The Department of Higher Education and Training briefed the Select Committee on its revised 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the initial performance plan is no longer appropriate for the 2020/21 year.
Although the Department remains optimistic, the state of disaster compelled a review to ensure government plans remain relevant and respond to the pandemic. On 24 June 2020, the Minister of Finance tabled a Special Adjustment Budget for 2020/21.
The initial commitments for the 2020/21 financial year had to be reviewed to take into account the impact of the Adjusted Budget allocations for programme delivery; the interventions towards mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic; and to prioritise departmental programmes and projects for continued service delivery during the 2020/21 financial year.
The Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Science and Technology said the Department’s budget allocation for 2020/21 must be reduced by 8%. This places the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) in a very difficult position. The Department has to adapt, while maintaining service delivery, and working together with National Treasury.
Although adjustments must be made, the changes do not deviate completely from the original APP and the Department’s five-year Strategic Plan had not changed.
The pandemic, together with the reduced budget, led to under-spending and under-performance.
Members asked questions relating to enrolment reductions; the suspension of trimesters two and three in TVET colleges; achieving NDP targets; and how Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) and National Students Financial Aid Services (NSFAS) will recover from the loss of budget reductions.
Member also asked what plan is on the table to assist students with infrastructure, particularly accommodation; what the reasons are for the increase in targets, and if it is realistic. On gender- based violence in institutions, Members wanted to know if it is reflected as a target in the APP; if the policy is finalised and budgeted for; how it will be funded; and which line item covers the implementation of this policy.
Input by Deputy Minister
The Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Science and Technology, Mr Buti Manamela, said the Department’s budget allocation for 2020/21 must be reduced by 8%. This places the Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) in a very difficult position. The Department has to adapt, while maintaining service delivery, and working together with National Treasury.
DHET Revised 2020/21 APP
The Director-General (DG) of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, presented the revised Annual Performance Plan (APP) to the Committee. The Department presented on the impact of accommodating and funding the demands of COVID-19 within available resources, and its impact on the APP.
Many of the targets are shifted to later completion dates. This is because of delayed processing of planned outputs during Quarter One. Sometimes it is shifted to the next financial year because of the reprioritisation of funds to deal with COVID-19.
In the system, the Department is driving the implementation of the programme, Staffing South Africa’s Universities Network. It is aimed at improving the transformational targets of training at postgraduate level, up to professoriate level. It has its own sub-programmes in which the Department identifies young, bright, upcoming, black, mainly women academics, to channel through the academic path up to doctorate level. There is also a programme to train and advance mainly black women as professors.
The number or student enrolments for lecturers to acquire professional qualifications at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges had to be reduced. This is because of budget cuts and the suspension of trimesters Two and Three of the 2020 academic year. The main impact of the budget cuts will be on the 2021 new student intake for the Centre of Specialisation, because of reprioritisation of funds.
The Centres of Specialisation are envisioned by the Department as ideal TVET colleges. There is full integration of student and lecturer exposure to the industry. The Department is collaborating with industry to train students in the ideal sense, where students interface theory and practicality.
The four month holiday of the skills levy, impacts the skills development system. Relief measures will impact various learning programmes, but there are substantial amendments in the APP to limit the impact.
The main change in the Community Education and Training (CET) college system relates to the number of lecturers trained. It saw a reduction of 50% from reprioritisation of funds. The programme to build, refurbish, maintain, and expand TVET colleges remains in force across various provinces and districts.
The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of DHET, Mr Theuns Tredoux, presented the adjustments budget. The special adjustment budget resulted in a suspension of R6.734 billion from voted funds. R5 billion was reallocated to support COVID-19 activities, including student support. This resulted in a net reduction of R1.7 billion. This money was returned to National Treasury. The Department’s overall budget was reduced from R116.857 billion to R107 billion. The single biggest reduction is 42% on the declined estimates for the Skills Levy collections.
Budget cuts were made across all Departmental programmes. Total direct charges were 8%.
The Chairperson said targets will not be met because of the National State of Disaster. This is bound to happen. This causes a lot of under-spending and under-performance, but the Department must not lose focus. The National Development Plan (NDP) gives light and direction. The graduation rate should increase by 75%, and students of Mathematics and Science should be at 450 000 by the year 2030.
He said he is concerned about the issue of unemployment as it impacts Maths and Science students. He asked how the Department is doing on the production of 30 000 artisans per year, the creation of one million learning opportunities per year, the hundred per million doctoral graduates per year, and the 5000 PhD registered students per year. He asked if this dream is going to be achieved, or if it is still a dream too far to achieve.
Ms A Maleka (ANC, Mpumalanga) wanted to know about enrolment reductions, and the suspension of trimesters two and three in TVET colleges. She asked what the impact will be on achieving NDP targets, and how Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), and National Students Financial Aid Services (NSFAS), will recover from the loss of budget reductions.
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) wanted to know what impact the reduction of students at TVET colleges has on the following year’s intake. She asked if the colleges will be able to take in new students, and how the Department plans to mitigate the circumstances of unplaced students, as there are already a high number of unemployed and unplaced students in viable opportunities.
She asked if the impact will be the same in universities.
Out of the R5 billion allocated, R2.5 billion is used for devices. She asked how the other R2.5 billion is reallocated and used.
Ms Christians asked what plan is on the table to assist students with infrastructure, particularly accommodation. Students said stipends were not paid out, and wrote to NSFAS, but did not receive a response. She wanted to know if the Department could assist.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) asked what the reasons are for the increase in targets, and if it is realistic. On gender-based violence in institutions, she asked how it is reflected as a target in the APP, if the policy is finalised and budgeted for, how it will be funded, and which line item covers the implementation of this policy.
The Chairperson asked if the Department monitors if students get proper training or not, or if it does not matter as long as students complete a year and get a recommendation letter.
Mr Qonde said NDP targets are based on projected economic growth, which did not happen. This impacts on the achievement of targets. The economy contracted by 51%, which led to a number of jobs being shed. The context through which the Department is engaged is informed by a sluggish and declining economy. National Treasury introduced budget cuts. This was not a choice. It was put to the Department and its entities.
TVET colleges were impacted in the illustrated manner. NDP targets will be impacted too. Enrolments will decrease. This will be discussed in the enrolment plans to be undertaken, and is informed by available resources.
NSFAS cuts were not welcomed, but are imposed by National Treasury, nonetheless.
Speaking on infrastructure, Mr Qonde said there are discussions at presidential level which will contribute to the roll out of infrastructure. The government is looking at working in partnership with the private sector.
On allowances, he said the Department always follows up with NSFAS on unpaid allowances. The Department will do the same in this regard, and assist NSFAS and institutions, in addressing these matters.
The reason for the reduction of targets is the reprioritisation of funds to address COVID-19. Institutions had to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and train additional personnel. It was not initially budgeted for.
Mr Qonde said the GBV policy is a top priority. There is not any prioritisation of funds away from what was earmarked to address GBV. Instead there is more support regarding funds.
He said engagements with industry and SETAs, optimisation of training and resources, and how it will catch up on lost ground, are underway. Together with National Treasury, the Department is exploring ways and mechanisms to close the gap because training is needed.
Mr Qonde said monitoring depends on who is involved in apprenticeships. TVET college apprenticeships are managed and monitored. Student performance is also assessed up until qualification.
Programmes offered through entities must still be looked at. It is imperative for companies entering into agreements with learners, to honour contractual obligations. Reneging on contracts has a negative effect on the entity and on the learners. Companies must be held to account and need to be encouraged to monitor.
He implored the Select Committee to support the Department regarding budget cuts which affect skills training.
The Chairperson asked who carries out monitoring of apprenticeships.
Mr Qonde said it depends on who made the placement. Information and correspondence will be sent to the DHET to follow up on it.
Ms Pretty Makukule, CFO, Department of Science and Innovation, said it is not R5 billion which was suspended, but R2.5 billion, and it was reallocated again within the entity.
Mr M Bara (DA, Gauteng) said, through COVID-19, a lot of challenges were posed both at the departmental and employment levels. It is very important to have a session to talk about how the Committee can deal with such matters.
Committee Minutes dated 26 September 2020
Committee Members were taken through the minutes of its meeting of 26 September 2020.
The minutes were adopted without amendment.
The Chairperson said other issues can be raised in writing, and asked for all issues to be sent to the Secretary.
The meeting was adjourned.
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