be implemented in 2020;
- Corporate identity guidelines for TVET and Community Education and Training (CET) colleges approved and presented to colleges; three Communication Fora (for Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), Colleges and Universities) established ;
- Secured the land and registered a PPP with National Treasury for the Head Office and the acquisition of four regional office accommodation completed (KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga outstanding); and
- Established a Directorate for Fraud Prevention and Corruption, Ethics and Integrity Management.
Briefing on the DHET’s 2019/20 budget
Mr Lucian Kearns, Acting Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for the DHET explained that the Department’s budget consisted of two funding sources namely ‘voted funds’ and ‘direct charges’. Voted funds consists of the budgetary allocation through the National Revenue Fund while the direct charges consists of a direct commitment namely the skills levy revenue collected by SARS for the funding of the SETAs and the National Skills Foundation (NSF).
- The Department’s budget (Voted Funds) increases at an average annual rate of 12.6% over the 2019 MTEF increasing from R73 billion in 2018/19 to reach R104.4 billion in 2021/22
- The baseline budget of the Department increased substantially from the 2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) due to the roll-out of fee-free higher education for qualifying poor, vulnerable and missing middle students as well as increased subsidies for universities and TVET colleges
- The baseline adjustments (additional allocations) since 2018/19 are R12.364 billion (2018/19), R25.334 billion (2019/20) and R29.548 billion (2020/21). These adjustments form part of the allocations in the 2019 MTEF and is integrated in the baseline for 2021/22
- The increased baseline is a positive outcome of the Department’s continuous bids for additional funding
- The emphasis of the increased baseline from 2018/19 is primarily for the funding of poor and missing middle students as well as improved sector funding
- This has resulted in a substantive increase on NSFAS funding which is totalling R103.393 billion over the 2019 MTEF period
- The increased subsidies of universities are a strong push towards improved baseline funding of institutions and a substantive drive towards the sector’s funding as a percentage of GDP, from 0.67% in 2017/18 to an average of 0.77% over the 2019 MTEF
- The TVET sector also benefits substantially from additional allocations. Institutional subsidies have more than doubled since 2018/19 and the sector has also been allocated an infrastructure grant that amounts to almost R4.9 billion over the 2019 MTEF
Mr Kearns explained that the DHET’s budget is dominated by University Education, which represents 82% of the budget in 2019/20. This is mainly as a result of the subsidy payments to universities and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Furthermore, once all expenses are deducted, the balance available for operational costs is only 602 million.
The Chairperson thanked the representatives from the DHET for their thorough presentation. He reminded the Committee about their responsibility to provide oversight on the funds for education and training that were allocated to their respective provinces. There had to be monitoring to ensure that the funds were being used effectively.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) said that there might not be enough time in this meeting to cover all the questions to the DHET; however, the Committee should not rush, as there will still be more opportunities to engage with representatives of the DHET. Mr Bara said that over and above the policies presented today, he saw the need for an overarching ‘political objective’ or goal to be framed by the DHET. Regarding the university capacity development program mentioned in the presentation to support academic staff to complete their PhDs, he raised the issue of keeping these academics in public universities. He explained that highly qualified academics tend to receive better remuneration packages from private institutions, so the question is, ‘how do we ensure or incentivise them to stay at SA public universities’. Furthermore, Mr Bara enquired as to whether the international scholarship initiative would only be for institutions of higher education or for TVETs as well. Mr Bara also asked that since a stated goal by the DHET is to broaden adult education through CET colleges, would these colleges partner with established SETAs. Lastly, Dr Barra asked, since there have been no protests from students recently, was the Department pleased with the state and progress of NSFAS.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) was pleased to hear of the DHET’s plans for artisan development. There was a definite shortage of skilled artisans in South Africa. She also looked forward to seeing the progress made in the capacitating and development of black and female academics. Ms Christians then raised a concern about NSFAS management. She said that there have been several NSFAS CEO replacements in the past years, which raised a red flag for her. Furthermore, since the NSFAS transferred the money to recipients directly to their student accounts, what monitoring structures were in place to ensure that these funds are spent on the correct academic expenditures and are not misused? The right utilisation of funding is directly related to the throughput rate of students. If the funding is not effectively utilised, students’ performance will be negatively affected. Ms Christians also asked what the impact would be in the next four years of the NSFAS taking charge of student funding administration instead of the previous system where that was the task of the universities. This issue was of concern because the NSFAS’s management was ‘not up to scratch’. She also enquires as what systems are in place for the oversight of NSFAS. Is there a plan in place to see to it that the NSFAS will eventually be run successfully? Moreover, Ms Christian said that there is an issue of outstanding certificates at TVET colleges as graduates are still waiting to receive their certificates years after graduating. Another concern she raised was the low certification rate of level Four qualifications. If level Fours’ could not get certified, how will we increase the number of artisans?
Lastly Ms Christians want to know what student support services and practical action plans are in place to help increase the throughput rate at education institutions and how will this be monitored.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked how many vacancies the DHET still had to fill and what was the time frame for this. Secondly, she requested that the DHET please send a list, detailing the names and provinces of the 54 CETs referred to on page 37 of the presentation. This is necessary for the Committee to perform its oversight function. Lastly, Ndongeni asked the Acting CFO of the DHET to elaborate more on why such a large portion of the Departmental budget goes to universities as opposed to TVET colleges, as they are of similar importance.
The Chairperson asks what was happening with the question of free education on tertiary education level. Is this dream still achievable? What progress has been made in this regard?
The Minister asked that with such little time left, whether it will be possible to answer these questions sincerely. He suggested a follow up session in the next week or two, where these questions can be answered.
The Chairperson agreed with the Minister’s proposition. He emphasised that there was extensive discussion that took place today, but more time was needed to process the many issues raised. Furthermore, he said that this Select Committee planned to visit the DHET offices in the near future. He said it was important to engage with all levels of the Department, to talk with and hear their respective challenges. This was good for oversight and safety. Furthermore, the Chairperson asked how CETs in areas close to mines and the mining industry could help equip people with the necessary skills to find work in that industry. He also stressed the importance of certification as this was important signalling device for employers
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) proposed that the discussion be postponed to adequately cover all the areas of concern.
Mr Bara seconded the proposal to postpone the discussion, as it will not do justice to the presentation to rush through it with so little time available in this meeting. However, he mentioned that this presentation will be debated in the House at some point and he hoped this will not prejudice the DHET. He said that some of the issues that needed clarification today would contribute to the Department’s debates in the House and asked that the Committee and DHET representatives to be cognisant of this when deciding on a date for the follow-up session.
The Minister said that the program inside the Committee, together with DHET and the Parliamentary Liaison Officer should get together to action what was discussed today. He concurred with the Chairperson that for the Select Committee to visit the DHET was a good idea. Furthermore, he agreed with Mr Bara that ideally, questions on the presentation should be answered prior to the upcoming budget vote debate so that Members were well informed going into the debate. The Minister suggested that he and his Parliamentary Liaison Officer should meet with the Committee before the end of this week to come up with a proposal.
The Chairperson said that further questions had to be submitted to the Committee Secretary and answers will be submitted in writing by the DHET.
The Chairperson concluded the deliberations of the 2019/20 Annual Performance Plan and budget of the Department of Higher Education and Training and moved for the adoption of the report. Ms Ndongeni (ANC) moved for adoption of the report. Ms Christians (DA) seconded the adoption of the report.
The meeting was adjourned.