The Department of Higher Education and Training briefed the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture during which it presented its 2018/19 Annual Report for the financial year ending 31 March 2019. In its presentation, the Department reported on the its Strategic Overview and its programmes.
Under Programme 3 (University Education) the briefing focused on the University System Performance and reasons for the underperformance. Programme 4 responsible for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) explained the progress on the construction of the nine TVET college campuses; it covered performance on institutional support; performance on TVET examinations; and reasons for underperformance on TVET system targets.
Other programmes and projects covered explained the Department’s performance in terms of Skills Development (Programme 5); Planning, Policy and Strategy (Programme 2); and Administration (Programme 1).
The Department’s 2018/19 Annual Report also covered a report from the Accounting Officer; the Report of the Auditor General; and:
-Financial Statements (Appropriation Statement)
-Financial Statements (Irregular expenditure)
-Action plan to improve audit findings
Members were particularly interested in the participation of disabled people and women within TVET colleges. The Chairperson requested that the Department make recommendations on what is to be done in order to ensure the participation of these people.
A matter that was strongly highlighted was the potential risk of excluding some students with the new National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) administrative system that has been put in place. The Department tried to reassure the Committee that this would not happen.
The issue of irregular expenditure and corruption was frequently discussed, along with the consequence management practises to be put in place by the Department. The Department acknowledged that it is rather massive problem and investigations and corrective measures had been put in place.
Presentation by the Department of Higher Education and training on its 2018/19 Annual Report
Mr G Qonde, DHET Director-General, gave a briefing to a joint meeting of the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture. He presented the Annual Report for the financial year ending 31 March 2019. Under which he explained the core objectives that the Department had committed its Annual Performance Plan to achieve, namely:
-Facilitate implementation of the steering mechanisms that the Department has been developing over the five-year Strategic Plan period
-Undertake various interventions to address the challenges of the PSET system
The report reflected the work of the Department on its oversight of programme implementation during the 2108/19 financial year which a focus on:
-The utilisation of funds at an institutional level, identifying the challenges and areas that need improvement and/or intervention
-Teaching and learning support
-Infrastructure development and maintenance
Furthermore, the report raised some important points on the university system performance. Of the 16 targets, only 8 (50%) had been achieved. Success rates at universities were 1% short of the 78% target, like the higher education undergraduate success rate of 82% as opposed to the target of 83% percent.
Mr Qonde explained the reasons for underperformance. He alluded that the reason for underperformance in students in the foundation programme was that the Vaal University of Technology failed to meet the conditions set for their foundation programmes and therefor, their enrolments had to be excluded, resulting in a lower number than expected.
The report revealed that there were challenges within performance on institutional support. These challenges were:
-TVET data system compatibility between TVETMIS and institutions which impacts on the collection, generation and provision of quality and reliable data through directives
-Various sources of performance data, need for a single framework/model
-Measurement of College Council performance
Mr Qonde explained the purpose Programme 5 – Skills Development. The intention behind this programme is that it promotes and monitors the National Skills Development Strategy, i.e. develop a skills development policy and regulatory framework for an effective skills development.
The Chairperson asked about the participation of people with disabilities. That was not shown in the presentation. He also expressed his concerns about the number of women participating; the numbers do not sound good. He asked what the Department intends to do to ensure that they get closer to their target.
Ms D Christians (DA: Northern Cape) asked about the irregular expenditure. It is extremely concerning that there is that much irregular expenditure. What are the disciplinary measures and mechanisms that the Department intends to put in place? Furthermore, she asked what the Department has done in order to track that irregular expenditure.
On the issue NSFAS, even though they have improved their mechanisms, there is still a concern that NSFAS cannot verify the student credentials accurately when they apply for bursaries. It seems that NSFAS is not correctly capacitated to verify student credentials. It is also concerning that the target for students to get bursaries at TVET colleges was 400 000 and only 239 000 students received bursaries. The concern is that there are students missing out on bursary opportunities because NSFAS does not have the appropriate mechanisms in place.
She asked whether NSFAS was adequately capacitated to see to it that all our students are vetted properly to receive their bursary and if it is not does the Department intend on giving the administrative processes to the various higher education institutions.
She asked why there are still acting DDGs in the Department and when exactly that will be rectified. She was interested to know when universities are having TVET training currently. She commended the Department on the building of new infrastructure and was curious to know when the infrastructure will be completed. Considering the gender-based violence that the country has been going through, she asked what plans the Department had in order to keep students safe. Lastly, she would like to know about placement of NCV certified students in contrast to the N1 as to which are the most popular in the industry.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC; Eastern Cape) said things seem “dark” right now but the more one goes into it, the more “light” is seen. This is not to say the report is not appreciated but as one continues working, once will get it right. Turning to the AG’s report, she asked if the Department could provide clarity on targets not achieved.
Mr M Bara (DA; Gauteng) asked how the money is tracked in terms of holding people accountable. If the Department sets certain targets and they are not met, there is the question of how the money was spent.
He further questioned whether the new administrative system that NSFAS has put in place does not disadvantage other students. While it is efficient, it important to check that it does not disadvantage other students.
He would like to know what the consequence management steps taken in situations where we that SETA is not keeping up with government standards.
Furthermore, he would like to know how CET (Community Education and Training Colleges) came to have all of those irregularities. Whenever issues of “fraud’ and “corrupt activities” come up, it takes away from a genuine project that the government is embarking on. It is quite a massive project and it can potentially change many people’s lives for the better and in a massive way. He asked what measures can be put in place in order to ensure that this does not happen again.
The Chairperson enquired from Mr Qonde about the issue of Umzimkhulu. He asked what it is that they want and where their concern was.
Mr Qonde responded by explaining that the plan to roll out construction is also indicating the target date for completion. The employment statistics, at a construction phase, there must be a serious consideration of employment of women. However, the only restriction comes from the job availability in construction for women. He believes that it is only in that regard where the gap has not been bridged.
NSFAS worked out a system which centralised their administrative model, which required that all students to apply directly to NSFAS. There are two areas that are crucial in the administrative offices;
-The determination of eligibility at the entry point
-The determination of eligibility in respect to progression
The higher the number of students who fail to progress, the lower the number of that will be eligible for NSFAS funding.
He commended NSFAS for ensuring that taxpayer’s money is spent well, and that they are only funding students who are deserving.
They hold institutions accountable with respect to meeting the target as they are funded by the Department. Through reporting, they can evaluate the reports and decide whether they need to give support to an institution.
Ms Lulama Mbobo, Deputy Director-General: Corporate Services, DHET, noted that for quite a while the Department did not have an organisational structure that was agreed on by the Minister and that limited their abilities. The structure was approved in April, this year, and they are currently working on a consolidated recruitment plan that looks at the entire system. They are looking at an establishment of about 29 000 and about 1 000 vacancies have already been identified. They are now in the process of developing a recruitment plan and are also looking to monitor progress.
Secondly, the Minister has approved that they implement the delegation of authorities to college principals fully. What had been happening was that a principal would receive a certain delegation, and in some instances run the process on their own but would submit the paperwork to the Department to process the appointments. Moving on, what they have decided to do now is to give principals full access to appointment processes so that the head office does not process those appointments and they rather happen at the college level. Furthermore, they have adopted an automated system in the Department for processing submissions.
Lastly, when it comes to the issue overpayments of employees, there are two reasons for that:
-In CET it is the late termination of employees who have left the CET. What often happens is that although they have left, there is a late submission of the relevant documentation to the Department to notify the Department of the termination.
-As the CFO has reported, it is pure fraud. Officers would collude and make certain payments for the recognition of false qualifications. There was an investigation put in place which revealed the true nature of the fraud. It was also revealed that most of these fraudulent activities were in the North West CET Colleges
Ms Aruna Singh, Acting Deputy Director-General, DHET, responded to a question posed by Ms Christians regarding the NCV certification and N1 qualifications. The NCV has now been offered for 12 years. Initially, the NCV had not been suitable for the workplace and even for artisan training. However, in recent years there has been significantly improved placement of NCV students. It is important to note that it differs on the location of the colleges and the programmes that they deliver. NCV students seem to do better, there are better opportunities for them in the more urban areas and with the nature of the employment that is available in those areas. It has been noted that N1 to N3 particularly related to artisan development are less favoured now. It is seen to be inadequate in sufficiently preparing students for take up of the artisan programmes. The baseline for artisan training now, has been significantly elevated.
With regards to NSFAS, the fears that the Members have that students could be excluded because of the more rigorous application of the requirements, she explained that there is no need to have those fears. All the student included in those numbers have been deserving students.
What has been noticed in the public domains is that the problem is the allowances. Some colleges have not provided NSFAS with the full set of registration for students to be covered.
Ms T Lewin, Chief Director, DHET, reassured the Committee that students will, in fact, not be excluded.
In terms of the security issue, there has been Committee put in place that is looking at the university sector. It is particularly doing an analysis of all the policies that is terms of the sexual harassment and gender-based violence issue. There was a recent engagement between the Minister and Vice Chancellor, and they are working very closely with the universities to identify urgent issues on every university campus that can be addressed right now. They are looking at things that universities are planning in terms of security – be it infrastructure related or even access control related. They have started a process to obtain that information from universities now so that, if possible, they can identify unspent funds within the infrastructure that can be allocated to the universities to deal with those emergencies.
There is some training going on for campus protection. There has been a catalyst for some of the matters that have happened recently, and they are trying to address both the urgent and long-term issues.
Mr Tredoux addressed the issue of irregular spending. He emphasised that the issue was not around senior executives and management, but rather that staff simply utilise the services of a certain provider and the only time that they become aware of it when they receive an invoice from the provider. It is a matter where officials do not follow procurement procedure. Fortunately, because of the internal control measures that they have implemented, they can identify those cases before the payments were made. They make sure that the service was in fact provided. Therefore, consequence management is taking place.
The Chairperson thanked the delegation for their presentation.
The meeting adjourned.
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