In a virtual meeting, the Committee was briefed on the progress made in the implementation of the undertakings made by the Minister of Higher education and Training in the National Council of Provinces on 29 May 2018. Members were informed that the undertakings included plans to develop and implement programs that would provide skills and empowerment to the youth; to increase investment in skills development programs at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges; to address capacity development at universities; and the implementation of the new higher education and training bursary scheme.
The Minister informed Members that the University Staff Capacity Development Program (UCDP) was implemented to help develop university staff and support the development of new talented academics to contribute to a transformed demographic profile at universities. The Committee heard that a report commissioned on circumstances inhibiting the development of black and women South African academics in SA universities would be released to the public soon and later be presented to Cabinet for adoption.
Members were very pleased to hear that the Minister took every opportunity to encourage employers to support the workplace training of the youth. Members felt that the historically disadvantaged were not rising to be in the mainstream of universities and this was where empowerment had to start. They asked ‘What was the Department doing to improve this situation’? Members asked what undertakings and finances were set aside to update the curriculum of TVET colleges as some of the curricula were outdated. Members expressed concern on the lack of placement offices to assist students with placement. Members asked how much of the R1 billion set aside as grant allocations went to TVET colleges; if the Department had any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with employers to ensure that absorption was sustained; which provinces benefited from the 26 campuses with Centres of Specialisation; what was the Department doing to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on apprentice students; and what plans the Department had to recover the skills development levy monies lost because of the skills development levy holiday so that the Department’s program would be minimally affected. Members requested a breakdown of the number of artisan placements for KZN province.
The Committee was briefed on a petition from a group of learners who claimed they had not completed their learnership with EOH, and had not received their certificates. The Committee asked what had prohibited the group from completing the course; when did the course start; for how long did they do the course; what stopped it and why were they not able to finish the course so that they could get their certificates. The Petitioner was informed that officials from the Department would communicate with him as soon as the Committee had completed its deliberations.
Briefing on the Executive undertakings by the Minister
Minister Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, Science and Technology, briefed the Committee on progress made on the implementation of his undertakings in the National Council of Provinces on 29 May 2018.
The undertakings included plans to develop and implement programs to provide skills and empowerment to the youth; to increase investment in skills development at TVET colleges; to address capacity development at the universities; and to implement the new Higher Education and training bursary scheme.
He discussed the centres of specialisation at certain campuses. While enrolment at these centres had grown significantly, the impact of Covid-19 would prevent new enrolments for 2021 and the funding allocation would be used to assist the current students complete their courses.
The Department had revised all the ICT related curriculum across all TVET college programs and further developed a new area of robotics for the National Certificate Vocation (NCV) as an attempt to equip learners with skills responsive to the digital economy.
On staff development, he said that the University Staff Capacity Development Program (UCDP) was implemented to help develop university staff in their various roles and to promote access for senior undergraduates to academic development support. This included supporting the development of new talented academics to contribute to a transformed demographic profile at universities. The development of staff that did not hold PhD degrees were included in this support initiative. It provided opportunities for the development of university staff in leadership and management positions. Part of this development was the establishment of a professoriate that was demographically representative. The Department had received a report that was commissioned on circumstances inhibiting the identification, selection, promotion and development of black and women South African academics in SA universities. It would in due course be released to the public and later be presented to Cabinet for adoption. He said that one could find the staff complements in a department at a South African university that had no South Africans and this had to be addressed. “We must grow our own timber” as the sustainability of the system was dependant on that. The report had 20 recommendations.
Regarding the programs and curriculum development at universities, he said that the UCDP was providing support for the development of new programs identified as national, regional or institutional priorities. The Department provided support for university processes that enhanced the relevance of higher education curricula to enable transformation. The main modalities involved the implementation of Department approved university capacity development plans by each of the 26 universities and the plans covered a three-year cycle. A second modality was collaborative projects involving university consortia. The projects focussed on national transformational capacity development needs and challenges that fell within the mandate of the UCDP. The third modality was nationally led sub programs. The financial investment in the UCDP was R1 billion. This was what the Department had done regarding its commitments.
Ms Aruna Singh, Acting DDG: Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), said that positive strides were made in the delivery of TVET programs during the Covid-19 period. TVET colleges have made the transition to offering remote learning support to students. The Department had undertaken to deliver laptops to students and lecturers and was intensifying efforts to provide diversified support with blended learning and improving the placement of students.
Mr Zukile Mvalo, DDG: Skills Development, emphasised the high absorption rate in internships, artisanship’s and learnerships. In 2018/19 there was a more than 19 000 placement. The skills development system had been hit hard by Covid-19 because it had been identified as one of the institutions supporting Covid-19 interventions. As a result, the system lost more than R6 billion because all companies paying skills levies have had a skills levy holiday since May, and this meant that the Department had lost R6 billion, the SETAs’ APP and strategic plans had had to be adjusted.
Mr T Dodovu (ANC; North West) welcomed the Minister’s comments on transformation and capacity development. He said that he did not get a sense that universities were doing the community development aspect and research. In his view, the historically disadvantaged were not rising to be in the mainstream of universities. This was where empowerment had to start. ‘What was the Department doing to improve this situation’?
Mr K Motsamai (EFF; Gauteng) spoke in another language (minute 17.40-18.45 of audio)
On the undertaking for TVET and university accommodation, Ms D Christians (DA; Northern Cape) spoke on the budget cuts in building new accommodation premises which would affect students, especially rural students. She asked what would happen in the next few years. On the curriculum of TVET colleges she asked what undertakings and finances were set aside to update the curriculum of TVET colleges as some of the curricula were outdated. On work placement she asked if strides in work placement had been made. Her concern was a lack of placement offices to assist students with placement, especially at universities as this was lacking and many graduates fell through the cracks.
The Chairperson asked how much of the R1 billion set aside as grant allocations went to TVET colleges. On the absorption of internships, she asked if the Department had any Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with employers to ensure that the absorption was sustained. On the launch of Centres of Specialisation, she asked which provinces benefited from these 26 campuses. ‘What was the Department doing to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on apprentice students’?
Regarding the artisan placement of over 19 000, Mr E Mthethwa (ANC, KZN) wanted a breakdown of the number for the KwaZulu-Natal province. Regarding the loss of the skills development levy monies, he asked the Department what plans it had to recover money so that the Department’s program would be minimally affected.
Regarding work placement of graduates and those in work integrated learning, Mr Mvalo said the Department entered into Service Level Agreements (SLA) with all 21 SETAs. The Department had just completed a report documenting 158 651 workplace-based learning programs. On the question of absorption, he said that the unemployment rate of university graduates stood at 9.5%, while for other tertiary qualifications it stood at 19.2% and taking Covid-19 into account there would be challenges for the workplace placement programs. He said the Minister took every opportunity to encourage employers to support the workplace training of the youth.
On Mr Mthethwa’s question, he said the Department had the breakdown of number of artisans per province and this could be provided to the Committee.
Mr Whitfield Green, of the University Education Branch of the Department, said a recent HSRC study published in 2018 showed that 91% of National Student Financial Assistance Scheme (NSFAS) graduates were in employment. A further study was planned for this year which would include all graduates not just NSFAS students. Work integrated learning was finding increased traction in the university education sector.
On the UCDP and its support for South African staff, he said the UCDP was specifically focused on the development of South African academics and professional staff. The UCDP was for three years only, with the current year being the last year. A new cycle would start in 2021.
On Mr Dodovu’s comments, Minister Nzimande said he agreed that the universities had three primary mandates, research, teaching and community engagement. He said some universities’ research was world class and some research might not be regarded as world class but it was locally relevant for SA’s development. A lot of research at universities was world class and government was not publicising this enough. A lot more could be done by universities, especially in community development.
On the comment on institutional inequalities, he said the Department would be launching a new programme to strengthen historically disadvantaged institutions, the Prof S Bhengu HDI Development Grant, to address institutional inequalities. He assured Mr Dodovu that institutional inequalities were being prioritised.
On Mr Motsamai’s comments on the ‘missing middle’ regarding NSFAS funding, those learners who come from households with an annual income exceeding the National Student Financial Scheme’s threshold of R350 000, but who do not qualify for alternative funding either. He said government was prioritising this issue and the Department was working on a method to support such students. Government was prioritising the children of the working class and the poor. He said the problem in SA was that families were not poor enough to qualify and this was the same problem in the housing market.
On Ms Christians’ comments, he said the TVET accommodation was a challenge affecting not only the TVET colleges but also universities. The Department was aware of the matter and had elevated the matter. The challenge in TVET was that TVET had a particular history. TVET’s were aimed to be within travelling distance but the number of TVET colleges had not increased to allow for such a scenario. The plan in forthcoming years was for students in engineering especially, to be employed as artisans in industry and then register at college. A sea change was needed to become like the German model.
On the curriculum, he said additional detailed information could be provided to the Committee on where the centres of excellence were.
He said that the issue of Covid-19 and apprentices was addressed. The skills levy holiday meant a loss of close to R10 billion. The matter was being addressed with the stakeholders at NEDLAC on mitigating this reality.
On the employability of TVET college students, the biggest gap was workplace experience. Students should apply at workplaces first, instead of registering at colleges. One challenge was that it still had too many students oversubscribing certain programs. Programs like Public Relations were over-subscribed, while the country needed welders for example. NSFAS funding, at the moment, did not take such issues into account and this needed to change.
The Chairperson said the questions still unanswered were on the MoU with companies on the employment of graduates and secondly on the 26 college campuses which had centres of specialization.
Ms Singh said the 26 centres of specialisation were across the country in all nine provinces offering 13 trades and a list of all the colleges, campuses and trades being offered at them would be sent to the Committee.
On the MoU with companies, the Minister said that the situation was variable as there were very few MoUs with employers because the private sector had committed to absorb in a MoU in the President’s program and this was a voluntary commitment not a compulsory one. Former technicon’s had agreements with companies for placement of their students in the final year of their diploma. Companies also gave bursaries and scholarships and these students were guaranteed employment when their studies were completed. The TVET student absorption was the problem and the solution was to follow the route of returning to the full apprenticeship system. The government had a long-standing program with the German government where the latter would give as much technical assistance as needed for such a transformation.
Mr Motsamai asked if the Minister was aware of an incident in Sedibeng at the TVET College where a private security company had shot at students and which matter had been taken to court.
The Chairperson said the matter was at court but the issue was not related to the agenda. The Member could ask the Minister privately if he wanted to.
The Chairperson said the Committee would hear the petition of the petitioner and ask questions of clarity. Later the Committee would sit to consider the matter.
The petitioner, Mr John Cholo, speaking on behalf of a group of learners, said they had been part of a learnership with EOH in 2017 on road construction and project management. The group had asked the Services Seta for assistance in their grievance to complete their learnership. The Services SETA had said the learnership had been completed, but the students were still waiting for their certificates since 2017.
Mr I Sileku (DA, Western Cape) asked what had prohibited the group from completing the course and when did the course start. For how long did they do the course and what stopped it and why were they not able to finish the course so that they could get their certificates.
Mr Cholo spoke in another language (minute 69 on audio)
Mr Motsamai spoke in another language (minute 70 on audio)
Mr Cholo replied (minute 178 on audio)
The Chairperson asked Mr Cholo where he resided.
Mr Cholo replied that he resided in Tembisa
The Chairperson said officials from the Department would communicate with him as soon as the Committee had completed its deliberations.
The meeting was adjourned.
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