Department of Higher Education and Training on issues raised during Annual Performance Plan: follow-up briefing

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

11 September 2019
Chairperson: Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo)
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Meeting Summary

The Department had a follow-up meeting with the Committee to respond to all the outstanding issues that had been raised during the last engagement on its 2019/20 Annual Performance Plan.

In its presentation, the Department stated:

-It has no influence over the salary that institutions pay and it is not consulted by council when the salary scales are being decided. Based on a study that the Department has conducted, some institutions still have aged academics in the system and other institutions of higher learning are still struggling with transformation

-It has 6 dedicated programmes to nurture emerging scholars and academics to make them eligible for appointment into senior positions at universities. There is a target of 80% of women across all the programmes. If universities do not meet this target, they cannot make appointments until they get a black or women candidate.

- It has established an international scholarships forum, to which all provincial governments and national departments have been invited to nominate representatives.

- It had very little challenges this year compared to other years in relation to students submitting complaints or protesting against NSFAS. The idea is to not have those situations at all and that the Department is working towards that.

- Funding that goes to universities is divided in two components: the first being Baseline Funding, where the universities get to decide what they are going to do with the money and have leeway to use the money for salaries. The second component is Earmarked Funding which means that it is funding that is earmarked for a specific purpose. Funding that is earmarked could be money for infrastructure, such as student residences, or laboratories or a lecture theatre. The money for earmarked funding, gets audited for that specific purpose and not in the same way as baseline funding, which is provided to the institution.

- The allocations to universities and TVET colleges, being based on student enrolment numbers is just one component. Further, the funding of a student at university being higher than that of a student at a TVET college, is another reason. The facilities required for these institutions differ because universities would need more facilities and therefore more funding would go there for facilities such as laboratories which TVET colleges would not necessarily have. The Department is increasing the capacity at TVET colleges in terms of the infrastructure, and also the number of students that get enrolled at the TVET colleges. The target is to have more students enrolled at TVET colleges than at the universities. The education and training system will be more effective for the economy than what it currently is if there are more students enrolled in the TVET colleges than those enrolled at the universities.

Members asked about transformation at higher learning institutions, corruption allegations against NSFAS, the role of TVET colleges, the certification backlog, the Department’s vacancy rate and disability policy, the quality of degrees offered, violence at higher learning institutions, international scholarships and the accreditation of courses.

Meeting report

Opening Remarks

The Chairperson explained that this meeting was a continuation of a previous meeting (held on 17 July). There were outstanding questions from the previous meeting that required more detail so as to provide clarity.

The Chairperson informed the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), that the Committee was made up of completely new members and because of this there are a lot of gaps in knowledge in terms of what the Department is doing. He hoped the Department would be patient enough to fill these gaps.

The Chairperson further asked that the Department avoid using acronyms during its address, as this has often led to understanding the discussion in a completely different context to what it actually means.

The Chairperson asked the Department, to thoroughly explain everything during the meeting and to take nothing for granted.

With that the Chairperson, handed over to the Department to brief the Committee on the questions that had previously been asked and thanked the Department for providing the information pack timeously.

Briefing by Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)

Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, DG, DHET, highlighted that the meeting was a follow up meeting, based on questions and comments that were previously put forward to the Department. He stated that the Department was honoured to have been given the opportunity to interact with the Members of Parliament (MP’s) as the leaders of this country. He then introduced his colleague and called on him to make the presentation.

Mr Mahlubi Mabizela, Chief Director: University Policy, DHET, began his presentation by thanking the Director General, for introducing him. He indicated that his presentation would focus on the questions that had been put forward by the MP’s in the previous meeting.

The first question was: On the development of academics, how do you, as the Department plan to ensure that you meet the market rates to retain staff in the universities? In response to this question Mr Mabizela, began by giving background information. All 26 universities have councils, and each employee of the university is employed by the council. The Council determines the salary scale of employees and because of this it may not be exactly the same as the 25 other universities.

Mr Mabizela said that the Department has no influence over the salary that institutions pay and it is not consulted by council when the salary scales are being decided. Based on a study that the Department has conducted, some institutions still have aged academics in the system and other institutions of higher learning are still struggling with transformation.

Based on the identified problems, the Department started the ‘Staffing South Africa's Universities Development Programme (SSAU-DP), which is made of 6 sub programmes.

The first sub programme was the New Generation of Academics Programme also known as nGAP. Under this programme a minimum of 100 posts are advertised per year, per university. Some universities would advertise 2 or 4 posts per faculty depending on their needs. Some universities top up these posts. It may happen that for every 10 posts that nGAP provides, a university can decide to fund a further 10 itself.

2019 is the 4th year that this programme is running and it is doing well. Under this programme academics are paid by the DHET for the first six years of employment, then from the seventh year, going forward the university should regularise the post and has the responsibility to make the post permanent and provide for the academic’s remuneration. The salary scale is based on what the university has decided and not the Department. This programme is designed to support the appointed lecturers to take Masters, Doctorate or post-doctorate studies depending on their entering qualification.

The appointed academics are put in a structured development programme that includes funds to register towards doctorate or post doctorate studies. A condition of this programme is that 80% of the appointments are required to be black and/or women. The point of this condition is to meet the targets of transformation at all institutions.

The second programme is the university staff doctoral programme, which is a programme that is meant to get those who are in the system their qualifications. This programme is different to the nGAP programme which is meant to get new and young academics into the system. Through this programme, staff within South African universities are encouraged to complete doctoral studies within a period of 4 years or less.

With this programme the Department will pay R500 000 for that staff member once they have registered for their PhD studies. Faculty Development Programme (FDP) scholars, should benefit from joint supervision from both South African and international universities. This will happen in 2 phases, the first phase being through the United States (US) and South African partnership and the second phase being through the United Kingdom (UK) and South African partnership. Again, 80% of the appointment candidates are required to be black and/or women.

The third programme was the Future Professors Programme. This programme was for academics employed at a university, who had a PhD, had been working as an academic at the university but had not acquired professorship either because the academic has been struggling to do research or has not been able to supervise PhD candidates, amongst other reasons.

This programme was meant to promote those academics into professorship, which will allow the candidate to do research and supervise PhD candidates. The structure of this programme is aimed at equipping the academics with the tools needed to make them eligible to become professors. There is no guarantee of professorship. What the Department does is to look for and identify potential candidates.

There will be 3 cohorts of 28 candidates, with the first cohort starting in 2019, with the next cohort in 2020 and so forth. He then outlined that the programme includes international mobility for six months, with a leading scholar in the field, as well as seminar and lecture attendance.

The meeting was then paused by the Chairperson, who requested that the aircon be turned off as the room was too cold. He said it felt like the meeting was taking place under a bridge.

When the meeting continued Mr Mabizela continued by saying that 80% of the candidates, once again, are required to be black and/or women. He emphasised the importance of meeting the 80% target, by universities. If universities do not meet this target, they cannot make appointments until they get a black or women candidate and that this target applied for all 6 programmes.

Mr Mabizela explained that the fourth programme was the Nurturing Emerging Scholars Programme which is to be implemented in 2020. The fifth programme was the Visiting Academics Staff Capacity Programme and the last and sixth programme, was the Higher Education Leadership and Management Programme. The nurturing of emerging scholars and visiting academics staff capacity programmes were already in place and that for the sixth programme, the DHET is working with the University of South Africa (UNISA) to train up and coming middle managers at universities and make them eligible for appointment into senior positions at the universities.

Mr Mabizela addressed question two: International scholarships co-ordination by the Department – is this the role given to the department to carry out across government?

Mr Mabizela said that during 2018, Cabinet approved that in relation to international bursaries and study opportunities, the Minister of DHET must develop a strategy to deal with youth co-ordination and management of opportunities and develop an information repository. Some scholarships are offered by those specific countries but some are sought by our government from external factors.

The Department has established an international scholarships forum, to which all provincial governments and national departments have been invited to nominate representatives.

The third question that Mr Mabizela responded to was: What is the status of guidelines for international scholarships?

The Department has developed draft national guides for the co-ordination and implementation of international scholarships. The final draft has been distributed to all representatives of the forum for further comment and it is intended to be submitted to the Minister for approval by the end of 2019.

The guidelines outline the priorities and purpose of international scholarships rules and responsibilities, lines of communication within government and the fundamental principles of implementation of international scholarship programmes. The guidelines aim to provide tools to plan and assess scholarship opportunities, to ensure that they add value or contribute to the countries development objectives and also strengthening South Africa’s government resources in allocating scholarships. On figuring out where the countries resources are lacking, the Department is mainly guided by the National Development Plan (NDP), because the NDP provides direction on where the country is lacking in terms of skill and therefore where the country can benefit when scholars are sent abroad.

The purpose of the guidelines is also to guide the government department in terms of where those skills are required. So that when the department negotiates for mobility of scholars, the department would target areas in which South Africa falls short.

Mr Mabizela then went on to highlight the challenges within the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). They seem to remain many in spite of the interventions by the Department. The fact that NSFAS continues to be under administration, is a concern and the approach adopted that allows students to get their funding directly into their accounts is worrisome. NSFAS primarily focused on undergraduate students and as a result what the Department and other government departments and provincial government would do, is try to assist at a postgraduate level and maybe assist scholars obtain a short certificate for training in a particular area of expertise. This would be the reason why some scholarships are not located within NSFAS.

The fourth question that Mr Mabizela replied to was a four prong question which asked: a) How does the Department monitor the use of money given directly to students to ensure that it is spent for the right purpose by students? b) How is the student throughput rate affected by this? c) Is there a plan in place to ensure that the NSFAS is efficient? d) Is the Department happy with the way NSFAS is operating currently?

Mr Mabizela said that there were significant improvements in NSFAS since it was placed under administration in August 2018, meaning that a year has now passed with NSFAS being under administration. Students are receiving allowances earlier in the academic year, meaning that when they register in February with the universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, they will receive their funds to assist them with the purchasing of books and the fulfilment of their living expense needs.

The Department had very little challenges this year compared to other years in relation to students submitting complaints or protesting against NSFAS. The idea is to not have those situations at all and that the Department is working towards that.

Mr Mabizela said that the responses in the presentation to question 4, were all work in progress. The Department cannot have a situation where it says it has arrived, because some of the questions asks if the Department follows the money to see if it makes an impact with the students and so that means that the Department needs to monitor that progressively.

He then reminded the Chairperson and Honourable Members, that last year was the first year of the implementation of what is called free education. So, 2019 is the second year meaning that it is still early to respond to some of the questions.

The fifth point on the presentation was not a question, but rather a comment, that was given to the Department which commended it for increasing the capacity of women in the education and academic space, as shown in the programmes that it had spoken about earlier on in the presentation.

Question six of the presentation asked: What is happening with fee-free education? Are we achieving this? how far are we/what is the plan and progress on the plan?

Mr Mabizela replied that the focus would be on universities, because at TVET colleges, the issues were a bit different already, even before the declaration of fee free education. He added that with TVET colleges, if a scholar qualifies for NSFAS, they would study for free.

Point seven was a comment yet again that: The Committee wants to follow the money to the beneficiaries (in respect to universities, TVET colleges and artisan development)

Mr Mabizela said that every June, universities submit audited statements. Adhering to the Chairperson’s request of not taking things for granted, he explained that funding that goes to universities is divided in two components: the first being Baseline Funding, where the universities get to decide what they are going to do with the money and have leeway to use the money for salaries. The second component is Earmarked Funding which means that it is funding that is earmarked for a specific purpose. Funding that is earmarked could be money for infrastructure, such as student residences, or laboratories or a lecture theatre. The money for earmarked funding, gets audited for that specific purpose and not in the same way as baseline funding, which is provided to the institution.

In the Department’s funding statement and even the CEO’s reports on funding to universities, there will always be those components: earmarked and baseline.

There is a detailed report on the evaluation study mentioned and the impact thereof.

Comment eight of the presentation, raised that: Lack of certification is a concern in TVET colleges. The Department to report on outstanding certificates, especially at exit levels.

Mr Mabizela, said that the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and the Department, work with the Skills Education Training Authorities (SETA) on the production of certificates for TVET colleges.

To give context on the backlog, he said that the production of certificates for the TVET colleges is an ongoing process every month. It is not like the National Senior Certificate (NSC), where learners would write exams at the end of the year and then the production of certificates happens for supplementary exams in March. With the TVET colleges, exams take place throughout the year.

The next point on the presentation, was a comment yet again stating that: The throughput rates are not good, especially at N4 level, consequently affecting the number of artisans that are produced.

Mr Mabizela, replied to this comment, over and above what was included in the presentation, by saying that, a student cannot complete an apprenticeship if they have not had workplace experience.

Point ten of the presentation which was a question: Student placement rates a) How does this happen? b) What are the placement rates? c) What is the role of student support services in placement of students?

Mr Mabizela said that with student placements and the difficulties colleges face to find placements for students, campuses in the rural areas, with no close by industry will struggle more than those located in urban areas, where one will find industry.

What followed in the presentation, was a comment that: The Committee is happy that the Department is increasing the development of artisans. The Department is expected to report on the production of artisans.

In addition to what was presented in the presentation, Mr Mabizela said that the Department can give details of how it performed at the World Skills Competition in Kazan, Russia later on.

Question 12 was what is the role of SETAs to take up community education initiatives – is this happening?

In his reply, Mr Mabizela explained what a CET college is. It stands for Community Education and Training. The SETAs named in the presentation are some of the SETAs involved in training CET college lecturers.

Mr Mabizela explained that the areas of funding support, which have been on governance and management training, training of lecturers, the provision of equipment and the possible use of skills centres constructed by SETAs, explains the involvement of SETAs in the training that takes place at CET colleges.

Comment 13 was brief and was simply a request that the department send the list of 54 community learning centres, the names of responsible person etc in order for oversight visits to be arranged.

Mr Mabizela said that the list had been sent to the Committee, and he hoped the Committee would confirm received it.

The 14th comment was that: CET Colleges must do Recognition of Prior Learning and retraining in the job (for example in mining communities).

Mr Mabizela replied to this comment by saying that he can give details of the requirements for the necessary capacity and systems to be put in place for recognition of prior learning and retraining. He also said that the response to this comment has been partly addressed under learning.

Question 15 was a) What is the vacancy rate? b) By when will vacant positions be filled?

To this question, Mr Mabizela responded that it is not just head office but that it is also the colleges because the Department is responsible for the employees at the college.

Comment 16 raised that there is a need to visit the Department to interact with the broader department as well.

Mr Mabizela said that the comment is noted and that a visit will be most welcome. If the Department is alerted in advance it can do the necessary preparations.

The comment under point 17 was that the Committee required an explanation to be provided why such a big portion of the budget is allocated to universities compared to TVET colleges.

Mr Mabizela said that the allocations to universities and TVET colleges, being based on student enrolment numbers is just one component. Further, the funding of a student at university being higher than that of a student at a TVET college, is another reason. He also added that the facilities required for these institutions differs because universities would need more facilities and therefore more funding would go there for facilities such as laboratories which TVET colleges would not necessarily have. The Department is increasing the capacity at TVET colleges in terms of the infrastructure, and also the number of students that get enrolled at the TVET colleges. The target is to have more students enrolled at TVET colleges than at the universities. The education and training system will be more effective for the economy than what it currently is if there are more students enrolled in the TVET colleges than those enrolled at the universities.

Comment 18, that was made by the Committee was that for future presentations and reports avoid using abbreviations. Members are still getting used to acronyms of the Department.

Mr Mabizela stated that this comment has been noted and that the Department will try its best to explain acronyms used.

The last comment made was that for future presentations and reports, when statistics are presented in percentages, actual figures should be provided.

To this comment, Mr Mabizela replied that the Department agreed with the suggestion and he referred to the current presentation, pointing out that very little percentages were used except where it was obvious that percentages needed to be used for example where the Department spoke about 80% of candidates being black and/or women. The use of the percentage was assuming that the Committee would understand what is meant, but that overall the Department had tried to use figures.

Mr Qonde stated that the presentation sufficiently covered the issues that the members of the Committee had raised for the attention of the Department. The engagements between the Department and the Committee will be on an ongoing basis.

The Chairperson thanked Mr Qonde for the presentation and the two documents he had received. He found this very useful because during the presentation he was able to follow what was being presented using the document. He also went on to thank the Department for breaking everything down, saying that when information is nicely packaged it becomes easier to understand and digest.

Discussion

The Chairperson said he wanted to understand what transformation meant, especially in relation to the skilling of academics. He wanted to know if it meant having black people or if it also dealt with the quality given to the people. The Chairperson believed that transformation should go beyond the colour coding and that quality should also be looked at.

The Chairperson asked if the degree qualification offered in South Africa is in line with the developing world standard. To show what he meant, he gave the example of a student studying at a university in Limpopo who moved to England or the US. He asked if a student who is doing their second year in a Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) qualification moves to England with his family, would that student be able to second year at the London School of Economics or any other international university? i.e.: would the student get accredited?

The Chairperson asked what the value of the education students are receiving is.

The Chairperson pointed out that South Africa has a past that cannot be ignored and because of this there are traditionally white universities like Wits and Stellenbosch, that still have issues such as registration at the beginning of each academic year which affect students at these institutions. He also said that other universities like the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and University of Cape Town (UCT), have white staff in terms of lecturers and students. Based on this, he asked what impact the 80% requirement will have on such universities. Does it mean that if there are fewer black bodies, these mentioned universities will not benefit?

He also asked how the Department would navigate this requirement without leaving anyone behind.

The Chairperson suggested that questions and comments from the Members be heard, which should be noted down by the team from the Department for further response and discussion.

The Chairperson noted that there are rumours of corruption in NSFAS making the rounds and said that even though he cannot specifically point out if there was a case of fraud being investigated, he is aware of the rumours. He asked the Department how true the allegations were and asked if they were true what the Department had done to follow up on these allegations and to recover any monies that were misused.

He observed that sometimes when questions are asked, the Department will respond by saying that it was an oversight on their part. He pointed out that the Department is subject to the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) and because of that the Department cannot have an oversight on its part. The committee would rather like to hear that the Department did not apply its mind.

The Chairperson said that a rumour should be dismissed as a rumour and that the Committee must be assured that there are no issues of corruption. If the Department is not sure, then it should say so and the Committee will investigate because the common goal is to help each other build the country. He said that the interest is in developing the country economically, academically, socially and to fight crime.

He said it is important to fight crime in universities, saying that if crime continues in universities, it raises the question of what kind of society is being built.

Ms M Gillion (ANC; WC) said that she had two questions based on the presentation. Her first question was based on question 12. Two weeks ago there was media report on the allegations against a services SETA, at the University of Limpopo. The Department must give the Committee a report about this because it is in the public eye. The allegations were that a Professor, his wife and daughter had reaped the benefits of the project at the University of Limpopo.

Ms Gillion said that the 80% target was a good concept but added that an outline was needed if the Department is going to talk about an 80% target and talk specifically about women. The country is in an era of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and patriarchy that must fall, especially in the Western Cape province. Bearing this in mind, she asked if the Department can give an assurance that women will not only be used to fill an 80% gap but also in senior management.

What is being experienced when it comes to the empowerment of women, is the ticking of a box, but when it comes to senior position women are still at the far end of the hierarchy. She also said that some departments talk about women, but then it becomes the promotion of white women. She asked how the Department was going to bring that all into the 80%.

Ms N Ndongeni (ANC; Eastern Cape) remarked that the Department’s responses to the questions and that they were somewhat understandable. However, she wanted to follow up on how the system works if a student is enrolled at a university in the Eastern Cape and goes to a university in Mpumalanga. She asked if the systems between these two universities talk to each other.

She then went on to give an example of how a student may do their first year in the Eastern Cape, then relocate to a TVET college in Mpumalanga. Based on this example she asked if the systems will talk to each other and if currently they don’t, were there are any plans to implement such a system?

Ms Ndongeni pointed out that it could also happen that one college can give a student a bursary and then the student fails and goes to Mpumalanga and in Mpumalanga the student is awarded another bursary. Such a case would not help the Department or the government and this is why she raised the question of whether the systems talk to each other.

Her second question was about SETAs. She was not sure about SETAs, who are supposed to help students. The example she gave is that there can be a situation where students are in the same class, but one will be paid R800 and another R200 from the pocket of an individual. She argued that it should not be like that.

Ms Ndongeni asked the Department for a time frame of how long it will take it to make sure TVET colleges are on the same level as universities, even if the time frame is not exact. She added that TVET colleges must be recognised in the same way.

Mr M Bara (DA; Gauteng) said that it was necessary to commend the Department for coming back with responses to the issues that the Committee had raised. He said the questions were captured accordingly.

Mr Bara noted in the recent past, there would be stampedes because students wanted to be accommodated in different institutions. As a result, one of the key things the Minister emphasized, in response to these stampedes was that youth should be given an opportunity to explore TVET colleges in order to lessen the burden on universities.

It was important for the Department to make TVET colleges sexier and attractive. He re-emphasized sexy, saying it is the language that the youth understands.

Mr Bara said that there has always been a conversation, and he drew on his own experience of being at Fort Hare to make this point, where a student from Wits would see him/herself better than a student from Fort Hare. At this point a student who goes to a TVET college is seen as inferior to someone who goes to a university. It then means that the Department must do something more drastic that will make sure that TVET colleges are attractive and seen as institutions that can assist and give more option to the youth when pursuing post school studies.

Secondly, Mr Bara addressed NSFAS, saying that he has come across students in certain retail stores who would approach patrons individually to ask whether they were paying cash or by card. If patrons say they are going to pay cash, students then offer to pay for the patrons’ goods with their own card in exchange for the cash. He had experienced this first hand, and that TUT students do this a lot around Pretoria. This meant that there are still some monitoring mechanisms that have to be used to tighten all the controls for money to be utilised for the purposes it was meant for. He acknowledged that it may be difficult to control but something must be done to contain the situation.

Mr Bara asked the Department how long NSFAS would remain under administration.

Mr Bara addressed the issue of the certification backlog. He noted that in the presentation there was mention of 15 000 as of 2018. It would be important for the Committee to understand how far the Department is from breaking the backlog to see if progress is being made or not. If the Committee is going to say that the level of TVET colleges should be elevated, the issue of certification should also form part of making TVET colleges attractive.

The next issue Mr Bara addressed was about the placement of students for practical training. The options being made available must be considered with regards to whether TVET colleges are being paired with certain disciplines. Some of the SETAs, like Merseta, should be considered to see if it cannot assist with engineering and also say how they can assist TVETs in trying to place students with employers who are part of their sector member network, so that at the end you have a fully-fledged artisan who has gone through both theory and workplace experience that is required for employment.

Mr Bara stated that it would be important to note in terms of the unemployed learners that are enrolled with the SETAs if they are making an impact so that those learners in their system are able to get jobs out of training they would have acquired. If the Department trains people for unemployment – so that they hold placards at intersections, it would mean that money that was used for such training was not giving the Department what they expected in the end given the high unemployment rate.

Mr Bara felt that the vacancy rate is high and that it limits capacity in terms of what one can do, because there is a vacancy and someone is acting and the person acting has his own responsibilities that he is otherwise employed for. There it becomes difficult to hold that person completely accountable because the Department has given extra responsibilities, over and above what that person was employed for, which means that the Department must look at how to expedite the filling of vacancies so that it can increase capacity and ensure that the overall objectives as a Department are somewhat met.

Mr Bara acknowledged the point made by the DG when he said that this was an ongoing process, which would involve engagement but also that MPs must play their oversight role and come up with prompt proposals with how to improve things for the betterment of our country.

Ms S Luthuli (EFF; KZN), said it is important to thank the Department for coming back to the Committee and that the information in the presentation was really helpful. She said that most of the points she was going to speak on were covered by Mr Bara and joked that he had taken an hour to deliver his points. She added that the Department needed to look at NSFAS closely, because the monitoring of the money is not clear.

Ms Luthuli confirmed that what Mr Bara said is happening with TUT students in Pretoria is also happening in Kwazulu-Natal (KZN). It is not just about how students ask for money from people doing their groceries, but also students go to liquor stores and buy expensive items. Students wait for the money to be in their accounts and once it is in they start spending it. She suggested that this could be the contributing reason as to why students would end up not having textbooks. Simply because money that is meant for something else is used on something else.

It worries the Committee that there is no close monitoring of this money, especially because previously NSFAS would pay money directly to students for books and accommodation but students were not able to touch that money and use it on something else. She suggested that the Department go back to the drawing board to figure out how they will pay this money to students.

Ms D Christians (DA; Northern Cape) thanked the Chairperson and assured that her input will be short and sweet. She would not repeat what her colleagues have said about book and accommodation allowances that are spent irregularly.

Ms Christians asked what the Department will do to monitor students pass rates and see to it that book allowances do not have a negative effect on student pass rates at the end of the year. Should the Department find that there has been a negative impact on student pass rates, what then will it do in the future, considering that book stores are being closed, jobs have been lost because students are no longer buying textbooks and to a large extent not paying for their accommodation?

Ms Christians said that the Deputy Minister, said in his reply that TVETs are still administering their own bursaries and it is only at universities, where the bursaries are being administered through NSFAS. She was concerned that, should TVET colleges find out, it will be an issue for the Department in the future, raising the possible demand that their textbook allowances be paid directly to them because at the moment the TVETs are giving students their textbooks in hand at the beginning of the year.

She went on to ask what the long term administrative programme for NSFAS was should the Department find that the trial that they are going through does not work. Is there a possibility of administrative duties will be returned to the universities in future?

Ms Christians referred the Deputy Minister’s remarks that the certification backlog is actually the colleges fault due to incorrect coding when the college registers the students. What was the Department doing to hold colleges accountable when they register students at the beginning of the year, to ensure that correct coding is done so that the students are not impacted by the incorrect coding?

The Chairperson commented that disabled people must be included in the Department’s programme and in the future when there is discussion about the allocation of bursaries and grants, it must be said how many of those will be given to people with disabilities. He added everyone is a candidate for disability at any time.

The Chairperson reiterated that going forward any stats that the Committee is given must include information on disability.

Ms Gillion informed the Committee that in Parow there is a TVET college and the accommodation provided for students is in a very unsafe place and not up to living standard. Even though this is the case the landlord is still getting his/her money every month. Students are being robbed in that area as soon as they step foot outside the accommodation, which is situated on the main road. In her view, the landlord was making money out of the Department, but not giving the necessary service to students.

She asked how the monitoring and evaluation is, especially when it comes to student accommodation, particularly at this moment in the Western Cape, when young women are not safe.

Ms Gillion addressed the matter of international scholarships. She noted the Department spoke about all provinces but questioned if the Western Cape was really part of those discussions. Students of the Western Cape are never included, not because they do not want to be included but because the Western Cape government does not want to share information and details. She asked the Department if the provincial government was now on board.

Mr Gillion referred to the rehabilitation programme in prisons and asked the Department to send a written report to the Committee on this. The Committee needed to into what rehabilitation programmes are available for inmates and how the Department is doing that.

Ms Gillion commented that the Department had not given the Committee a response on how it planned to fill the 1683 vacancies across the Department. She then requested that perhaps the Department send the Committee a written report.

The Chairperson then interjected and said that maybe some of the things will be discussed in the annual performance plan.

The Chairperson then gave the Department an opportunity to respond to both comments and questions from Members’.

An official from the Department explained that if a university wants to offer a particular programme it has to develop it and make an application to the Council on Higher Education (CHE) for it to offer that programme, then the CHE will do due diligence to assess whether the specific programme that this institution wants to offer meets the minimum requirements.

The DG said that for a programme to be accredited and offered at an institution of higher learning, there must be a certain number of Professors in the offering of that programme and a certain number of Associate Professors and a certain number of PhD candidates. This was just the surface of the requirements. Further components that are considered are the content of the programme that is offered, the relevance of the programme and its applicability. If the university complies with all the components, then it will be granted accreditation for the programme to be offered. On an ongoing basis the Department would monitor and evaluate whether these programmes at all institutions are still meeting the minimum requirements, for them to be offered in that institution.

Having a programme accredited means that it needs to be registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as a national qualification and also specify the NQF level at which it is offered. All requirements met including getting accredited and being registered on the SAQA database. The quality of programmes being offered in South African universities are of world standard. South African students are comparable internationally. A lot of South African universities, in term of international rankings, feature quite prominently but not in the same way.

The next matter the department official responded to, was on programme acknowledgement amongst institutions. Each institution has its own admission requirements meaning that if a student has studied at another institution and moves to register at another, normally no institution would allow a student to register at a third-year level for a three-year degree, simply because the institution has to maintain a certain status, that the degree is not transferrable. The student would have to start at a second-year level at the new institution.

What the Department has done, is to engage institutions with the view of aligning articulation. Articulation meant that if a student was studying physical science in one university at first year level, there should be a similarity between the offerings of that programme such that if the student decides to go to another institution it gets recognised.

Mr Qonde added that there are some institutions that work well in relation to articulation.

Responding to the same question with respect to TVET colleges, he said it is easier for them because the programmes they offer are determined at a national level and that students write a common exam, in many subjects from one exam centre. Articulation is expressed more at TVET colleges than at universities because universities have their own examination authorities whereas at TVET colleges there is only one examination authority.

The Department official stated that TVET colleges are allowed to develop some other programmes to respond to local or regional needs or the needs of a particular industry, because some industries would express that they need training in a particular programme. So in response to that need, a college is allowed the flexibility to improve the industry. The question on the quality of programmes offered and articulation is something that the Department has worked on and continues to work on to improve functionality.

The DG noted that there were several questions relating to NSFAS. The first response he gave is that NSFAS at the present moment is a receiving funding from the government to administer the disbursement of funds to eligible students to universities as well as TVET colleges. An eligible student, must come from a household where the combined family income is up to R300 000 per annum, and whose academic performance is up to standard. The student will be assessed and upon this NSFAS makes a determination as to whether the student is eligible or not for the bursary.

Upon satisfying themselves that a student is eligible, the student will be awarded the bursary with certain conditions. The student is required to sign a bursary agreement form and perform academically at a certain level.

The Department official further explained that in the administration there are various funding components that are taken into consideration. For instance, tuition, learning material, accommodation which is subsidised so that students are able to afford decent accommodation. Institutions do have their own accommodation and students live or rent from these institutions and other facilities that students rent themselves.

The DG said that what the Department did with universities, is to develop norms and standards that every accommodation that these students are leasing, should meet. How this works is that if it is private accommodation a university has to undertake due diligence and certify that the accommodation meets the minimum norms and standards as set by the DHET for students to use. This is applicable across the board.

In respect to TVET colleges, their design and location is different. TVET colleges are designed and constructed close to the communities that they serve and initially there was not that much consideration for student accommodation, but a few colleges did offer some student accommodation. It is only now that the Department is working on the accommodation matter because it has seen much demand for student accommodation even in TVET colleges. The Department is working on that at the present moment. There is some funding for infrastructure at TVET colleges which was not there before because it was only for universities.

Mr Qonde said that funding in the main is more for infrastructure refurbishment as well as equipping the current lecturing and workshop facilities. He noted that one of the things that members pointed out, is that the quality and credibility of programmes offered in TVET colleges are quite important in addressing the perception of society, because there are institutions that are regarded as having a higher status – universities. Research and studies that the Department conduct, show that in the country there is a need for graduates at an intermediate level, that is technicians, artisans and technologists because they are needed especially in the manufacturing sector of the economy.

There were quite a number of interventions that the Department had taken in that respect. The Department had identified trades that are needed by the economy. It worked with the National Skills Fund as well as the Sector Education and Training colleges to receive funds to build centres of specialization. These centres of specializations are an intervention that is bringing the industry to TVET colleges, to work on a curriculum or programme design that will actually be offered. A dual system of offering has also been tailor made that will allow a student to spend a certain period in theory at a college level and get to industry with work placement so that the student is able to relate the question of the theoretical aspect that was taught at the college with the practical one.

Mr Qonde said that this has allowed the Department to have a multitude of partnering’s with a number of other industries in those areas. There are also nine centres of excellence that are ICT related, that are working with CISCO at the present moment. What the Department is then talking about is more expansion of the intervention.

Another thing that needs to be dealt with is social perception on a continuous basis but over and above the TVET programme offering is as good as the student in that area of study and if they are able to get workplace placement. That will be achieved through partnerships that are structured between TVET colleges as well as industry.

The Department official said that it would assist if Honourable Members could assist especially in relation to colleges in rural areas, by having municipalities open up their workplaces, technical divisions and workshops for students from these colleges because these facilities are there and available. They may not be in abundance, but they are there.  He also spoke about including the surrounding farms for students who are doing agricultural programmes in the TVET colleges. In this instance, the work placement becomes a farm, so some farmers have actually come on board to open up their farms to help these students do their practical training and learning.

Addressing the question of corruption in respect to NSFAS, Mr Qonde said it is under administration at the moment and that the Minister has renewed the term of the Administrator to 21 August 2020. There is an investigation that is being undertaken and as a result of this the Department does not want to jump the gun.

There are allegations and rumours that there are areas where corruption is taking place and the Administrator is attending to those matters. The DG made it clear that the Department will get reports as soon as they become available.

Responding to the question of students exchanging money instead of buying the item they are supposed to buy, the Department said that NSFAS is working on mechanisms to curb that kind of practice and accountability of the manner they are distributing funds to students. He acknowledged that there may still be come weaknesses in that regard, but they are working on it.

On the certification backlog, Mr Qonde started by giving important background context. There is a TVET college centre that is running seven examination cycles per annum, whereas basic education only has two per annum. The number of subjects that are written in that particular year is around 900. The last time he checked, in basic education, there were about 58 subjects that were written in a particular year.

When students finish writing, their marks are certified by uMalusi and the quality assurer, to confirm that the marks can be issued because they meet the quality check. Then students are informed that they have passed. The processing of certificates is done through an IT system by SITA. The first batch of students who have passed without any hiccups, have their certificates printed normally without any problems.

The TVET college system is having issues with students whose marks need consolidation. Consolidation means that a student will write exams in their first year and pass four subjects and fail three, then as a result those failed subjects are carried over and by the time the student gets out of the system in five or six years’ time for a three year programme, the courses have been done as carry over courses, then the system is required to consolidate the courses into one subject. Even though the course has been done over a number of years, it must be consolidated.

The TVET college system is not able to consolidate and that is the problem. The Department is working on resolving that and there are processes in place. The other problem is when incorrect marks are submitted for a student or not submitted. The reason for that is because there is a component of internal assessment at a college level. Then the student goes to write an exam, but the internal assessment component is missing. The system is also struggling to consolidate that.

There are IT deficiencies that the Department is working on and the government is not making excuses but is putting measures in place and working with its counterparts in the communications sector as well as SITA to sort this out. What the Department has done is structure fortnight meetings to attend to all of these matters and the backlog has been reduced drastically as a result of these interventions.

The Services SETA in Limpopo had made presentations to the Portfolio Committee and he asked his colleague to elaborate on this because he was present at that meeting.

Mr Qonde admitted that there is corruption and this cannot be denied. The programmes that are offered by SETA, get accredited through the education quality assurance process that has been delegated to the Quality Council for Trade and Occupations (QCTO). Because QCTO is still in the formation stages and did not have the capacity to quality assure all these programmes that are offered in SETA.

A SETA, through its own quality assurance processes, would accredit the offering of a programme and then make funding available for that. That is their process. In respect to what happened and whether there are monies that were used corruptly, he said that the Department does not know as yet. There are processes trying to ascertain whether these monies were used corruptly by whomever. He asked his colleague to elaborate further on that because he was in a portfolio meeting dealing with this very issue the day before.

Mr Zukile Mvalo, Deputy Director General: Skills Development, DHET, responded that the best thing to do was to respond in writing regarding the matter, simply because there were presentations and it would be best to furnish the Committee with those details if that is in order.

A separate Department official replied to the question the Chairperson asked about transformation in terms of the numbers. At any given point in the system, there are 75% black students enrolled across the 26 universities and even at the historically white universities the majority of students are black.

Every day the Department approves certificates for students who want to study abroad because they need that endorsement meaning that the qualifications are recognised abroad.

He indicated that he would come back to Honourable Gillion on her question about whether Western Cape students are included for international scholarships as he was not sure.

On the assurance that 80% of women must move upwards, the Department official said that, that was what the Department is looking at as well. Members can monitor the feedback by comparing it with previous reports.

The Department said that it monitors the pass rate and that it will keep on reporting on it.

Ms Lulama Mbobo, DDG: Corporate Services, DHET, appreciated the concerns expressed by the Committee that the vacancy rate is high. The Department will present a plan to reduce the vacancy rate. One of the reasons why it is high is because the Department was advised by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) to move slowly in filling vacancies, because of the re- organisation of that Department that took place. She informed the Committee that there are three Deputy Director General (DDG) positions, where there are actors at the moment. The Department had completed processes and unfortunately there was a decision that in view of the re-organisation, there could be a lot of DDG’s and Deputy Directors’ (DD’s) that could be redundant, therefore the processes were halted.

Ms Mbobo said that the Minister had approved the ornogram around April, and that the Department had seen the list of vacancies and is now in the plan of filling those vacancies. She added that at the colleges, there are no classes without a lecturer. There is a lecturer who is appointed on contract in order to provide the service.

The Chairperson said that he saw on his whatsapp that there is a diploma being offered by the University of Limpopo for funeral parlours.

At this point everyone confirmed that it was true and he jokingly said that his whatsapp was telling the truth.

Ms Gillion remarked that wherever she goes women empowerment is always something she will bring up. She pointed out to the DG, that even from the Department, the delegates at the meeting were a majority of men and only 3 women. She therefore asked the DG if women were empowered.

The Chairperson reminded the Department that he was still waiting for an answer on the disability question. He then added that the Department had time to figure it out considering that the partnership between the Department and the Committee was going to be for the next 5 years. He noted that sometimes it will be difficult to give answers on a particular college, name and area because there is no one who comes from that area, who knows the college. If this is the case, the Committee can be furnished with a report. But where people comment on policy matters, the policy will say what it is about, which is fine, and the details will follow later.

Mr Qonde said that with respect to Northlink, they entered into a lease agreement with a service provider, but having realised this anomaly across the country, the TVET college branch is working on standardised norms for student accommodation and private accommodation. The matter is receiving its attention.

On women empowerment, the DG said that the Department is working on it. He pointed out that a gentleman at the meeting had been sent by a women manager, who is a DDG.

On the question of disabilities, Mr Qonde said that the Department has clear policies as well as funding for the entire system. The Department has made it a point that access to their facilities is taken care of and assistance for those students who need assistance, because of one form of disability or another.  The funding is quite substantial.

The Chairperson said that what is in the document regarding disabilities does not talk to what he has mentioned and so the impression it creates is that it can be one of those things that is mentioned in passing. He asked that it be shown and seen on paper for assurance and also that the Department needed to show how many people in top and middle management are people with disabilities.

The Chairperson said that his emphasis is on disabilities because women are talked about throughout the document but there is no mention of people with disabilities.

Ms Gillion recalled that last week, when they went to the memorial service of the university student, she was exposed to the devastation of students on campus and the way they feel unsafe. Based on this, she asked the Department to give a report on the relationship it has with the different departments, to give training to the students on self-defence. Some of the students just wanted pepper spray to protect themselves. If the Department has a plan on defence, it could send out a report.

Mr Qonde responded that it cannot be allowed.

The Chairperson suggested that maybe the Department should concern itself with matters of safety and not necessarily defence. There are people who are employed as security guards at universities but have criminal records including for rape and other violent crimes.  What was the Department’s safety plan for higher learning institutions because it is a national worry?

He added that it was not necessary for the Department to comment on the question immediately because the issue is linked to other departments. He then thanked everyone and in particular the DG and his team for the presentation. He then asked Members to remain to discuss the minutes.

The meeting was then adjourned.

 

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