University of Limpopo & SETA on allegations of unaccredited course

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

10 September 2019
Chairperson: Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The University of Limpopo along with the Services Seta briefed the Committee on the allegations that were levelled at the University. These allegations held that the University had offered a bogus learnership and certificate in a qualification on Funeral Parlour studies.  The University assured Members that the media allegations had no merit and that due process was followed in obtaining accreditation in the course.  

Both the University and the SETA outlined the process involved in developing and obtaining accreditation of a course. The bogus course allegations came from three students who were affected during the printing of the certificates. Certificates were printed with errors where one certificate was printed for both qualifications instead of two certificates containing each qualification. The incorrect certificates were issued to only three students not to all students that had completed the course. The University confirmed that valid certificates have been printed and signed off and collection was in progress.

The SETA informed Members that the programme was a pilot programme which was now intended to be rolled out nationally. Feedback from relevant stakeholders including the students was positive; except the students that were frustrated and went to the media. Members were then assured that the error has since been rectified.

Members were satisfied with the presentations from both stakeholders but questioned the steps taken by the University of Limpopo in dealing with the allegations. Members felt that the University did not adequately address the false allegation in the public space. Members heard that it was perhaps because this course had come from a historically disadvantaged institution that it was not taken seriously. Members then asked why the University went to court; for more information about the accreditation process;  who issued the accreditation; why the bogus allegations about the programme were made and whether the Auditor General had issued any findings in the previous year relating to the programme; the amount spent per student; how private companies were selected for students to do experiential training; any concerns from the AG on programme’s finances as well as whether both the SETA and the University tracked students that completed the course to ensure that they were employed.

Members were informed that the Vice Chancellor had been interviewed for an hour on national television regarding the allegations that were made about the programme. Unfortunately, the interview was not wide spread because it was not considered sensational. Members were also informed that the Chief Executive Officer of the Service SETA would be attending an interview the following day to further unpack the alleged issues related to the programme.

Members felt that had the university and the SETA taken adequate steps to clear the allegation both stakeholders would not have been invited to appear before the Committee. The Committee suggested that the gender demographics of the senior management needed serious attention in light of issues regarding gender parity which could be problematic. Members were disappointed that the challenges and failures were not outlined as that would have assisted the Committee to ensure that those challenges were addressed so that people could get the services that they required.

The Committee said that the training was very economically driven, it is socially relevant and it is scalable and the funding was done effectively. The SETA and the University were commended for the Programme.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
The Chairperson welcomed everyone present and submitted all the apologies. He informed Members and the delegation that the purpose of the meeting was to deliberate and be briefed on the matter that was reported in the media. The University and the Services Seta had to clarify where the allegations stemmed from and why.

Chairperson of the Council remarks
Mr Pandelani Nefolovhoure, Chairman of the Council said that the University was busy with another programme which was the 60 year celebration of the University. The ceremony will also carry the inauguration of its first female Chancellor, Dr Nkosazana Zuma.

Mr Mahlo Mokgalong, Vice Chancellor: University of Limpopo thanked the Members for the opportunity to come and present on the matter on the agenda.

Briefing by the University of Limpopo
The Registrar took the Members through the presentation and commenced with the processes undertaken to acquire the contract with the SETA. The School of Medicine in the University has a lot of joint appointees between the University and the province. At this point there was a provincial specialist, Dr Francis Hyera. The engagements led to an MOU through which the University commenced to develop the short course.

The University’s mandate for the development and approval of the Short Courses, as is the case with all accredited higher education institutions in the country, emanates from the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). In its pursuit for promotion of quality awareness and quality responsiveness at the institutional level, the Council on Higher Education (CHE) has developed, in consultation with the sector, a good practice guide for the quality management of short courses offered outside of the higher education qualifications sub-framework.

[See document on the detailed analysis of the development, approval and accreditation of the two short courses]

On the funding, the SLPs (Short Learning Programmes) finances are managed through dedicated ring-fenced accounts. The current two programmes re run through the cost Centre R101 that was created in 2015. The budget for each programme was R9, 584,500.00 translating into a total of R19, 169,000.00.
In conclusion and the way forward, the negative media coverage has surely left some of the students who have successfully completed the programme despondent. The university is in direct contact with the affected students assuring them that their certificate programmes were fully accredited and remain viable. Some of the students wrote to the university expressing their appreciation of what the programme has done for them.

The university is always cautious about the programmes it offers because the potential damage could be irreparable. Hence quality assurance was prioritised and processes were still underway before the national roll out of the two programmes was done.  However, to fully address the concerns raised the university is committing itself to invite all affected students to a briefing meeting to be reassured. The industry would also be included and it has been involved in the process. The University would continue engaging with the Services SETA and the partner universities across the country through the Memoranda of Agreements. Whatever happened has happened but the need for this programme still exists and it should be supported.

Mr Richard Madadzhe, Deputy Vice Chancellor: University of Limpopo added that the programme on this area is highly sought after and it was the first to be offered by the University and the first of its kind. The demand was now intensely great and one of the annexures provides a clear indication for its demand. Mr Madadzhe said that as an institution they had to ensure that they had a quality offering in the sense that being based in Limpopo the offerings were contact (face to face) based. The national rollout would be supported because of the demand.  A consortium would be needed to be established with the partner universities with the Department.

Lastly, there is about doubt on the relevance of the programme as the majority of the students who were part of the programme were already employed. The challenge is not only provincial but nationally, and the University should be able to come up with a process or mechanism to roll it out nationally.

Mr Mkhonto Njabulo, President of Student Representative Council at University of Limpopo said that: ‘our people are dying out there every day and that is the reality’. The question remains who should professionalise this need. The University came up with the programme and if this was established in England it would not be questioned. However, due to the fact that it was established by a university coming from a previously disadvantaged background, it remains problematic.  He suggested that perhaps it should not only be on a certificate but a diploma or a degree.

Mr J Letsealo, Executive Dean: Faculty of Health Sciences at University of Limpopo cleared up the issue of the certificate and indicated that there was an error in the printing. The error was indeed corrected even though at the time only three students had already collected their certificates. Two independent certificates were then re-printed and issued to students. 

The Chairperson felt that the information was not complete and comprehensive and Members wanted to understand the matters raised in the media. So the Members were now finding it difficult to have that clear picture.

The Registrar suggested that the annexures could be attended to briefly as well as the Quality Assurance response.

Mr P Keetsie (EFF) confirmed that he had received the documents in advance.

Briefing by the Services SETA
Mr Marcia Madiope, Chairperson of the Board thanked the Chairperson for having seen fit to convene a meeting where the SETA and the University could come and brief the Committee on the matter. Perhaps, this matter rose due to the fact that the programme was established by a previously disadvantaged university.

Ms Amanda Buzo, Chief Executive Officer: Services SETA provided the background of the programme, process followed administratively, funding involved – what has been spent to date and what was still available. She also touched on the students affected through the media reports.

Having interacted with the industry and listened to the outcry of the industry to formalise the skill the SETA partnered with the University of Limpopo to develop the programmes in line with due policies, regulations and legislations. The SETA then allocated grants to the University of Limpopo to ensure that the programme was developed and implemented the qualification in the funeral parlour to combat the challenges that had been referred to.

As for funding; the actual spending to date amounted to R16, 969, 500 of the R19 059 000. This is over a period of 2016 to 2018. For the national roll-out funding; the Accounting Authority committed further funding for R97 million for 1 500 learners. The actual spending on the pilot and national roll-out to date sits at R25.5 million.

The media reported that R49 million of the funding allocation had been spent up to date. That information is false because only R25.5 million has been spent on the programme.

As for the way forward in assisting learners involved in the programme; learner information was verified by the University. Certificates were printed with errors where one certificate was printed for both qualifications instead of two certificates containing each qualification. The incorrect certificates were given to the students which caused frustrations to the learners; hence the media allegations. The University has confirmed that the certificates have been printed and signed off and collection was in progress. The Funeral Parlour Special Committee that was set up to participate in the pilot programme expressed its satisfaction with the programme.

Ms Buzo suggested that the University should hold a graduation ceremony for the students who have completed the course. The graduation ceremony will provide credence and credibility to the qualification.

In conclusion, the total budget set aside was R117 million.

The Chairperson asked the University how it gets its courses accredited and who issued the accreditation. Also, why was there a claim that the course was fraudulent? What caught the Members’ attention was the claim that the University was offering a bogus course.

Mr Mokgalong responded to that the public may not be aware of the differences in terms of programmes. There were have many types of programmes, such as undergraduate, diplomas and honours, master and PhD. The second cohort is the short learning programmes. In terms of the first cohort, as an institution the institution will design the programme from year one up to PhD level. The internal processes start at the departmental level and once the lecturers are happy at that level, they would take it to the School of Social Sciences in the University. After which it would be taken to the Board of the Faculty and then Academic Planning Committee (SENATE) – they would scrutinise, make inputs and so on. Once the Committee was satisfied the Quality Assurance experts would then be engaged to ensure that the requirements of the standards are met. Once the internal processes were done, the Senate on academic purposes is the highest level which could be accepted or rejected. It would then send it to the Higher Qualification Committee at the Department and the external Higher Qualification Education Committee. After the external Committee has provided feedback, it would then be submit to the Department for funding and subsidies.

For short courses, the process ends up at the Senate level. This is the policy that pertains to the country. Both processes are highly rigorous and even in our case we cannot offer a programme that is not accredited.

Perhaps, the lack of knowledge is the reason why people said the programme was not accredited. The University was not allowed to offer a programme that is not accredited. So this came about because it was the first of its kind and it was dealing with funerals. It also involved industry players to be part of the programme – this was not common. Through that people started having reservations.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) welcomed the report. The team was invited to verify the claims made on the media. She asked about the organogram (structure) of the programme – how it unfolds. This would assist Members to check what was missed when the programme was being designed. Secondly, she asked for clarity and details on the AG’s report findings on the programme in the previous year. She suggested that the gender demographics of the senior management needed serious attention in light of issues regarding gender parity which could be problematic.

In conclusion, on the matter regarding the spending, she asked how much was spent per student in terms of the programme implementation.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) said that one of the key things that lit up for him was that both presentations seemed very perfect because challenges and failures were not outlined. The existence of the Committee was to ensure that the end product gets the best of what gets to be offered by government. Therefore, if there are failures on your side, the ‘’screams’ are directed to the Committee. The challenges would assist the Committee to ensure that those challenges were addressed so that people could get the services required to be delivered.

He asked ‘how did you identify the private companies to be part of the programme for the experiential training’? ‘What was the process undertaken and the legislative framework required to select the companies’? It seems the printing of certificates caused the alleged fraudulent claims and this seems is a maladministration issue. ‘So how the checks and balances verified on the printing and what were was being done to ensure that this was not repeated’?

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked about the time frames of the certificates; how Community Colleges were assisted and why there was no Coordinator for the programme.

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) said that the training was very economically driven, it is socially relevant and it is scalable and the funding was done effectively. He commended the SETA and the University for the Programme. We are in favour of free media but it must also be held accountable for publishing claims that were not true. He suggested that the University should look into recourse on this matter at the Ombudsman. The reputation of this programme could potentially be tarnished and that should not be allowed.

Mr P Keetsie (EFF) wished the University of Limpopo well in its 60th celebration. He said that the Committee should not encourage unfounded claims that are aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the University. Once a qualification has been claimed to be bogus, even if it’s one course, it creates a ripple effect on the rest of the qualifications that are offered by the University.

The convening of the meeting was based on the allegation that the programme was bogus. If the house was in order, these claims would not have surfaced. He felt that the University gave an impression that something was not right regarding this programme. He was not entirely satisfied with the explanations provided by the University; he felt that the steps taken by the University created a bad impression and hence suspicions rose.

He added that in the future, when the SETAs come with such programmes, it should consider partnering with TVET Colleges.

Mr B Nodada (DA) wanted to know about whether there were any concerns from the AG based on finances in the last financial year in particular related to the programme presented. Secondly, he asked whether the SETA was able to track whether the students that completed the programme have been employed. It’s one thing to develop a skill and a programme but only to have students sitting at home without a job. It was important that the successes of the programme were outlined before the national roll-out happened.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) shared his sentiments on working together with the SETA and the Committee. He asked why the University did not explain the process of accreditation when the allegations surfaced. Secondly, he asked why the graduation ceremony for the students did not take place. He then asked for the percentage of senior management

The Chairperson asked whether there was a need to go to court to interdict the broadcasting of the programme on Checkpoint. The court action gave an impression that there was something to hide. The University lost the case and that inadvertently created a curious impression. From the information received by the Members, it seemed that there was nothing to hide. Perhaps, it might be the manner in which the University handled the matter.

He encouraged the University to engage with the media and provide these clarifications and explanations. If that was done, the Committee would not have invited the University and the SETA today.

He also encouraged the University delegation to work on its gender parity and academic profile. It seemed that there is aging academic staff. Young people should be trained to be lecturers and heads of departments.

Mr Mokgalong felt encourage by the remarks that the University should have used the media space adequately to address the matter. He said he was interviewed for an hour on television on the programme but it was not sensational enough for that to be widespread. After seeing the clips for advertising, the University engaged the media and provided information and letters from the CHE on the accreditation of the programme. That was when the University felt that it should approach the courts. All the information presented today was already provided in the media space but it was just not widely publicised.

The funeral parlours were identified by taking the major players in Polokwane due to the capacity to accommodate the learners. They were not paid anything as they were going to receive extra hands from the students.

The Registrar cleared that the programme was a pilot so that any challenges could be picked up at the pilot and addressed. On the challenges around short courses; the University have already identified the need for a short course structure unit that will deal with issues of structure in short courses.

On the certification processes, when running a short course programme, one must ensure that the Coordinator liaised with the Office of the Registrar. This was where the issue lied. That lack thereof led to the printing error which gave birth to the allegations that surfaced on the media.

The Coordinator was not withdrawn but he retired; he was jointly appointed by the University and the Department of Health. The Department will appoint a new Coordinator for the programme.

On the graduation, the University has already committed itself that these students would be called and the graduation ceremony would be held for them.

On transformation, the delegation noted the Members’ remarks on this matter. The new Chancellor appointed would come at the time to exploit transformation on women appointments on the management level. During the month of August, senior management was shadowed by women and youthful people.

The need to track graduate at the university – the programme came at the time when the university was busy undertaking that exercise with all other students as well. The tracking will also include students that became entrepreneurs.

Mr Mokgalong said that the staff composition was 53% and 47%, female and male, respectively.

Mr Nefolovhoure said that the reality was that some sectors of our economy had to be broken into to allow black people to be there. The University and the SETA have identified a space where people can enter and when they do, they are told that they did not have the right certificates or knowledge. The University would like to be supported on this because as the result of this programme; there will be people that will establish their own funeral parlours.

Mr Njabulo said that Members would recall earlier this year that there was a shutdown at the University and a memorandum with a number of issues was submitted. The Media only picked the student bar as a pertinent issue. It was actually the student body that encouraged the University to go to court to challenge the issue of the bogus programme. This issue could be taken lightly but learners who are now doing their matric were now uncertain whether they should apply to the University.

Mr Mokgalong said that there were no numbers available at the moment regarding senior management from the African diaspora. The University utilises them for the transfer of skills.

Mr Tshedza Matsebe, Chief Financial Officer: Service SETA said on the audit findings, in the previous year there were no issues raised regarding the 2017/18 programme. For the current year, the contract was selected for an auditing sample but as far as issues identified, he was not privy to that information at the moment.

Ms Buzo said that there were no students that raised problems in terms of non-payments, books and allowances. Our learners would always escalate issues starting at the provincial level and then straight to the Board and the SETA.

On the organogram, this was a pilot and the University and hence the Coordinator was from the University were relied upon. Normally the SETA has its own Coordinators and from the lessons from the pilot, one would need to look into working closely with the Department and University to ensure that monitoring was done.

On funding spent on each student, the majority of the course per learner, one used a balanced cost structure – the learner would cost R65 000 and this was suggested by the University. That amount included study material, allowances and student accommodation.

Ms Buzo said that the stakeholders were very active on the programme and there was an international benchmarking that was done.

On learner-tracer study, the university has already spoken about this. The study was done through the learner-tracer study to test how much of the learners were being absorbed and what they were being paid in terms of salaries to take this an influence on the FSP.

Ms Duduzile Luthuli, Board Member at Service SETA said that the serious issue of this being a pilot programme, it would not be perfect but sadly it has caused some reputational damage. Unfortunately, the problems on this one stemmed from three learners who went to the media instead of approaching the University.

The SETA realised that the project went extremely well and this being a pilot study it was difficult to identify the challenges except for the issue that came up on the media. The Seta has learnt from the pilot project and it is important that the money is followed through to the smallest detail. We have to allocate money and ensure that it was happy with the processes that the institution would employ in implementing the programme.

The SETAs and the universities’ function are to create employability not employment through the mandates. The funeral sector is a big sector that affects everyone in the country and this certificate is the very first of its kind. The Seta has also realised that there are no regulated or certified skills in that sector. It agreed with the sector to go ahead because other countries have these skills. The Seta believes that there will be absorption because the industry indicated that the skills should be formalised. The Seta also sat down with the industry and actually came up with the skill of embalming.

Ms Nolwandle Mantashe, Board Member from the Service SETA indicated that the industry was not well known. Therefore, it was important to ensure that it was widespread. For example, there are economic spin-offs with the Road Accident Fund. The country currently lack embalmers and people have to be contracted from other countries to do the embalming in the country.

Ms Buzo said that the eNCA would be interviewing her tomorrow on this issue.

The Acting Chairperson, Mr Letsie thanked the University and the SETA for the clarifications and input. The Committee supports the initiative and any initiative that seeks to empower South Africans, the Committee is going to support it. Perhaps, if this programme came from Wits or University of Cape Town, the reviews would have been positive.

He encouraged the University and the SETA to continue doing the good work.

Mr Keetse wanted to know why the Council of Higher Education distanced herself from the allegations on the bogus programme. It would be a fruitless expenditure to come to the Committee and not say anything.

Ms Mananiso said that the SETA should not hide behind the fact that the project was a pilot project and it is important that things were done right even on the pilot programme.

Mr Nodada said that he has raised several times before that there is nothing more painful and sad than obtaining a skill or qualification and not be able to get jobs. The main point about the tracking of these students is to ensure the monitoring and evaluation is done which would then inform the relevance of the programmes offered to students.

A Department Official said that the DHET has asked for a report on this matter. Short courses do not come at the NQF level but the discussion was the recognition of this qualification. A short course is not a qualification and you cannot represent something at an NQF level that is not at an NQF level.

The DHET has concerns about the media claims and the questions that were lingering but it will engage with the University and only afterwards will a statement be issued by the Department.

The Acting Chairperson said that the full complement of the Committee would deliberate further on the matter.

The meeting was adjourned.


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