Tertiary Education Problems: briefing

Basic Education

11 April 2000
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


11 April 2000

Documents handed out:
Committee of Technikon Principals
African Institute for Policy Analysis and Economic Integration [see Appendix 1]

The African Institute for Policy Analysis and Economic Integration and the Committee of Technikon Principals briefed the committee on certain problems faced by tertiary institutions in South Africa, much of the focus being on the problems facing historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs) and funding. It was noted that the policy of strategic mergers and partnerships had to be revitalised but the overall emphasis in addressing South Africa's tertiary education problems was on the development of a black intellectual critical mass. Although the chairperson expressed some concern that there should be better representation by tertiary institutions to the committee, the overall atmosphere of the meeting was good-humoured.

The chairperson, Prof S Mayatula, noted that there would be only two presentations instead of the scheduled three. The South African University Vice Chancellor's Association had sent a letter of apology. Due to a procedural error, it had received the invitation only the day before the meeting and was unable to send a representative.

African Institute for Policy Analysis and Economic Integration (AIPA)
Ms L Gebreyesus, AIPA Deputy Executive Director, proceeded to read out a paper written by Prof. Baxman also from AIPA (see document).

Prof. Baxman's paper dealt with the transformation of South Africa's tertiary education institutions and specifically gave a response to the many challenges facing tertiary education in South Africa today, taking note of the increased climate of globalisation. It was identified that one of the overarching requirements of tertiary education in South Africa today, is to reach a critical mass in the number of black intellectuals in South Africa.

Focusing on HDIs, it was identified that the under-performance of such institutions was historically due to the effects of Apartheid. A more precise understanding of the historical context of HDIs however, was seen as the key to finding solutions to the problems they face. South African tertiary institutions have multiple horizontal and vertical divisions. The horizontal divisions are those that exist between different types of institutions such as between technikons and universities. The vertical divisions are those that exist along racial and ethnic lines. Three categories exist as a result of these vertical divisions between institutions:
Afrikaner Institutions whose background is one of support for the Apartheid government,
English institutions that were perceived to be liberal during Apartheid and who today claim to be the repositories of academic excellence in South Africa, and
Black institutions that were historically hotbeds for opposition and now fall under the classification of HDIs.

Today the HDIs find themselves in the position of bearing the burden of educating the academically weakest sector of black students in the country. As a result of this, and since the total number of students enrolled at HDIs is very high, these institutions often have an image of being on the verge of collapse. It was stated that the problems of HDIs have very serious consequences for South Africa as a whole and therefore cannot be ignored.

A few key points characterising tertiary institutions and HDIs in particular, were noted. HDIs are not equal in terms of their access to resources; they have very different levels of infrastructure. HDIs are often framed in isolation from historically white institutions (HWIs) and as a result, an incomplete picture of tertiary education in South Africa is obtained. Similarly, HWIs on their own can not represent South Africa and need to be represented alongside the HDIs.

A few years ago the idea of merging tertiary institutions was first proposed and there was agreement with it, yet the reality today, is that it is no closer to being realised. A number of possible approaches with respect to mergers in HDIs were therefore identified. One approach favours the creation of areas of excellence in certain disciplines across all HDIs. Another possible approach is to abandon the idea of mergers completely and yet another possible approach is to continue with mergers using solutions to funding problems as the main impetus.

It was noted that the majority of the students at HDIs are from severely impoverished backgrounds and in some cases, the conditions at HDIs are arguably worse today than they were under Apartheid. An example of such an institution is the University of Durban-Westville.

In examining the way forward, three possible solutions to the problems of HDIs present themselves:
The problems of the HDIs could be handed over to the institutions themselves to solve, which would be equivalent to leaving the victims of crime, the problem of solving crime in general.
All HDIs could be closed down which would be equivalent to throwing out the baby with the bath water and would lead to a crisis as there are approximately 400,000 students enrolled at these institutions.
All HDIs could be downscaled to community colleges, which would then serve as feeder institutions for the remaining universities. This solution is seen as essentially racist though.

In terms of an overall solution, the problems of HDIs need to be addressed at a macro level by inter-institution collaboration and strategic mergers. The plans for these mergers and collaboration efforts need to be operationalised even though they will be resisted strongly by those who want to keep the status quo in place. In this regard it is worth noting that many universities are recalcitrant towards the merger policy.

Finally, it was noted that one of the key requirements of tertiary education in South Africa, that of developing a critical mass of black intellectuals, needs contributions from communities, from the public sector and from the private sector, amongst others.

Committee of Technikon Principals
Ms L Tanga, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Peninsula Technikon, gave a presentation on behalf of the Committee of Technikon Principals (see document.) She apologised for the absence of the Professor Figagi, the Vice Chancellor, who was actually represented on the Committee of Technikon and who was due to be at the meeting. She said that although she herself had not had an opportunity to consult with the committee members, she had extracted from their documentation for her presentation.

Ms Tanga compared the status of technikons with that of universities in South Africa. Both were governed by the Higher Education Act (101) of 1997 although some universities were governed by individual acts. Act 125 of 1993 governed technikons and enabled them to grant degrees. The 1997 Act and a 1995 Act governed quality assurance and the important area of funding.

The current issues surrounding funding would be addressed by the new funding formula, which is due in August 2000. Currently universities receive 80% of funding while technikons only receive 20% due to the fact that research is only conducted in universities. This distinction, along with the imbalance in the allocation of funds, needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the inequalities of the past have to be redressed and education policies and funding formulae have to reflect such redress.

It was repeated that technikons must be allowed to conduct research and furthermore, must have an injection of funding in order to kick-start their role in research. Technikons have always been closer to the workplace due to the use of advisory committees for the formulation of curricula and the use of in-service training programmes. Technikons are also well placed to assist job creation in the future in conjunction with the private and public sectors.

Questions and Answers
An ANC committee member noted his appreciation for the two representatives who gave presentations, but also expressed his concern about the presentation by AIPA. He stated that the committee needed more specific information about what amounts have actually been budgeted for. What were the solutions to the problems that were identified in the presentation and what was the overall way forward?

Ms Gebreyesus replied to the question of what was the way forward, by saying that a critical mass of intellectual capacity had to be developed. She quoted as an example illustrating the problem, that even if 100% of whites in the country were trained, South Africa would still only be at 17% of intellectual capacity.

Another ANC member asked about the role of technikon research. She acknowledged that technikons were creators of jobs but if they embarked on research, was there not a danger that this would be research that was duplicated somewhere else?

Ms Tanga replied by way of an example saying that with respect to medical research, they were proposing that technikons take over nursing research, while hospital research remained the preserve of universities. The problem with funding for research was that it was heavily biased towards universities because of its use of outputs as the sole criteria against which funding allocations would be made. It was biased in that the value given to each output factor was greater for universities than it was for technikons. With respect to whether or not there would be duplication, she answered, yes and no. There would always be overlaps although generally speaking there will be specific areas of focus. Universities would usually do general research whereas technikons would more often do applied research. Wastage could be controlled though.

An ANC member commended Ms Gebreyesus on the fact that her presentation addressed some new aspects of the problems facing HDIs, but expressed dismay that with regard to the more important issue of solutions, it represented nothing new. What was the actual priority, funding or reformulation? On Ms Tanga's presentation, this member asked what precisely was meant by differentiation, as well as what is a properly conceptualised reconfiguration?

Other than Ms Gebreyesus's comments about the development of a critical mass of intellectual capacity, the first part of the question was apparently not answered. On the second part of the question, Ms Tanga replied that differentiation referred to the different bands according to which tertiary institutions were classified, e.g. single discipline institutions such as colleges of teaching, nursing or agriculture.

Another ANC member asked for clarification on which acts specifically needed to be repealed? Ms Tanga responded by saying that under the term "University Autonomy" universities were and still are, governed by individual acts. These have never been repealed and this needs to be addressed. Technikons are governed by the same general act as universities.

Another ANC member asked what is being done about the high costs of registration at tertiary institutions, especially for those in rural areas, where students are the poorest? Ms Tanga acknowledged that this was a very serious problem, saying also that higher institutions were not funded by pupils and parents but by the state through TEFSA. Registration specifically though, is a shared responsibility between parents and the state. Funds used to assist education should only kick in once students are established at institutions otherwise they could run off with the money and not register at all.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) then asked whether there were any initiatives by HDIs in respect of strategic partnerships and mergers? He also asked why HDIs were so important for reaching black intellectual critical mass in the light of the fact that intakes at HDIs were decreasing whereas intakes at HWIs were actually increasing? Another member later repeated this question. Mr Moonsamy commented that, notwithstanding the effects of Apartheid, the bad image of HDIs was largely due to bad management and the conduct of some vice chancellors left a lot to be desired. What was being done about this?

Ms Tanga replied that it was not true that all HDIs had a drop in numbers. Among all HDIs, the numbers at technikons have actually increased. The numbers at some HWIs had increased too, though on the whole it was due to an increase in the number of black enrolments at such universities. The number of white enrolments had actually declined. With respect to mergers, it was easier for HWIs and well-resourced institutions to attempt to merge than it was for HDIs. The problem was that there were always negative funding implications for the merging of institutions and to compensate for this, institutions needed incentives to merge.

Mr Moonsamy followed up his question by saying that mergers had to involve the reformulation of two institutions into one completely new one. Who was to take the initiative in this regard, the state or either or both of the two institutions concerned? He quoted as an example illustrating the need for mergers, that there were six or seven tertiary institutions in a 30km radius in the Western Cape. Who should initiate these mergers and indeed what were the institutions themselves, waiting for?

Ms Tanga said that this was a sore point. Some historically black colleges and technikons had attempted initiatives, but the "white bosses" at the HWIs concerned, had rejected these. Another problem facing mergers was the resulting student-staff ratio that merged institutions would face. In one example the post-merger ratio would have been 7:1 which is completely unrealistic. Who would be responsible for the retrenchments that would have to follow such mergers?

An opposition committee member then asked whether or not it was the policy, and if so how, tertiary institutions hoped to rid themselves of poorly trained academic staff in HDIs? Also, was there an intention to cut down on faculties, such as those of theology?

Ms Gebreyesus said that with respect to departments of theology, these should indeed be closed down and the funds diverted to technical areas due to the lack of demand for them. In response to the first question, she regretted that she was unable to answer the question since her role was that of a researcher. Ms Tanga also declined to answer this question, noting that her background was in technikons.

An ANC member asked Ms Gebreyesus what was the overall way forward in respect of the choice facing HDIs, that of, promoting mergers, leaving them to sort out their own problems, closing them down completely or downgrading them?

Ms Gebreyesus said that in some cases (such as with the University of Fort Hare) increasing funding would be the answer but on the whole, the key issue that would guide the way forward, was the development of an intellectual critical mass.

The chairperson concluded by saying that the committee was not happy with the level of representation at this meeting. When the committee had briefings from school representatives and educational unions, three or four people normally came along to the meetings. This was real representation. The level of representation was insufficient at this meeting as evidenced by the presenter being a researcher and being unable to answer the question concerned. Briefings on tertiary education was an important process, which would ultimately feed into the process of passing laws on tertiary education. Effective representation was therefore essential. The chairperson also expressed his desire that the committee should have copies of the documents available before the meeting. Notwithstanding these concerns, the chairperson warmly thanked the delegates for their presentations.

The chairperson then adjourned the meeting.

Appendix 1:

Executive Summary


Paper by the Association of Vice Chancellors of Historically Disadvantaged Tertiary Institutions (ASAHDI)

The paper discusses the challenge facing South Africa's Tertiary education system, namely the reconstruction and equipping of black higher education institutions particularly the Universities and Technikons; to respond to the imperative of building the capacities of South Africa's disadvantaged communities in professional, technological and managerial skills to enable these communities to participate productively in the generation of sustainable economic growth with equity; in employment expansion and improvement of the socio-economic welfare of black communities. The discussion is in three parts:
The first part deals with the current situation in higher education in the country. It analyses the following issues:
Horizontal and vertical diversification of South Africa's higher education system
The need for massification and equity of access
The burden and its implications, carried by the HDIs, viz.; training of students from the academically weakest and poorest of South Africa's population
The fiscal and managerial inefficiencies plaguing some HDIs
The perception that white universities are the repositories of academic excellence

This section concludes by emphasising the need to build an education system which will be equally accessible to all levels of the South African population while maintaining acceptable standards.
The second part considers the proposed approaches that are on the table for addressing the issues discussed above. These include:
Creation of regional structures or consortia
Establishment of Centres of Excellence among the HDIs which could link up with centres in White tertiary institutions dealing with the same discipline
Defining the mission or niche of the HDIs. This would require, inter alia evaluating the proposition that the HDIs are best suited for developing the intellectual and skills capacities of black South Africans because of their location and better understanding of the academic background of students from the poor and disadvantaged communities.
Addressing the critical issue of under-funding including the drawbacks of the SAPSE formula.
In addition to the foregoing proposals which focus on how to improve the performance of the HDIs; there are wider policy proposals the implications of which are that the HDIs should solve their problems or be down graded into community colleges as they don't seem to be functionally useful. These proposals are discussed succinctly in the paper and rejected. It is argued that the problems of the HDIs should not be attributed to managerial and administrative inefficiencies but to the inequities which underlie the structure of the South African society across the board.
The paper concludes by recommending that the Government should appoint a high-powered Commission with a two fold mandate:

Formulation of an operational strategic plan for the restructuring of the HDI system in concept and in practice.
Reconstructing the landscape of the higher education system in South Africa.

Please email
aipa@iafrica.com for the full document


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