Implication of SONA: Admissions and NSFAS Funding and Support; with Minister & Deputy Minister

Basic Education

23 February 2021
Chairperson: Ms B Mbinqo-Gigaba (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

President Cyril Ramaphosa: 2021 State of the Nation Address (SONA)

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports and Arts and Culture, met virtually to receive a brief from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the analysis, implications, and impact of the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2021 on the education portfolio; and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)/Department of Higher Education and Training on higher education institution admissions and funding.

Highlights of the address by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), and its Minister, focussed on university preparation for the 2021 academic year, the plans around university and TVET Colleges’ enrolment and registration, UNISA issues, and corrections on the NSFAS circular of 12 February 2021. The presentation also addressed progress on the situation of NSFAS and Funza Lushaka funds application processing.

The Committee welcomed the framework negotiations on accommodation and fees because it had earlier affected the commencement of the academic year. The Committee asked the DHET questions on the status of TVET backlog certificates, reduced awards on UNISA enrolment plans, specialised and scarce teacher training skills.

The DBE then presented on the role of NSFAS and DBE support to NSFAS, the role of NSFAS in the Funza Lushaka bursary, growing the size of teacher education, the Funza Lushaka bursary programme and the placement of Funza Lushaka graduates.

The DBE also presented on the significance of the SONA and government priorities, an analysis of the 2021 SONA and the impact of COVID19 on the sector.

The Committee appreciated the good work of teachers and asked the DBE questions about teachers in specialised areas, NSFAS and Funza Lushaka awards, and employment opportunities for teachers. The Committee also requested clarity on how teacher training awards were dispensed to learners in rural areas.

The Committee remarked that it was still challenged as it was inundated with calls from parents in the rural areas on admission issues and agreed that Members needed to inform parents on DHET policies on admissions. The Committee recommended that the DBE ensure that both Funza Lushaka and privately funded teaching graduates in specialised areas received equal employment opportunities in the workplace.

Meeting report

Opening remarks

The Chairperson welcomed Members, the Minister, Director-General (DG), officials from the Department of Basic Education, and the Department of Higher Education and Training. She asked the Committee Secretary to read out apologies.

The Committee Secretary read out apologies that had been received from Mr B Yabo (ANC) and Dr S Thembekwayo (EFF) and asked the Chairperson to give Members time to log on.

The Chairperson congratulated the DBE on the matric pass rate of 76.2% achieved in 2020. She then went on to outline the meeting agenda for the day.

The Committee Secretary conveyed further apologies from the Minister of Basic Education and the Deputy Minister of Higher Education.  He also stated that the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education had another meeting but the Chairperson, Mr P Mapulane (ANC), as was the Chairperson of the Select Committee, Mr E Nchabeleng (ANC, Limpopo). Some Members continued to have connectivity challenges.

Mr Mapulane stated that the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education was receiving a brief from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) about research on gender-based violence (GBV) therefore most of the Members would not be available.

The Minister for Higher Education and Training (DHET), Dr Blade Nzimande, stated that the Deputy Minister was available, and indicated that his entourage included Ms Thandi Lewin, Chief of Staff Department of Higher Education and Training, Ms Aruna Singh, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): TVET Colleges, and other officials of the DHET.

The Deputy Minister of Basic Education Dr Reginah Mhaule, introduced members of her team led by Mr Paddy Padayachee, DDG: Planning, Information and Assessment.

The Committee agenda was adopted.

Briefing by DHET

 

Minister Nzimande remarked that the presentation from DHET, by Ms Lewin, would focus on the situation on University preparation for the 2021 Academic Year, the plans around University and TVET Colleges’ enrolment and registration. He also stated that more information would be presented on UNISA issues. He remarked that the DHET would provide corrections on the NSFAS circular of 12 February 2021 which had some misleading information. The presentation would also highlight the number of applications from NSFAS and progress on the situation of NSFAS application processing; He indicated that the progress on the NSFAS budget would be presented after the national budget had been presented.

Ms Lewin explained that the presentation would focus on university preparation for the 2021 academic year, 2021 university academic year plans, and 2021 registration period at universities, university and TVET enrolment planning, central application clearing house for both universities and tvet, and initiatives to support quality teacher education.

University Preparation for2021

 

Ms Lewin stated that the DHET had to make emergency changes to higher education to address remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. All institutions established COVID-19 task teams in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. DHET provided regular support and advice to institutions, on teaching and learning; health and safety; campus return plans, and support to academic staff to transition to remote learning platforms. DHET received support from sector organisation Sector health in terms of mental issues and assisted with health support systems. The Minister approved a COVID Responsiveness Grant (CRG) to assist universities with costs and resources required to support the move to emergency teaching and learning, such as data, laptops, and living allowances in response to the pandemic. The grant was created from re-prioritised funds that were originally held –up. NSFAS funded students continued to receive allowances and living allowances were extended for the 2020 academic year. A framework for tuition and academic fees was negotiated to assist students. Students were allowed to return to campuses at different times. Challenges were faced with distributing hard copies of learning materials to students based on the decision of some Institutions. Remote emergency teaching and learning continued through different forms of blended learning and once students were allowed to return to campus further teaching and learning programs continued. Most institutions have completed the 2020 academic year however catching –up programs have been for the institutions that have not completed the year.

 

2021 University Academic Year Plans

 

Several Institutions closed applications in 2020 and some institutions have been using the online portal which has been in place for some time. The online portal was introduced to reduce walk-in applications and medical students started earlier due to their program. Registration has been taking place for returning students while first-year students had to wait for matric results. Registration for first-year students would be completed by mid-April.

2021 University Academic Year Plans

 

Most Institutions will complete admissions soon depending on the pandemic situation. DHET is continually monitoring teaching and learning and hopes that students would not need to be sent back home because of the pandemic. Most institutions are using a blended learning approach and most students must connect to Wi-Fi and most students’ access data remotely.

2021 Enrolment Planning Process

 

DHET negotiates enrolment targets with Universities in cycles. The ministerial statement on student enrolment planning 2020 to 2025 for Universities which indicated targets for the system and individual institutions was completed in 2019. A mid-term review would be carried out on the six-year student enrolment plan from March 2022 to May 2022 to encourage better-integrated planning at Universities. The financial, infrastructure, as well as skills priorities targets, would be adjusted to fit into current realities during the review. Enrolment planning is a critical process to ensure that appropriate resources are allocated to the system to support quality teaching and learning. It is also vital to ensure that young learners in the system complete their programs.

Enrolment spaces for First Time Entering Students (FTENs) in public universities

 

The Minister alluded to corrections on the NSFAS Circular of 12 February 2021. All funded under-graduate programs are at 184,315 which is less than the 204,315 recorded earlier. This shows a 20 000 reduction based on UNISA over enrolment. The UNISA over enrolment affected the funding of other institutions. Hence the DHET met with UNISA and UNISA has agreed to reduce enrolment by 20,000 learners. Over-enrolment affects the quality of teaching and learning and affects future enrolments. Also, undergraduate programs funded targets emphasise that awards be given to teacher education in specialised programs in scarce skill areas such as Engineering, Life and Physical Sciences, and Human Health.

Enrolment Central Applications Clearing House (CACH)

 

High competition for spaces in Universities occurs because meeting the minimum requirements does not guarantee that space would be allocated for every learner that applies. Hence, CACH a referral system was created for students who applied for space at a University and were been declined. CACH 2021 is designed to assist students to find suitable spaces still in the system (at other Universities or TVET colleges) or to provide advice through referral to career development services. The process involves sending an SMS with the name and ID number to 31629, then register or sign-up online at cach.dhet.gov.za and then sending an email to CACH@dhet.gov.za to get referrals. CACH does not guarantee any applicant a space to study but rather assists with referrals and career paths and study opportunities in the Post-School Education and Training system.

Initiatives to Support Quality Teacher Education

 

DHET is focused on initial teacher education to support universities to provide quality teacher education across pre-schooling, schooling and the post-schooling sectors.  This includes teachers for schools, early childhood development, and lecturers for TVET and CET colleges. 24 public universities provide initial and continuing teacher education in the country. There is a shift to supply teachers in specialised areas and specific subject areas. Policies have been put in place to offer professional education for ECD educators, MRTEQ, TVET, and CET lecturers.  Hence strategic interventions supported by the European Union (EU) sector support grants have been implemented to target strategic National imperatives and partnerships with Universities.

Ms Aruna Singh, Acting Deputy Director-General (DDG): TVET Colleges, DHET, stated that enrolments were about to start however there was no carryover from the 2020 academic year. All learners enrolled for 2020 completed exams in December 2020 and results were released on 5 February 2021. Online applications opened in October 2020 and 300,000 applications were received. The actual registrations are however low and reasons for this would be addressed in this brief. Colleges enrol students according to an approved enrolment plan, based on the subsidies provided by the budget for the National Certificates (Vocational) and the Report 191 programs. She highlighted the process of TVET Enrolments by showcasing TVET Enrolments in 2021.

TVET Enrolments for 2021

 

Ms Singh stated that online enrolments were at 50 TVET colleges across six regions two years ago. This data generated provides a National snapshot of enrolments but she pointed out that the data still needed to be verified and finalised based on actual registrations after walk-ins were complete at the end of the registration process. Also, College enrolment plans cover headcount enrolments for two semesters, three trimesters, and annual enrolment. Hence enrolment figures for the later semester and two trimesters only become available at the appropriate times and are reconciled later in the academic year. In 2020, there were notable over-enrolments in several colleges. This is being managed for 2021. CACH cannot determine when the institutions will contact the applicant for possible placement. She explained trends and patterns of enrolments in different regions. Urban areas in Limpopo such as Capricorn College had higher total planned target enrolments and total achieved registrations are higher. Also, the pending applications for 2021 were higher than rural areas such as Mopani and Sekhukhune. Pending applications for 2021 have not been completed because more students need to be recruited and encouraged to apply. Pending registrations for 2021 occur because registrations can only be completed in trimester two or three. In general, urban colleges such as Capricorn complete their registration targets when compared with rural areas. Gauteng (135 147) also has high total planned target enrolments in comparison to provinces like Free State (43 121). The trend in provinces is over-enrolments in urban areas in comparison to rural areas because of online challenges in completing applications. The figures given in some provinces are low because enrolments have just started but when the registration is achieved and the learners funded by SETAs are added the total registrations achieved becomes higher.

Challenges Experienced in 2021 Enrolment Process

 

DHET has observed that prospective students struggle with online applications and communication due to the lack of devices and/or data in rural locations. This challenge has been reduced by ensuring that prospective students are assisted by dedicated staff in TVET Colleges to complete applications using TVET devices and data. Prospective students do not submit all required documents when requested to do so (for verification and scoring). This results in not being able to complete the admission process within the pre-determined timeframes.  Prospective students did not accept and confirm their provisional registration. Provisionally registered students failed to finalise registration, as required in the sequential steps of the registration process. In addition, despite the call for online applications, colleges experienced high volumes of walk-ins by prospective students. The challenge with online applications and communication has been due to lack of devices and/or data in rural locations. Late release of results delayed finalisation of registration due to the effect of the pandemic and its impact on the 2020 academic year. Low enrolment numbers were also observed for National Certificate (Vocational) and Prevocational Learning Programmes. Registration of returning students was also delayed and some students withdrew due to COVID-19 fears. The good news is that some students were admitted to Universities. NSFAS outstanding 2020 application funding status led to delayed funding outcomes for a portion of the 2020 bursary applicants and  negatively impacted on the 2021 registrations, e.g. Trimester 2 – 2020 students.  Challenges were also observed for NSFAS online portal access.

Ms Lewin briefed the Committee on NSFAS but stated that NSFAS would answer its questions. She gave an overview of the NSFAS funding process and stated that NSFAS had over 799,000 applications. She stated that all applications would be completed before the end of February due to the late release of matric results. The early release of decisions would assist declined learners to forward appeals. Also NSFAS funds continuing students when results are released hence confirmation of funding for the 2021 academic year has commenced in institutions.

Discussion

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) asked DHET to give an approximate figure on TVET backlog certificates and confirm if it was able to currently issue certificates while it was treating the backlog.

Mr P Mapulane (ANC) welcomed the framework negotiations on accommodation and fees because it had earlier affected the commencement of the academic year. He recalled that challenges on fees resulted in the ‘fees must fall strike’. He asked DHET to elaborate on the 20 000 reduced awards on UNISA enrolment plans and state the impact on students affected. He asked DHET to outline the impact of the 184 315 awards for funded programs and its relationship to NSFAS funding.

Ms N Mashabela (EFF) asked DHET to quantify the risk associated with the production of teachers outside the specialised areas. She also asked DHET to state how it would ensure that Universities enrolled only teacher-learners based on the specialised and scarce skills list.

Response

Minister Nzimande stated that he did not have the approximate figure on TVET backlog certificates and expressed disappointment that TVET Colleges still had backlog certificates. He said the ideal turnaround time should be three months after the studies were completed and encouraged the Department to achieve this goal. He asked Ms Lewin to elaborate on UNISA in terms of the 20 000 reduced funding awards. He stated that students in the system that meet funding criteria would be continually funded. He indicated that DHET had to wait for the release of matric results to commence funding first-year students. He highlighted the importance of enrolment planning and indicated that it was irresponsible on the part of UNISA to over-enrol students in the past. DHET agreed with the new UNISA Vice-Chancellor to reduce the number of student enrolment. UNISA was flagged because the institution over -enrolled students in the past even though the pass rate was low. He asked Ms Lewin to address the pass rate issue and encouraged UNISA to improve its pass rate. He stated that UNISA would inform the Committee on the implications of reducing NSFAS awards for teacher training as the Minister could not be blamed for restrictions on NSFAS funding when the pass rate was low.

Ms Singh stated that DHET had committed to terminate certificate backlog issues by 31 March. The progress report showed improvement and it would be tabled before the Committee soon. She stated that although the backlogs dated as far back as 1992, the turnaround times of 3 months were being met. She informed the Committee that the SETA project manager, Mr John Vernon, died due to cardiac arrest recently. DHET acknowledged the efforts of SETA.

Ms Lewin said that universities had been given autonomy on enrolment planning however enrolment planning was informed by scarce skills based on university capacity and resources. The rollout of teacher educators focuses on working with Universities in the area of specialisation and it involves support from Deans. An increase in NSFAS Post School Education and Training (PSET) applications could be a result of socio-economic issues of the pandemic as financial situations of learners/parents have changed. The UNISA pass rate is significantly lower than other Universities’ average pass rate. Although the low pass rate throughout UNISA might be because of the distance learning environment of the institution, however DHET is concerned because the pass rate throughout is low. Graduates must be able to articulate and integrate into the work-place seamlessly. It is also important that the Universities turn-out graduates that are work-place ready and can be further educated. UNISA’s first-year bursary scheme did not consider its enrolment plans in the past academic years and this has led to over-enrolment by 20,000 learners in 2020. The reduction of awards by 20,000 is to ensure that the quality of education is not reduced. The 12 February 2021 circular of NSFAS is based on the New Higher Education Qualification Sub Framework (HEQSF) implemented in 2020. The NSFAS circular refers to legacy qualifications that have either been phased out or re-adjusted to have a new name. Hence it should be clarified that only qualifications which bear the old name have been phased out. In the case of part-time students, NSFAS would continue funding the qualifications until the qualification is phased out. This decision affected all universities as qualifications have either been phased out or readjusted based on the New Higher Education Qualification Sub Framework (HEQSF) implemented in 2020.

The Chairperson appreciated the Minister and remarked that Members were still challenged as they were inundated with calls from parents in the rural areas. He suggested that Members inform parents of the recent developments. She then invited the Deputy Minister of the DBE to address the Committee.

Presentation by the Department of Basic Education

 

Deputy Minister Mhaule stated that the DBE was in constant consultations with DHET but given the late release of matric results, PSET admissions might be delayed. She informed the Committee that the pass rate in matric results declined by 5% due to the pandemic and appreciated other Departments for assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. She stated that the Umalusi Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training was able to vet and ratify the matric results despite the reported leakages. She remarked that Northern Cape was challenged with the flood situation which affected learners. Although tailor-made support was not available to learners some learners were able to record passes. She invited the Director-General (DG), Mr Hubert Mathanzima Mweli, to deliver the presentation.

The Mr Mweli invited Mr Paddy Padayachee, DDG: Planning, Information and Assessment, to give the presentation.

Mr Padyachee invited Mr Gerrit Coetzee, Director: Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme, to make the presentation on his behalf.

Mr Coetzee stated that many of the teachers that graduated under the PSET received support from NSFAS and the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme. He said that NSFAS in its role to fund deserving students had increased its footprints by supporting high school grade 10-12 learners. He said that the business process of NSFAS and the Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme had been negatively impacted by the pandemic as the deadline for application submission had been shifted because of the late release of matric results. The agency is challenged by students who are awarded a bursary for approved specialised courses but register for other courses. He highlighted NSFAS enrolment plans for teacher education. He stated that even though NSFAS’ recorded teacher graduates in past academic years was higher than the enrolment plans, NSFAS needed to work with the DHET to ensure that the teacher graduates rolled-out were in specialised cadres. He stated that DHET needed to apply caution in reducing enrolments at UNISA as the number of teacher graduates from UNISA was higher than that of other Universities. He presented data to show that more black teachers and more female teachers had been recruited in line with Government regulations. He presented District-based recruitment data from 2014 -2020 and stated that more teachers had graduated from the Eastern Cape. The figures also showed that the placement figures for teacher graduates as at 2020 was about 82%.

Recommendations

 

Mr Coetzee suggested that DHET should fast-track COVID -19 policy initiatives; prioritise specialisation in inclusive education at the foundation, intermediate and senior phases. He appealed to the Committee to intervene as the revised MTEF Funza Lushaka funds were reduced in 2021 which would result in the award of about 12,000 bursaries. He suggested that teaching awards be made out to learners below the age of 30 years as the current average age of awardees is presently 47 years to improve the quality of teachers to ensure that teachers have lengthy service years.  He agreed with DHET that enrolment planning is continued to ensure that students are enrolled in specialised areas.

Mr Padyachee invited Dr Stephen Taylor, Researcher and Policy Advisor, DBE, to brief the Committee on the analysis, implications, and impact of the President’s SONA 2021.

DBE on the analysis, implications, and impact of the President’s SONA 2021

 

Dr Taylor said that the 2021 goals for DBE in the SONA were based on COVID-19 as there were no basic education specific goals. The strategic direction would be on how the basic education sector plans relate to the strategic development goals. Two issues of concern are how the school disruption placed a huge burden on learners’, teachers and families and priorities to regain lost time. A comparison of the 2021 SONA to that of previous years showed that the focus was on early childhood development (ECD) and early learning outcomes. Data has been generated through monitoring and evaluation to access the effect of the pandemic on schools. The questions addressed are; how much schooling time has been lost, how worried were parents, how ready were schools, and how was the social aspect of feeding learners impacted. The data was sourced from the National Income Dynamic Survey-Coronavirus Response Management Survey (NIDS-CRAM Survey). This survey involved monitoring; attendance of learners by grade in different Provinces, socio-economic status, anxiety about returning to school, and access to school meals. The results of the survey showed that there were a higher number of educators than teachers. When schools were opened, children were less likely; to become infected, severely infected, and did not play a role as super spreaders. The researchers concluded from the data that closing schools had not been an effective measure for slowing the spread of COVID-19. The data also suggested that teachers were relatively at risk but the data was not conclusive. Younger children had lower rates of hospitalisation and the numbers were lower than older people. Children were also less likely to be affected by Covid-19 variants. The main findings were that the effect of rotational times was not considered, more children received school meals, and children were less likely to be at risk of COVID-19 if all precautions are taken.

Recommendations on the findings were that schools should remain open based on COVID-19 restrictions, prioritise continuous learning to mitigate learner dropouts, and the Committee should note the analysis and discuss the points raised for the next five years.

Discussions

 

The Chairperson observed that the proposed presentations in the agenda for the day were too ambitious as Members did not have enough time to internalise the briefs. She asked Member to interrogate the brief by DBE.

Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) asked DBE to confirm if the NSFAS system was able to confirm if its system was able to pick-up students that received two awards. She asked DBE to state what it was doing to address the shortage of specialised teacher graduates.

Mr Ngcobo appreciated the good work of teachers and asked DBE to state the extent to which it had assisted prospective learners in filling online bursary application forms. He asked DBE to state how it managed Funza Lushaka learners who were engaged in looking for money instead of attending training programs.

Mr E Siwela (ANC) appreciated DBE for its good work. He could not continue to ask questions because of the bad network.

The Chairperson observed that Mr Siwela, Ms S Lehihi (EFF, North West), and some other Members could not ask DBE questions because of network and device issues and asked the Committee Secretary to comment.

The Committee Secretary promised to assist Members with network and device issues and suggested that Members send questions through the Committee secretariat.

The Chairperson accepted the suggestion made by the Secretary. She read out the question of some Members who had sent chats on the platform. Mr Ngcobo had asked DBE to confirm if NSFAS was prioritising Funza Lusaka teacher training learners in comparison to other teacher training learners.

She remarked that the MEC and parents had also had raised questions on how Funza Lusaka teacher training learners were being managed. Hence she asked NSFAS to confirm the category of learners that continually received Funza Lushaka awards as parents were already alleging that there were some learners that were favoured. Mr Siwela has asked the DBE to explain what would happen if an applicant was initially granted NSFAS bursary but failed matric.

Responses

Deputy Minister Mhaule said that the question on what would happen if an applicant was initially granted NSFAS bursary but failed matric should be ideally directed to DHET. She said if the economic situation had changed due to any reason the parents should apply at the province level as Funza Lusaka teacher training learners have recruited at the province level. She agreed that some Funza Lusaka teacher training learners changed their courses and enrolled for other courses when in school and this results in placement challenges in the workplace.  Students that attend teacher training programmes and graduate in specialised programmes are absorbed as teachers. DBE would investigate the alleged favouritism of Funza Lusaka teacher training learners over privately funded teacher training learners. Funza Lusaka teacher training funds are managed by DHET who pick-up situations of funding from two funding institutions and address the situation. The action plan to address the shortage of specialised teacher graduates has been drawn up and DBE would present the reports as soon as it is approved.

Mr Coetzee said out of the 28 000 teacher training learners that graduated in 2018, only 4 000 were Funza Lusaka teacher training graduates so the percentage is low. A small number of specialised programs are funded by Funza Lusaka.

Ms Lewin said any student that was given a conditional NSFAS award but failed would have to re-apply in the following year when they have passed matric. Acknowledgment of debt is in two phases. The first deals with historical debt for students registered in 2018 before new bursaries based on cap on funding and family contribution. NSAFAS allocated this funding in 2019.  The second case deals with students that have accumulated debts at institutions. These students may need to acknowledge the debt and pay the debts according to the priorities of the institutions.

The Chairperson remarked that even though DBE had responded to Members’ questions, she instructed DBE to ensure that teachers were appointed fairly.

She requested that the draft minutes and Committees reports be considered and adopted at the next Committee meeting.

Members agreed.

The Chairperson appreciated the Deputy Minister, the DG, and officials of the DBE and asked the Deputy Minister to extend the Committee’s greetings to the Minister.

The meeting was adjourned.

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