Matters of current affairs with respect to TVET colleges: King Hintsa TVET college; Orbit TVET college & Westcol TVET college

Higher Education, Science and Technology

17 June 2020
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, 17 June 2020
Audio: Matters of current affairs with respect to TVET colleges: King Hintsa TVET college; Orbit TVET college & Westcol TVET college

Three Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, and the presidents of their Students’ Representative Councils (SRCs), briefed the Committee on their colleges’ issues involving governance, management and finance, and their readiness to save the 2020 academic year.

King Hintsa TVET College highlighted the struggles that the college was experiencing to save the 2020 academic year, especially in transforming its teaching and learning approach. Although efforts were geared towards eLearning, a lack of devices for the majority of students was a challenge. The SRC president said the college’s management and governance structures were not supportive towards the SRC and the students. There was lack of communication between staff and students, and the students felt that they were taken seriously only when they resorted to protests, riots or vandalism. The council often met without including the SRC, or gave them short notice of meetings.

Orbit TVET college highlighted concerns around governance, especially the internal relationship between the SRC and council. There had been unprecedented strikes by the students, to the extent that the Mankwe campus had been shut down for the entire first quarter of the 2020 academic year. A major concern of the SRC was that students at the Rustenberg and Brits campus did not have student residences, and some had to travel long distances to get to campus.

At Westcol TVET College, the main controversy was that the former principal had been suspended due to maladministration, misuse of state property, nepotism and embezzlement of college funds. However, the disciplinary hearings that were scheduled could not continue due to the lockdown, and the principal had been granted early retirement. The SRC president said there were many students who had not received their allowances since the start of the academic year; there were no student residences, which led to some students adopting desperate measures to secure accommodation; campus infrastructure was in a poor condition; there was a shortage of lecturers; and the SRC was seldom included in council meetings.

The Committee discussed conflict between the SRCs and the management of the colleges. Members said that vandalism was unjustifiable, but management should also have better communication with its students and assist the SRCs to do their work by including them in all council meetings. They were concerned that colleges were failing their students, as many had not received allowances and it was already midyear. The Committee was insistent that the investigation of the former principal who was accused of embezzlement should continue, despite the fact that he had been granted early retirement.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the three Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges who had been invited for an engagement with the Committee as part of its programme to engage directly with the stakeholders and entities within its portfolio, such as specific universities, TVET colleges, Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs).  The three TVET colleges would respond to a list of prepared questions that centred on government issues, management issues, financial issues, as well as the readiness of the specific colleges to save the 2020 academic year.

King Hintsa TVET College

Prof Zwelinzima Ndevu, Chairperson: King Hintsa TVET College, briefly spoke about the vision and mission; values; background and governance of the college.

Referring to governance issues, Prof Ndevu said that King Hinsta had very good relationships with council members, and there were always full quorums at the meetings. Some of the governance challenges involved engagement between internal stakeholders -- for example, with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) that had introduced issues of instability to the institution. Another challenge was the feeling of being in a critical position, as there was a needed to try to ensure that the college operated optimally in spite of the challenges. The lack of infrastructure was an additional challenge, as it limited the governance of the college.

Ms Noluthando Balfour, Principal: King Hintsa TVET College, continued with the presentation and covered the sections dealing with management, financial management and saving the 2020 academic year.

She said the college had formed a Covid-19 committee to deal with its state of readiness to save the 2020 academic year. King Hintsa was a rural college and was not ready for eLearning, so during the Covid-19 pandemic the college had formed an eLearning committee that had been mandated to transform the present teaching and learning approach into eLearning through educational technology.

Some of the major challenges experienced by the college were:

  • No data and network for some of the staff members and students.
  • Negative influences amongst students’ political structures within campuses.
  • Devices for students remained a major challenge, as the college could not afford to buy devices for the majority of students, who were not NSFAS beneficiaries.
  • The colleges were situated in drought-stricken areas, which was a financial challenge to provide water to all campuses. Internet connectivity was also a major challenge.
  • Limited college residence to accommodate students.
  • Critical posts remained vacant.

Mr Ndyebo Ngcacu, President: Students’ Representative Council (SRC), King Hintsa TVET College, raised the following concerns:

  • The college’s council did not provided adequate support to the SRC. There was a lack of communication with the SRC and other students until the students started with riots or property vandalisation.
  • The principal had visited only once to ensure that all the safety procedures were met at all the institutions and residential dwellings for students. Students claimed that she was always out of town when they tried to contact her regarding their problems, and never dealt with the issues when she returned to office.
  • The deputy principals were not as helpful as expected by students at all five campuses.
  • The induction of the new SRC members had not yet taken place.
  • The chief financial officer was always unavailable for updates regarding NSFAS issues, when needed by students. Campuses did not have a bursary office to appeal to, or consult on their financial aid matters.
  • Other campus committees and council members meet without informing the SRC or send invitations to meetings at short notice.

 

Orbit TVET College

Dr Kgaogelo Moloantoa, Chairperson, Orbit TVET College, spoke about the status of the council, the regularity of meetings, and concerns around governance.

He said concerns around governance that the Committee should know about included:

  • Managing stakeholder relationships, with particular reference to the unprecedented strikes by members of the SRC, was a major challenge to the council and subsequently to the governance of the college.
  • A notable challenge was observed when one of the campuses (Mankwe) was shut down for the entire first quarter of the 2020 academic year.
  • The major issues of contention were the re-convening of the SRC lekgotla, which collapsed earlier in the previous year, and the academic exclusion of a student who happened to be the SRC President. The matter was receiving attention, and the council was doing all it could to improve the internal relationships between the parties involved

Mr Dika Mokoena, Principal: Orbit TVET College, spoke about the status of senior management; the interface between management, students and labour; student enrollments; the status of college administration; its financial management capacity and competencies; the audit improvement plan; and a summary on maintenance and infrastructure funds utilisation.

(See attached presentation)

Mr Calvin Phala, Acting SRC President: Orbit TVET College, said that since the college had migrated from paying allowances of students directly to their bank accounts, to paying via the NSFAS Wallet, students who were approved by NSFAS had been receiving their allowances monthly. However, there had been some inconsistencies whereby students would receive a rental allowance instead of a travel allowance, and students have been struggling with withdrawing or cashing their vouchers at some of the retailers.

The college had resolved that students should be provided with laptops to help them study when they were at home. An eLearning implementation plan had been submitted by the eLearning task team to the academic board, and they were awaiting the college council for approval.

On student accommodation, the Rustenberg and Brits campus was still without accommodation, and there were students who had to travel as far as 30-40km to their respective campuses. Some had to wake up at dawn to catch early public transport, and arrived at campuses tired and struggled to concentrate fully in class. Only the Mankwe campus had a student residence, which needed a lot of maintenance. 

Westcol TVET College

Mr Tebogo Mmotla, Chairperson: Westcol TVET College, spoke about the governance; regularity of meetings; concerns around governance; interface governance and management; and investigations against council.

(See attached presentation.)

Dr Abe Mashele, Acting Principal: Westcol TVET College, said that he was now the acting principal because the previous principal had been suspended. He covered the sections about management; the interface between management, labour and students; the SRC; student enrollments; the status of college administration; investigations; financial management; audit outcomes; a NSFAS summary; and saving the academic year.

He referred to the investigation into maladministration, misuse of state property, nepotism and embezzlement of college funds by the previous principal, and said the disciplinary hearing had been scheduled for 25 March, but because of the lockdown it could not be continued. The principal had applied for an early retirement, which had been approved with effect from 30 April.

Mr Kgakgamatso Chidi, SRC President: Westcol TVET College, raised a number of concerns. He said the payments facilitated through the college financial offices had been late, and currently there were between 900 to 1 000 students who had not received any allowance since the beginning of the 2020 academic year. There was also misinformation regarding payments of Gauteng City Region Academy (GCRA) bursaries and what expenses they cover.

Westcol did not have any student residences or accommodation. This was very challenging, as students were resorting to private accommodation, and those not receiving NSFAS allowances ended up on the streets, and sometimes they slept with the landlords in favour of having accommodation. The infrastructure of the buildings on some campuses was very bad -- the buildings had cracks, the roofs were damaged, and there was water leakage when it rained.

Referring to the shortage of lecturers, he said it was of the opinion by the SRC that the college was treated as a privilege instead of a right, because students were only now registered to attend certain modules, and other modules were left without attention as there were no lecturers to teach the students. 

eLearning had not been implemented at Westcol college. It had issued a link to which learning material was supposed to be posted, but the link was not effective for all students, and it had also been an exclusion to those students who did not have gadgets. At times the link worked, and at other times it did not work. It was also a struggle to download question papers.

There had been delays in the issuing of certificates when students completed their studies, where they would have to wait two to three years to receive their qualification. This had a negative impact on students, as they needed to provide evidence that they had obtained a qualification form Westcol TVET College.

The SRC had been undermined when the College management did not consult it on admissions. It was also not represented on some of the committees. There had been some council meetings where the SRC had not even received a notice of invitation.

On student health, there was a lack of general workers, and not many cleaners. The college property was not properly cleaned.  

He said students in the TVET sector were treated as step-children of the country. The Department had not put in an effort to resolve the issues and challenges of the students. Since the Department and the Portfolio Committee had reached out, they were hopeful that their concerns would be heard.

Discussion

Mr W Letsie (ANC) commented that earlier this year it had been reported that about R1.6 billion of infrastructure grants that had been returned to Treasury from TVET colleges because they had not been used. The Committee ought to speak to the Department, because there was not sufficient support given to the TVET colleges to transform themselves at various levels. When the Department had the capacity to assist the TVET colleges financially, especially with information and communications technology (ICT) systems, it would assist them to do their work. He had visited a number of TVET colleges, including Westcol, where indeed there was no TVET-owned student accommodation.

He had a concern about Westcol College regarding the investigation of the former principal, who had been accused of very serious allegations, and who had been granted an early retirement. He requested the Department to inform the Committee of what their plans were to resolve the investigations, because someone could not be accused of such a serious crime and allowed to retire to fill other vacancies.

The Minister had previously mentioned that the culture of teaching and learning at the King Hintsa College had collapsed, due to numerous inefficiencies. The Department should inform the Committee on what it was doing about this.

Westcol had mentioned that they had about four acting campus managers, and several acting senior managers. How were they able to function? Why had these senior posts not been filled in time?

With regard to the colleges which were paying their students’ allowances directly, how far behind were they in paying the allowances? Some of those students lived off of those allowances. There could not be a problem of unfunded students, and students who did not even know if they or funded or not, when it was already midyear.

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) questioned why any of the colleges had been invited to present to the Committee, because it seemed as if everything was quite fine when listening to the presentations. A part of the analysis of King Hintsa was that there had been a collapse in the culture of learning, but no one had presented on what this actually meant. What did it mean if there was a collapse in the culture of learning?

Orbit TVET college should be congratulated on the high number of enrolments it had received. It said something positive about the culture of learning in those communities. However, the analysis also said that Orbit had dilapidated facilities, so would the college be able to deal with this over-enrolment in light of the social distancing requirements?

Did the early retirement allowed to the former Westcol principal perhaps exclude any measures being taken against him?

Prof B Bozzoli (DA) said she did not completely agree with Dr Boshoff, as the three TVET colleges should have not come to the Committee because they had quite serious issues, and were only at the beginning of solving them. All three colleges had new councils in place which were only beginning to grapple with the problems, many of which had to do with infrastructure, the learning culture and internal instability. They should be invited back in a year to report back on whether the various issues they had been appointed to solve, had actually been solved.

The student presentations had been very worrying. The King Hinsta presentation by the SRC was really bad, as it questioned what was happening to the student admissions when the SRC President was almost illiterate, and gave a very poor presentation. It seemed as though there was a very poor student experience at the college, especially when students got attention only when they rioted. Perhaps the new board, which sounded quite efficient, would be able to remedy that issue and bring the students on board.

Orbit College seemed to have a good council, but again the students were not happy. The campus had been closed for three months this year, not due to Covid-19, but due to student riots, which was unacceptable. It was interesting that both the SRC presidents of Orbit and King Hintsa seemed more interested in whether they would have the lekgotla -- they had not said anything about whether or not they had learnt anything in their classes. Students needed to be directed as to what was important in education, which was education.

Prof Bozzoli requested that the Department reassure the Committee that the principal who had been accused of serious allegations would be subject to further investigation, despite his early retirement. There should be criminal charges, as it would be immoral for the college not to continue with the investigation.

Only Orbit College had commented on the quality of teaching and learning, and the Committee did not know about the effect of these upheavals at the senior level. What was the effect on the quality of teaching and learning? Were the students actually able to get jobs with what they were learning? The Committee needed a sense of the quality of teaching and learning at these colleges.

The Chairperson raised a point of correction to Prof Bozzoli, saying that the Committee needed to be courteous to those who were invited and who presented themselves to the committee. Using language such as “illiterate” was not standard decorum for the committee. To call the SRC President “illiterate” was taking it too far.

Prof Bozzoli accepted the point of correction, and withdrew her statement.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) questioned which vacancies were still not filled at King Hintsa College. Why was the SRC not supported by the council? Why were the principal and deputy principals not in office? Why had there not been an induction of the SRC? Why was the SRC given short notice of meetings?

The principal of the Orbit College had been appointed in May 2018, so why did he start his duty only in July? Were there any plans for those students who travelled 30-40km to class?

Why had eLearning not been implemented at Westcol College? Why was there a lack of general workers?

Mr B Nodada (DA) asked what mechanism was used to distribute allowances at all of the colleges -- was it the NSFAS Wallet, or were all funds directly dispersed to students by the college? How many students had not yet received their funds? Why was that the case, and what plans were there to ensure that this issue was mitigated? Colleges that paid students directly were failing to do so -- what plans did these colleges have to move over to the NSFAS Wallet?

There should be oversight to see if the senior management were qualified to do the work that they did, because the financial management of King Hintsa had been dismal. The persons appointed to senior management positions needed to be scrutinised more closely.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, everyone was basically forced to go digital, so what plans were there to ensure ICT infrastructure improvements at these colleges? Was there easy access to data or the internet to move the curriculum forward?

Had the turnaround strategy given to King Hintsa College by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) been implemented, and what progress had been made? Regarding the qualified audits, what consequent management had been put in place to ensure that the mistakes of the past did not continue?

At Orbit college there had been issues of dilapidated infrastructure, academic exclusions and the non-payment of students. How were all of these issues being addressed at this point? 

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) referred to the lack of organisational behaviour at King Hintsa College, especially with reference to the SRC President stating that if they were not heard, they resorted to vandalism. There was a lack of a proper relationship between the SRC and management. How were the SRC members prepared to deal with the new normal?

She requested that all colleges report back on the demographics of their council compositions in terms of gender, race and disability.

Westcol College had a burden of dealing with infrastructure. Were there plans to build residences within the facilities? The lack of residences and accommodation could not be a yearly concern.

Mr P Keetse (EFF) said that was important for NSAFAS to be present when dealing with issues of finance, especially when they involved students’ allowances not being paid, NSFAS might be able to assist the Committee in deliberating on such issues.

With regard to the King Hintsa SRC President, the way he had projected his presentation represented the status of the colleges across the country, and was a reflection of the syllabus of TVET colleges that they were eager to transform.

Given the Covid-19 crisis, it was known that almost all of the TVET campuses across the country did not have the capacity to deal with pandemic. What had the colleges been doing with their infrastructure grants that were provided by the government?

The Chairperson commented that there did not seem to be serious concerns about the colleges. The concerns that had been highlighted by the Department seemed to have been attended to by the new councils, both at King Hintsa and Westcol colleges. There did not seem to be many problems at Orbit College, except for the need to improve the relationship between students and management. The expenditures on infrastructure seemed too low to meet the targets that the colleges had set for themselves. Overall, it seemed as if things were going well.

In response to Dr Boshoff, he said it was the Committee’s responsibility to probe. Sometimes it seemed as if things were all right, but when one began to ask questions was when one picked up on issues. It was therefore important to continue engaging with entities, even if there seemed to be no problems. By the end of the term, the Committee should ideally have engaged with each and every TVET college, university, SETA and entity within the portfolio.

Commenting on what had been said by the King Hintsa SRC president, that the students needed to resort to vandalism to be taken seriously, there was no justification for the destruction of property, because the colleges’ property belonged to generations to come. If there was a need to be taken seriously, other means should be taken, other than destroying property, or else justice must prevail.

The main issue raised was the issue of the former principal of Westcol College. The Department should provide the Committee with a detailed report as to how the investigations or disciplinary hearings were being continued.

The comments from the SRC stating that they were not invited to meetings by council were worrisome -- the SRC should always be included in those meetings.

It was not clear whether or not the financial reporting or management was in order, which was probably due to the limitations of time. It would have been interesting to see how the colleges were dealing with their finances. He requested that the colleges provide detail of the financial management, in addition to the status of the audit outcomes and detailed action plans.

Due to the lack of time, the Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG) would be asked to make quick comments, followed by detailed responses from the three colleges. The Committee would look at its programme to determine if it could set an hour to invite the colleges back to respond to the questions raised by the Members.

Response

Ms Aruna Singh, Acting Deputy Director General (DDG): TVET, DHET, said that there were two issues for the Department to respond to, and both related to Westcol college. Firstly, the gaps in appointments at the middle management level was being attended to, and was not unique to Westcol college, as there was a backlog in expediting appointments at the middle management level. To fill all of those appointments expeditiously across all campuses was not easy, and the onslaught of Covid-19 had not helped. It was agreed that the delay was impacting all of the colleges, and needed to be resolved urgently.

Secondly, with regard to the issue of the former principal of Westcol college, the case had been left with the Department’s legal services to advise on what the immediate next steps would be. In the meantime the principal had decided to take early retirement when the offer had come from government. He had been short of the retirement age, but it was a prerogative that he had exercised. However, that did not mean that he would be exonerated -- the legal issue would be resumed.

Chairperson’s closing remarks

The Chairperson said that all of the questions raised by the Committee should be noted by the colleges and the Department. The Committee would schedule a date to invite the three TVET colleges to respond formally.

Commenting on the SRC of the King Hintsa College, he advised that the management and leadership of the council had to take steps to capacitate the SRC and take them through the necessary training so that they were able to fulfil their responsibilities as the leadership of the students. They had been elected by the students, so the council should make the conditions possible for the SRC to execute their tasks -- they needed to be given sufficient capacity to do their work of representing the students.

The meeting was adjourned

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