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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
4 April 2000
COUNCIL FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, SAFE SCHOOLS PROGRAMME: BRIEFING
Documents handed out:
Safe Schools Programme
The Council on Higher Education stated that there was a steady decline in enrolments at technicons and universities. There was a negative economic impact on these institutions as the government subsidy was reduced in proportion to the reduction in enrolments. It was therefore imperative that enrolments and reregistrations be increased. The pass rate was lower and still more enrolments were needed in science and technology courses.
The Safe Schools Programme is a government initiative aimed at turning all schools into gun free zones. Cooperation was important especially with an organisation such as Gun Free South Africa that has the same interests. The new Firearm Control Bill is currently before the Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security.
Council for Higher Education
Professor Nkhuhlu outlined the history of the Council for Higher Education. It is a juristic person in terms of S2 of the Higher Education Act. Its primary function is to advise the Minister of Education on any aspect of higher education at his request or of the Council's own accord. It is tasked to ensure quality assurance in higher education, the accreditation of programmes, the publishing of information on higher education and so forth.
The Council's projects
Regarding high priority matters implementation strategies are needed. The following projects have a high priority: setting up a system of quality assurance in higher education and managing that system; working with the Department on issues such as the new funding formula for institutions and a new language policy; the reconfiguration of higher education institutions - 'shape and size'.
The Council should maintain a small, although competent and focussed staff equipped to do the task. Expertise in local higher education circles has to be utilised. Women and Black researchers have to be encouraged. The Council would continue to see to it that funding from government was used only to meet core costs. Additional funding for projects would come from fundraising and from the donor community in the private sector.
In terms of the Higher Education Act, the Council is to recommend persons as independent assessors to the Minister. Such a panel now exists from which the Minister can select assessors as he requires.
The Council has commented on a number of Bills including legislation on student financial assistance. They have also commented on a number of government policies including the redress of historically Black universities. The first annual report produced by the Council was a review of higher education in South Africa.
In making the higher education system more efficient there were focal points to be worked on 1) shape and size 2) academic policy, the curriculum and programmes 3) standards and 4) funding of higher education
The decline in enrolments at tertiary institutions was becoming a serious problem. A number of institutions were experiencing crises. Transformation was underway but as a result efficiency was being questioned. For instance, the pass rate was lower and still more enrollments were needed in science and technology courses.
Value of the Council's separate existence
Its independence from the Department enhances its credibility as a policy maker. It also increases its policy making capacity, lending additional financial and intellectual resources. It also makes it easier for stakeholders to support projects in the interest of the country without their own goals interfering.
Mr Ian Bunting from the Department of Education explained the pattern of enrolments in universities from 1995 until 1999 as well as future expectations.
In 1995 (the Department works on a five year scale) 570 000 students were in the higher education system. At that time the National Commission on Higher Education predicted a growth in higher education of 4% per annum over a number of years, an optimistic view of future trends. What has actually happened however is that after 1996 there has been a decline. Still the institutions expected that the trend in growth would continue. By 1999 the gap between expectations and what actually happened in the system had increased. Part of the reason for the non-growth is that over the past five years the number of entrants has stayed static. These numbers are insufficient to meet expectations. The retention rate has also dropped sharply. The reasons are open to speculation; either universities are becoming firmer on reregistration or students themselves are electing not to reregister. Another reason for the non-growth could be the drop in the number of school leavers obtaining matriculation exemption. The important question is whether the non-growth is a temporary phenomenon.
Head count enrolments by intended major
The most important trend is that enrolment in science, engineering and technology courses has grown. Enrolment in business courses has also increased. Although the Humanities have experienced a slight decline, the system continues to be dominated by humanities majors.
In 1998 600 000 students were registered at tertiary institutions. Only 76000 graduated. If the system was functioning effectively this number should be close to 100 000.
From 1998 the growth in the system was mainly in historically White universities. The University of South Africa showed a decline in enrolments due to competition from other long distance education institutions. Some technicons were showing the same effect. White students are no longer registering at technicons therefore historically white technicons were facing a decline.
Enrolments in historically black universities
At the University of the Western Cape (UWC) enrolment has dropped and if the current patterns of enrolment and retention continue the enrolments could be at under 6000 by 2002. Only the North-West University remains stable but Fort Hare could be facing a fall to just under 2000 enrolments by 2002.
The financial implications for these institutions are significant. In 1999 the universities received a substantial portion of their income from the government subsidy as well as from student fees. If the institutions were to retain their subsidies at the 1999 levels they would have to substantially increase enrolments.
Ms Benjamin (ANC) asked why the figures were taken from 1995 onwards. This gave no idea of the patterns. For instance, there were so many explanations for the decline in enrolments at UWC. She expressed concern that statistics were being looked at in isolation and the underlying factors would not be analysed.
Mr Bunting pointed out that they had looked at the figures in a five-year slice. The year 1995 was also the first full year of enrolments in the new democracy. He agreed that a bald presentation of figures was inadequate however he said that there were a number of NGOs looking in detail at the history of these institutions. All over the world government subsidies were allocated on the basis of enrolments.
Ms Mothoagae (ANC) asked were White students leaving to study somewhere else? Mr Bunting acknowledged that between 1993 and 1999 student numbers had dropped by 160 000. He did not, however, have an answer to Ms Mothoagae's question. She went on to ask whether, if students were now moving to historically white universities, the Council would be advising the Minister to change the formula so that historically black universities could also benefit.
She also asked whether the Council was liaising with high schools to boost the low registration in science courses. Mr Bunting said that the problem was that very few pupils were matriculating with Mathematics on the Higher Grade. Universities themselves were going around the obvious disadvantage facing other students by offering them bridging courses.
Adv Gaum (NP) asked how the historically black universities could be turned around. Prof Nkuhla said he did not know how this was to be done but in this regard the physical location of the universities, what he termed 'apartheid geography', was having a negative effect.
Adv Gaum asked when the Council would be reporting to the Minister on the language policy. Prof Nkuhla said that there was a task team headed by Neville Alexander looking at the matter. The team would have a draft report by the end of May and would be presented to the Minister by the end of June. There was a difference between an institution's de jure and its de facto policy. For instance the University of Pretoria was a de jure Afrikaans university but had over 20 000 Black students in a distance education programme and it was most likely that they were being taught in English.
Prof Nkuhla made an overall point that leadership of institutions was very important. He believed that historically black institutions that are better managed are doing better. Finally, the overriding objective of the Council was to create a higher education system which was efficient and effective.
Presentation by Safe School Programme and Gun Free South Africa
Mr Eugene Daniels, Manager of the Programme, said that partnership was very important in trying to restore the social fabric of communities. Family and church was under threat and schools had now become the centre of community life. An important body was the school safety committee which was working on establishing a gun-free environment in schools. Committees from different schools were linking up and taking charge in areas where police and the Department of Justice previously did all the work. Mr Daniels said that schools had always been the sites of struggle to conscientise the community. He saw no reason why they could not be used to transform the community. In this regard a holistic approach was needed.
Rev D Newby of Gun Free South Africa stated that guns claim the lives of 33 people every day. Each year more children became victims. It was clear that gun-free zones had to be established. The new Firearms Control Bill was being considered by the Portfolio Committee on Safety and Security and would help in this regard. At the moment not all schools consider themselves to be gun-free zones.
Tighter gun control had to be established. Citizens needed to be protected from those carrying firearms. The new Bill contained stricter controls and would also reduce the number of firearms in circulation. The age at which a firearm licence could be obtained had to be raised. Should the limit be as high as 25? Rev Newby asked the Committee to apply its mind to this question.
Mr Vadi (ANC) asked Mr Daniels whether the Safe Schools Programme had been rolled out yet? Mr Daniels said it had not been rolled out in all schools but with the launch of Tirisano it could be rolled out very soon. He hoped the programme would make an impact at the earliest stage.
Ms Benjamin (ANC) noted that a number of cases of vandalism at schools had been reported. Were these schools not part of the Safe Schools Programme? Mr Daniels replied that because not all schools in the Western Cape were part of the Programme yet, the schools which had been vandalised had no alarm system installed. He also felt that even where an alarm system had been installed, additional backup for teachers had to be provided such as access to an armed response team.
The meeting was concluded.
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