DHET, CHE & QCTO 2021/22 Annual Performance Plans; with Minister and Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Technology

04 May 2021
Chairperson: Mr P Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Higher Education Science and Technology

Annual Performance Plans

The Committee met virtually with the Department of Higher Education and Training to receive briefings from the Council on Higher Education and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations on their strategic and annual performance plans.

The Minister's high level overview touched on pivotal matters in the higher education sector. These included the stabilisation of management in the Department, the skills development strategy, and the planned establishment of two new universities. Although increasing student funding would be welcomed, if it was done at the expense of the system, it would be tantamount to self-inflicted jeopardy and take the country backwards. Colleges were currently funded at the rate of 62%, instead of 80%. The Minister emphasised that increasing student funding would almost collapse the country’s public education system, with high rates of failure among students and a loss of personnel. Work on a comprehensive review of student funding, which would include the ‘missing middle’ students, had partially been done, and the a team was being assembled to assess the work already completed. From this comprehensive review, which would include the Heher Commission’s work, a concrete proposal on student funding would emanate and be presented to Cabinet before June.

The Department also announced key senior appointments, which were previously of great concern to the Committee. Some of its medium term strategic framework targets had had to be revised down due to budget shortfalls -- mainly in the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and community education and training (CET) programmes – which had also affected the enrolment targets. 

Members were concerned about the continuing increase in university enrolments in the face of the current challenges to the system, and expressed dismay that the budget for TVET colleges had been reduced in the midst of high unemployment rates among the youth, with three million who were not in education or employment. They were also concerned about the budget cuts over the medium term expenditure framework period, which were projected to amount to R20.8 billion. There was a risk that if student funding continued to grow at the expense of university subsidies, universities’ budgets would be constrained, and that would compromise the quality of education. The destruction of university property was strongly condemned by the Committee, which asked the Department for a quantified value of all properties that had been destroyed during student protests.

Members commended the Department for introducing skills programmes that were fit for purpose in TVETs and CETs, as they indicated active participation in the economic reconstruction and recovery plan (ERRP). These interventions would go a long way towards addressing the local skills needs.

Members asked questions about the ERRP; the skills development strategy; vacancy rates; the terms of reference of the steering committee on the establishment of the two new universities; funding shortfalls for the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA); progress on the National Qualifications Framework Bill; the downward revision of enrolments at TVET and CET colleges; and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding model.
 

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed everyone present, and announced that he would leave the meeting a bit earlier than the scheduled time and would hand over to Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) to act in his place. The agenda was submitted and adopted, and apologies were also received and accepted.

Minister’s introductory remarks

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, spoke about his progress in stabilising the top positions of the Department. Cabinet had already approved three top positions, such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Ms Pretty Makukule, Mr Sam Zungu, Deputy Director-General (DDG) for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, who had already started officially, and Ms Nolwazi Gasa, DDG: Planning, Policy and Strategy. There was another DDG post at the interview stage for Community Education and Training (CET), but the matter was now with the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), and there were only technical issues that were being sorted out, which hopefully would be resolved soon. The vacant post was the DDG for University Education, because Dr Diane Parker went on retirement at the end of January, and this post was advertised and he was about to embark on short-listing. The contract of the Director-General (DG) was coming to an end in August this year, and he had already advertised for this post. The advert had already been closed, because he was trying to close any potential gaps between the outgoing and an incoming DG.

He was concerned that there were still a lot of posts in the Department that remained unfilled. However, with the appointment of these top positions, the process to fill the vacancies at the lower level would be completed speedily.

One could not look at the strategic plan and annual performance plan (APP) without considering the recent reality. Covid-19 had had an impact on the sector. The Department had adopted a risk adjusted strategy informed by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), and campuses had to be shutdown. It had implemented efforts geared towards curbing the spread of the virus at institutions, doing the best it could to ensure that students were not affected in their studies. The one observation, with which it agreed with Universities South Africa (USAf), showed that the performance of the students had been better than expected, despite the challenges. The Ministry had a meeting with the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to conduct a closed study that perhaps could be indicative of shifting teaching and learning to become blended. Most of the institutions had been forced to adapt to this approach, and this experience had shown that it could be done. The intervention by the Department had yielded positive results.

Despite these positive outcomes, the strategic plan of the Department had been affected. The sector had had to adjust to producing the jobs that would be in demand in the post coronavirus phase.

One of the interventions made by the Ministry was engaging with the sector education and training authorities (SETAs), intensely to review the prioritisation of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) work. In addition, he had told the SETAs that the funds that had not been committed should perhaps be directed to support specific programmes in the ERRP priorities, and those funds should not be returned to Treasury but be committed to those programmes. He confirmed that the funds had now been committed from the SETAs for the ERRP priorities. He was willing to make a detailed presentation to the Committee on this matter.

The Ministry had started the process of the establishment of the two new universities -- a university of science and technology, which would be in Ekurhuleni Metro, and a detective university. He had assigned one of his special advisors, Dr Derek Swartz, who was a long-serving and distinguished Vice Chancellor, to lead this process, working together with the officials of the Department. The team was in the process of forming the necessary committees, which had to include representatives of the universities in Gauteng, the provincial government and the Ekurhuleni municipality, as part of the steering committee to drive this programme.

Student funding was one of the ongoing challenges, and it was time to get a proper handle on it. The government's policy to assist the poor and the middle class had met its commitments. The demonstrations were largely from students that were not National Student Financial Aid (NSFAS) students – there was free higher education in the country. The missing middle students fell outside that criterion, but that was not to say that government was not concerned about that group of students. The policy of government was to focus on the poor, and it had now included the working class. It was important that this was clarified, because at the beginning of the year when strikes were taking place, the issues often tended to be fudged.

Cabinet had asked him to conduct a comprehensive study on funding and present it back in June. The team should be starting its work this week, or no later than next week. A lot of work had been done, but the team would review and analyse the work to come back with concrete proposals on student funding, which would include the work done by the Heher Commission. While increasing student funding was welcomed, it was not sufficient. If one cut student funding to compensate for other programmes, one would be ‘cutting one's nose to spite one's face’. Otherwise, they would be funding students who would be unable to address their needs and a potential university sector that might lose its key personnel. Already the colleges were in big trouble, as the DHET was funding colleges at about 60% instead of 80%. As they increased student funding, they should also push for an increase in funding for universities and colleges.

One of the key challenges was to defend the public university system. South Africa’s public university system was the largest in Africa and highly respected globally, even though it was uneven. The African continent was experiencing an increase in private universities. When looking at the APP and the strategic plan for the next four to five years, the Committee must continue to take an interest in this – what would happen when university education became privatised? Firstly, it was only the elite who would be able to attend universities, therefore depriving the children of the working class and the poor from accessing university education. Secondly, where private institutions accepted poor or working class students, these students were often said to be of dubious quality and were more like ‘fly by night’ students. It remained imperative to defend the public university sector by ensuring that it was properly funded, and it had to be stable. One could not continue having endless circles of instability in the sector. Most working class parents were now shifting to the private universities due to the instability in the public universities, which required both government and student leadership intervention.

The challenge was the need to increase funding for the whole of post-school education and training. Of the 100 students that enter grade 1, only four make it to university and complete a degree – after six or seven years. This was why the government White Paper stated that there was a need to expand the TVET sector, but there were fiscal challenges that prevented that. Part of the challenge in the university system had a lot to do with the fact that there was no alternative path for progression. A good percentage of students that started at university should not have gone to university, but there was no alternative. For example, in a country like Germany, only 1/3 of their students left school and went to university -- the remaining 2/3 became apprentices or got jobs. This was why they had a larger TVET college system than the university system. The South African policy states that for every university student, there needed to be three TVET college students if it was to address the challenge of access in the university system.

Infrastructure was critical, but the priority at the moment was student accommodation. There had to be a systematic way to approach this by restructuring the management of infrastructure within the Department. The planning branch would now be responsible for coordinating all infrastructure projects in all the different branches. There would now be only one centre that managed infrastructural projects in the entire sector, which would enhance better planning where institutions must be turned into multi-purpose educational institutions. For example, he had been approached by the community of Giyani regarding a former teachers' training college infrastructure, which was a ‘white elephant’, and the community wanted a university in that structure. He had agreed that there must be a campus, and the Tshwane University of Technology had expressed an interest, which was good because the community had indicated that it needed a university of technology. He also thought that the facility could also be utilised for CET and TVET college programmes. Some of the sector infrastructure was utilised only from Monday to Friday during office hours, and remained unused during weekends and after hours. Why could it not be used during the weekend for working people who sought to enhance their education and training skills? As they looked to 2025, this was the kind of thinking they should have when looking at infrastructure. He had therefore appointed a Ministerial advisory committee on infrastructure (MACI) to partner with the private sector to resolve the student accommodation challenge in the country.

NSFAS was fully funded this year by taking money away from the university system and from college infrastructure to have the funding available. This was one area that needed to be looked at very closely by Parliament as the custodian of approving appropriations.

The Chairperson welcomed the remarks by the Minister and the efforts made by the DHET to fill the key positions in the Department. He also welcomed and accepted the request to present the skills development strategy that had been presented to the Cabinet Lekgotla. The Committee would make a plan to receive this strategy.

DHET on its Strategic and Annual Performance Plan
 

Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, DG, DHET, took the Members through the presentation and touched on the legislative mandate of the Department; the vision for the Post-School Education and Training (PSET) system; an overview of the revised strategic plan; priority areas of the revised strategic plan; key programme outputs for the 2021/22 financial year; and budget information for the 2021/22 medium term expenditure framework (MTEF).
The Department’s budget had been cut by R20.083 billion over the MTEF. The revised strategic plan:

Took into account the changed economic environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was aligned to the reviewed MTSF 2019 - 2024;
Spelt out the work to be done in a rapidly changing world, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic;
Committed the Department to improve educational and employment outcomes of the PSET system

Priority areas included in the revised strategic plan included support for the ERRP through developing a skills strategy to support government’s efforts towards mitigating the impact of COVID-19 and the initiatives towards economic and social recovery; managing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic at the institutional level; and the funding of eligible students through NSFAS and working towards a financial aid system that would be inclusive of ‘missing middle’ students.
With regard to the budget trends of the Department, the baseline reductions over the MTEF amounted to R4.969 billion in 2021/22, R6.429 billion in 2022/23 and R9.422 billion in 2023/24. The decrease in baseline funding was impacting negatively on the Department’s operations. Funding of poor students through the NSFAS was impacted negatively through these budget cuts. Based on the student protests at the beginning of the academic year, the Department had to reprioritise funding within its own budget to address projected budget shortfalls that originated from cuts, as well as from increased applications from students who qualified for funding. University funding was contributing to the largest percentage of funding in the vote, at an average rate of 63.8% over the MTEF, while the projected average spending rate for TVET colleges was 15.8% over the same period. The projected average spending rate for the skills levy was 16.3%.
The Minister concluded the DHET's presentation by saying that as much as budget constraints had hit every department and resulted in the revision of targets; there were areas where the Department thought it could do more, but could not include them in the targets. The placement of lecturers in industry had been revised down in relation to the resources available, but the Department was forging partnerships that would lead to mitigating budgetary constraints.
Bullet-point three in slide 42 of the presentation was incorrect. It stated that based on the student protests at the beginning of the academic year, the Department had had to reprioritise funding within its own budget. The reprioritisation of the budget and dealing with the shortfall at NSFAS had not started with the student protests. It was already becoming clearer last year that the fact that the academic year had to be extended would have huge implications for NSFAS.
He commended Higher Health South Africa for playing a crucial role in managing the impact of Covid-19, and said it needed to be strengthened because it had proved to be one of the most important assets of the sector.
It would be prudent to go back in the last five years to quantify the amount of money lost due to the destruction of university property. It might have reached R1 billion over the last five years. This was a huge amount of money that could have had a huge impact on the system. Unfortunately, the destruction of property had not stopped. This was a matter that needed to be focused on, and the Committee also needed to look into this. The destruction of property was destroying the future of the students that were still coming into the system. The last of it was the throwing of a petrol bomb at a police van during a protest at the Walter Sisulu University.
Chairperson's comments

The Chairperson said that a number of issues had been raised by the Minister and in the presentation of the Department. The Minister’s overview had focused on the stabilisation of management, the appointment of three DDGs, plus one outstanding, the skills development strategy, and the establishment of the two new universities. The Committee needed to move with speed on these matters.

It had to ensure that there was enough money allocated for the two universities. The Committee welcomed the work that had been regarding the comprehensive proposal that would speak to student funding, including the missing middle. There was also the matter of infrastructure, which had been an issue for some time.

The destruction of property was unacceptable. It needed to be protected, because indeed it was for the future generation. Every opportunity they got to interact with the student leadership it should be stressed that property must be respected and protected. On this point, the Committee supported the Minister completely.

On the finances, the baseline reduction over the MTEF amounted to about R20 billion, and this was an area of concern. There was no indication as to how soon the decline would be arrested. The current situation had been exacerbated by the pre-existing economic conditions in the country, but these cuts were worrisome, especially the R5 billion cuts to NSFAS. In his budget, the Minister had mentioned that the shortfall on NSFAS would be attended to, and the Minister of Finance must be held to his word. This was something that the DHET needed to constantly attempt to engage with the Minister of Finance on.

Discussion

Mr T Letsie (ANC) welcomed the appointment of the DDGs announced by the Minister, as well as his offer for the Department to come and present the ERRP strategy. He asked about the establishment of the steering committee, its terms of reference and its time frames. The budget cuts in the Department over the MTEF were depressing – the sector would be stressed.

He commended the Department for addressing funding shortfalls at the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which were threatening the sustainability of the organisation. He asked the Minister whether he wanted the Committee to approve or reject the budget, given that there was no additional funding and there was further reduction of funding over the MTEF. How were the MTEF budget cuts on the compensation of employees impacting the filling of vacancies within the Department and CET colleges? What would be the impact of this?

At all material times one had to speak out against the destruction of property during strikes and protests. When students were rightfully protesting, it could not be acceptable that property was destroyed. Last year alone this had cost the Department a lot of money – it was in the billions of rands. This was money that had been lost in the system, because the properties needed to be fixed. How much had been lost in the system in trying to fix the destroyed infrastructure? It would be helpful to get information on what could have been done with that money in the sector. One wonders how many beds or projects would have been paid for and completed from the funding that had to be used. He had reason to believe that the destruction of property was also influenced by non-students who were already on the supplier list of the institution to get tenders to repair and fix the infrastructure on these properties. This may be something that needed to be looked into.

Ms C King (DA) commended the Department for the steps taken to strengthen the TVET college sector. There was a target for 2024 by NSFAS that 450 000 students at the university level would be funded, and 400 000 TVET students would also be funded. Looking at this target, if they could not fund the current status, how sustainable was the funding model to ensure that they could keep up with the student grant system? Should one not look at a more sustainable funding model that would enable them to recoup some of the funds and perhaps provide funding to the ‘missing middle’ students on a loan basis?

Secondly, why was the headcount for the TVET colleges and CETs revised downwards? Was this not in contravention of the White Paper on post-school education and training? For every university student intake, there must be three TVET students accepted – this she agreed with -- but this was not the case currently. The university enrolment was ballooning substantially. so the branch could not cope with the current infrastructure. Would the funding model be geared more towards apprenticeship for NSFAS and for skills development? Currently, university students received more funding compared to TVET students.

What measures had been put in place to ensure that TVETs and SETAs were aligned to ensure that they topped up each other's skill, for both sectors to be progressive?

She would have appreciated to see how the DHET and NSFAS were going to monitor and establish partnerships in the private sector to address the funding framework of the sector, and in particular the ‘missing middle’.

The National Qualifications Framework Bill was supposed to be approved in March 2022. In 2018 there had already been such a Bill before the President. What efforts would bring about changes in the National Qualifications Framework in such a short space of time, and would this not create some form of destabilisation if both processes of the amendments had to be looked at? What other legislative amendments would be taking place in the sector over the next five years?

Looking at the two new universities that would be set up, why was Ekurhuleni chosen to house one of the universities instead of the Eastern Cape?

On the crime detection university, was the feasibility study already done, and could the Committee have access to the study to see what the outcome was?

Why was the target setting for the entrepreneurship TVET colleges so low, and what criteria would be used to select the five colleges. Which provinces would they be in, and when would the colleges have these hubs set up properly, and where was the funding going to come from?

On the destruction of property, looking at the budget, there would be a R7.7 billion cut from universities, and R2.4 billion would be from infrastructure. The TVET infrastructure would also have over R400 million cut. These cuts placed a heavy burden on the institutions.

The NSFAS funding model did not address the market and the skills that were needed. Funding was going to Bachelor of Arts students instead of engineering students. How was NSFAS going to be geared to ensure that students would be properly funded and the economy properly developed? Overall, there was no real or nominal increase in the budget for the sector, which in turn would lead to institutions increasing their fees to make up for the shortfalls. How should a university go about covering up these potential shortfalls?

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked for clarity on the articulation implementation plans for traditional universities. It had been stated that there were two TVET colleges with disability support – which colleges were these? Which TVET colleges had been identified for the five entrepreneurship programmes? She also sought clarity on SAQA’s financial sustainability over the MTEF.


Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked about the Department’s report on gender-based violence (GBV) frameworks, and whether there was any budget set aside for the implementation of that programme and how much had been allocated, if there was any allocation. In the institutions of higher learning, there were inequalities- were there any strategies in place by the Department to address all sorts of inequalities in institutions?  Did the sector have a plan to adjust to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and remote learning and teaching? What was taking the Department so long to provide redress to the historically disadvantaged universities?

With regard to skills development, the Department must look at aligning and integrating programmes between the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) and TVET colleges, which could not be postponed any longer. These programmes must be fast-tracked and aligned. What mitigations were in place to ensure that the developed qualifications were fit for purpose and were funded?

Lastly, was there a plan to ensure that the sector was not worse off in light of the decreasing budget over the MTEF?

Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC) welcomed the progress that the Department had made in stabilising its leadership. She also acknowledged the impact of the reprioritisation of the budget on its targets and plans. She echoed the sentiments of the South African Union of Students (SAUS) on addressing the funding challenges and the lack of new funds coming into the sector.

On the plans around developing an e-learning strategy for approval by 31 March 2022, she sought clarity and confidence on whether the strategy would take into consideration how teaching and learning methodologies had changed after and during the era of Covid-19, as well as the development of infrastructure. This spoke directly to plans for up-scaling digital infrastructure.

The private student accommodation framework was set to be completed by March 2023. The Committee had seen how the Department had been able to influence the manner in which institutions went about accommodating students during the hard lockdown, but it was hard for it to regulate private accommodation. It would be important to prioritise that framework to a completion date that was moved up closer. She wondered whether this was possible.

She sought confirmation on the inclusion of the infrastructure development capacity programme in the APP. One of the biggest concerns in the TVET programme budget was around infrastructure not being utilised because people did not know how to, and subsequently there had been agreement that a capacity development programme for infrastructure would be established. She wanted to know whether this had been included in the planning.

She also sought clarity on the distribution of laptops in the plans, as well as whether there was a specific unit of the Department that looked at issues of gender-based violence. She needed clarity on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Bill as well, in concurrence with Ms King’s comments. A standing concern was around the difference in NSFAS stipends for TVET students compared to those of university students -- could the Department also provide some clarity on this matter?

The Chairperson commented on the 2020 academic year, and said that the Minister had referred extensively to it. There were many lessons to learn from the measures that had been introduced to contend with the lockdown, one of which was the multi-modal system of learning. There had been an engagement with the University of Zululand (UniZulu) where the Committee appreciated the effort that the university took, as well as the participation of the lecturers, in the distribution of the learning materials. Surely, there were other institutions that had to be innovative in how it dealt with the issues. The Committee thought that a discussion should be initiated on some of the lessons learnt and what could be taken forward from these experiences. With the challenges presented by the Covid-19, the institutions had been able to complete the 2020 academic year, which was a significant achievement.

The Committee was pleased with the intervention of the Department in saving SAQA.

DHET's response

Ms Makukule, CFO, DHET, said the Department had set aside R5.3 million for the feasibility studies, and Dr Thandi Lewin could provide more details on this. As for the impact of budget cuts on compensation, this would be looked at over the short and long term, but in the medium term the Department would manage with the current budget cuts, fuelled by the vacancies that still existed. However, once these vacancies start gradually getting filled, the financial position might not be sustainable. The number of lecturers would need to be reduced, and this would affect the enrolment plans.

In the CET sector, the Department was embarking on a standardisation process. This would be implemented in the coming year, and aimed to address the disparities in the cost of living of the CET lecturers and centre managers across the country. The budget cuts might hinder the realisation of these plans.

The Department was also looking at other mechanisms to enhance operational efficiencies, because it was most likely that the situation would remain the same in the near future regarding the budget cuts.

As for SAQA’s budget cuts and the additional funding, the approach and rationale was that it would have been cut by R10.1 million in year one, R13.9 million in year two, and R16.3 million in year three amounting to R41 million over the MTEF. The Department had to find some money within the Department to absorb these cuts. The additional funding provided to SAQA amounted to R5 million but in its projections, it forecast a loss of R16 million. The R5 million gave SAQA a balanced budget.

The Department transferred R20 million per annum to Higher Health, and the programmes predominantly supported GBV programmes. It had also allocated R7 million per annum to the Directorate that supported GBV programmes. It should be noted that this was over and above the subsidies that were sent to different institutions for GBV programmes. Over the MTEF, the Department had allocated about R6.8 million to Higher Health.

Dr Lewin said there was a deadline on the feasibility study for both new universities in Ekurhuleni and Hammanskraal. The steering committee had been appointed and had started meeting. It was made up of representatives from the universities in the Gauteng region and from the City and the South African Police Service (SAPS). The role of the steering committee was to provide strategic guidance for the projects; however, funding had been allocated to the feasibility studies. This was the first stage, which would identify the costs and resources that would be required for the infrastructure. The project plan would be overseen by the Steering Committee, but also implemented with support from project management teams. This would also be informed by the work that the Department had done in the establishment of new universities, such as the Sol Plaatje University (SPU) and University of Mpumalanga (UMP) processes. There was a great deal of work that still needed to be done regarding the courses, the form, infrastructure requirements, etc, and this was all work that would form part of the feasibility studies. The work was being led by Prof Swartz.
On teaching and learning issues, as well as monitoring the move to blended learning, there was a lot of work that was planned to be undertaken with the CHE. The Department had done some work on access to learning material already, and the report on that work was available. The CHE and USAf were working together to look at the requirements necessary for the academic staff, as well as support personnel.

On the damage to property in institutions as a result of protests, the Department would collect the figures from the universities and present them to the Committee once that factual information had been received.

Regarding the sustainability of the funding model, the Minister had already provided extensive input on this. The urgent work done now was to ensure that in the medium term there was clarity on what happened over the next two years. The work had started -- closely with National Treasury and NSFAS. Reviewing work that had already been done in the system would be key, including the Heher Commission and other work that had been done. The Department would not able to do all the technical work over two months, and some of the work would require to be done over a longer period. This work would cover a comprehensive report on student funding, including the ‘missing middle’ students.


Ms N Gasa, DDG: Planning, Policy and Strategy, commented on the infrastructure coordination, and said the Department had since made some strides in this regard. This had now been moved to branch planning. The DHET had sought to strengthen its capacity as a branch and dispel the silo mentality of infrastructure work located within the Department. There had been engagement with Treasury regarding handling the transition and financial resources into one branch within the Department. The Minister had formed the MACI, which consisted of about four individuals who would provide strategic support to the Department and the Minister regarding infrastructural projects.

The student housing framework would be brought much closer in terms of finalisation. The Department was also working with the university branch on the digitisation of infrastructure, teaching and learning methodologies. The Department also planned to finalise the student housing infrastructure programme.

Working with Higher Health, the Department had set up a GBV tactical task team, which represented different institutions and government departments that had a key role in fighting this scourge, such as SAPS, the Department of Social Development and the Department of Health, to name a few. The DHET attended to policy and implementation imperatives that sought to address GBV and femicide. About three months ago, the President had launched a fund where the government worked with the private sector to look at what was happening with GBVF. This happened against the backdrop of the Presidential strategic plan on GBVF.

There had been a change in the board of SAQA. There was a new chairperson, with extensive experience in the field and new board members who sought to address the challenges that had been raised last year. The Department was doing the best it could to avoid retrenchments.

As for NQF Bill, the Department had had a substantial amount of interaction with stakeholders and consultations. A state law advisor's input was being sought, and the Department was within target. The Department was could also come and table the Bill to the Committee for its consideration.

On multi-modal learning, there were mechanisms to engage USAf and SAQA and other relevant stakeholders to look at what was possible on a sustainable basis, and this also included the Department of Telecommunications.

Mr Zukile Mvalo, DDG: TVET Colleges, said that when the new grant regulations were published on 3 December 2012, with effect from 1 April 2013, the QCTO needed to have sustainable funding. In the SETA grant regulations, the Department had therefore introduced a sub-regulation dedicating about 0.5% of the administration of the money that SETAs were getting from employers for the QCTO. It was realised that this money was not enough, because the QCTO’s work was huge and even looking at the ERRP, it had a major role to play in the skills required for the implementation of that economic reconstruction plan. The QCTO had developed a clear action plan in response to every intervention in the ERRP skills strategy. When the new national skills development plan was published on 7 March 2019, the funding constraints of the QCTO were recognised, and it urged that the 0.5% had to be increased. There were currently ongoing discussions to increase that percentage.

In 2020/21, the QCTO had a budget of R122 million, but the announcement by the President in 21 April 2020 on the skills development holiday meant that QCTO was going to be affected, and this had led to revenue declining down by 42%. In 2021/22, the budget of the QCTO was going to decline to R95.3 million, down from R122 million, but this would increase from 2022 upwards. The QCTO was involved in the TVET and CET sector, with the skills that were required in the latter sector.

There were about three million young people who were not in employment and with the interventions, they wanted to target that cohort of young people. Amongst others, the skills required included welding, bricklaying, tiling, plumbing, etc. There was also work being done by the QCTO with the relevant SETA in the area of robotics, cyber-security, data science software development, etc. These were all skills that had been identified as critical for the economic reconstruction plan.

In 2019, they had launched centres of specialisation. That cohort was on its third year, and there were 840 apprentices which were involved at the centres, which was a response to the national infrastructure plan in 2012. The Department had had to respond to that plan by coming up with the new methodology of centres of specialisation. This was much more like the German dual system, because in this system a learner was not allowed to go to a TVET college without signing a contract with an employer. In this project, the DHET was working with industry associations and the SETAs were coming in very handy. The Manufacturing, Engineering and Related (MER) Seta was going to contribute about R72 million for 377 apprentices as part of the ERRP.

Ms Lulama Mbobo, DDG, Corporate Services, commented on the compensation of employees’ budget, and said that the biggest impact on budget cuts would be felt more in the CET sector, which over the years had been a sector that was not adequately provided for regarding funding for permanent posts and benefits for employees. The Department's plan, with effect from 2020, was that most of the employees (lecturers) would be receiving standardised benefits. These employees had been transferred from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) with no plan on benefits. Due to the budget cuts, the Department had deferred that process to this year. As of yesterday, the Department was now implementing the benefits, where all lecturers would receive housing benefits, medical aid and participate in the Government Employee Pension Fund (GEPF). Currently, the CET colleges did not have adequate resources regarding functions such as finance and administration that were required for the colleges. The Department had since developed post-provisioning norms that would provide these colleges with those resources, but due to budget cuts, it would not be able to provide the resources and had to source funds from elsewhere in order to outsource the basic services such as cleaning, which was critical during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Regarding the other vacancies in the Department, there was reprioritisation under way, and so far there was no pressure in filling the vacancies that had been identified. The DHET was intending to automate some of its business processes and implementing systems. There was intention to realign and review the structure because, due to the lockdown, there may be positions that were not being utilised at the moment. For example, they had realised that not all managers needed a personal assistant. This may yield some savings, but once the plans had been finalised, the Department would share them with the Committee.

Mr Qonde commented on the entrepreneurship hubs in TVET colleges, and said that they were informed by an initiative at the Orbit TVET college, where students doing mechanic studies where provided with practical training. The programme had yielded good results, and some of the students had initiated business ventures for themselves after graduation. This had then been conceptualised and developed further in order to embed the programme offerings at TVET colleges on a broader scale, and it was subsequently introduced at other colleges. The Department was targeting five colleges, and they would be selected based on their capacity and funding that would be found from within the operations of the TVET colleges, because there was no funding available. Each college would be given an opportunity to showcase its capacity and resources to determine whether it could host the programme. Businesses were also being invited to partner with the colleges for this programme.

The downward adjustment of the enrolment was informed by one fundamental and important aspect – the funding in TVET colleges was divided into 80/20, where 80% come from subsidies while 20% came from fees. The funding in respect of the 80% component was 54%, where colleges were required to raise the remaining 26%, but this was difficult because it compromised the teaching and learning of the college. The Department realised that the expansion of access and overloading institutions with high numbers where the resources did not match, was a self-defeating exercise. It had then taken a decision not to overburden the institutions, as it only led to chaos.

Mr Sam Zungu, DDG: TVET College branch, touched on the alignment of the uptake of occupational programmes, which would be intensified to ensure that TVET colleges got accredited. Even when SETAs had the funds, colleges were unable to access them because there were not enough occupational programmes. One of the strategies was to ensure that TVET colleges increased the number of the accredited occupational programmes that the QCTO had done so much in getting approved. The entrepreneurial hubs must be closer to economic activities, and the Department would ensure that those activities were linked to special economic zones.

Minister on Skills Development Plan

Minister Nzimande said that he would make the presentation on the Skills Development Plan in support to the ERRP. He encouraged the Committee to continue to meet with the SETAs and further explore how the SETAs were supporting the ERRP. The Department needed more resources, but they needed think about the choices they made within their own priorities -- for example, getting more resources from the fiscus and through partnerships to expand the TVET college sector, maybe in the next five years.

The destruction of property must really be put to an end. Some notables in society tended to be very opportunistic. A student would get charged and found guilty of serious destruction of property, and a few months down the line, that person would be turned into a hero where there would be a campaign to demand that the arrest was unfair, and that person had been fighting for free higher education. These notables had to be kindly reminded that these resources were for the future generation, and they must not play a populist or opportunistic game in dealing with people who were destroying property when they were being called to account.

He had given a task to UniZulu to identify key issues and dimensions of instability that normally led to violence and the destruction of property. It was very important that we find out who was behind these attacks of violence.

Ekurhuleni was the only metro in the world without a university, and this was one reason why a university was needed there. It was in the industrial heartland of the country, and included a concentration of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in the industrial sector. A university of science and innovation had to have dynamic relations with industry. Ekurhuleni also wanted to build an aerotropolis in what was the main international airport in South Africa, O.R. Tambo International.

The Department might need to go back and review whether it should wait until March 2022 -- maybe that was stretching it -- but he was pushing hard to conclude the handing over of all infrastructure programmes to branch planning in order to move faster. He was already concerned that the Department was moving too slowly, and idiosyncratic personal interests had to be put aside in terms of who controlled what, and the priorities of the branch.

The Chairperson thanked the DHET and the executives who were in acting positions. The acting executives had played an integral role in the Department. As for the destruction of property, the University of Cape Town (UCT) had recently suffered the fate of destruction of property as a result of the fires on Table Mountain. Ms King had suggested that UCT should be invited to come before the Committee to brief Members on the extent of the damage that had been caused by the fire. The Committee had conveyed its solidarity to the University.

The APP was a very important plan of the Department, because it detailed how it intended spending the money that had been appropriated. It was important that Members were aware of what the Department was going to do with it and be able to hold it to account.

The Chairperson handed over to Ms Mkhatshwa to take over chairing of the meeting.

CHE on its Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan

Professor Themba Mosia, Chairperson: Council on Higher Education (CHE) took the Members through the strategic plan and APP. The report touched on mandate of the CHE, the strategic outcomes for 2020 to 2025, the performance plans for each programme, and its budget.

The compensation of employees (CoE) took up about 60% of the budget. It covered 60 funded posts (44 permanent and 16 fixed) from various programmes, and constituted 54% of the total baseline budget allocation. Administration had 24 funded posts (20 permanent and four fixed), and constituted 38% of the total CoE. Quality assurance had 23 funded posts (18 permanent and five fixed) and constituted 40% of the total CoE, while research, monitoring and advice had seven funded posts (five permanent and two fixed) and constituted 13% of the CoE. Management of the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF) had six funded posts (one permanent and five fixed) and constituted 11% of the total CoE.

QCTO on its Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plan
Mr Vijayen Naidoo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), took the Members through the strategic plan and APP, and touched on the 2019 annual report; governance; the senior management structure; QCTO’s response to the ERRP; and the measurement of performance per programme.

[See presentations for details]

Discussion

Ms Mananiso asked about the rapid development of information and communication technologies, which were opening new opportunities in higher education but also presenting more challenges of resourcing capacity and infrastructure. She asked the CHE to elaborate on these challenges and solutions that would assist in addressing them.

The CHE's APP indicated that there were nine vacant posts – when were these posts planned to be filled? She also asked SAQA the same question about filling its vacancies, based on its strategic plan.

Ms King said she noticed that since 2011 the CHE had not had the cyclical institutional audit, but now it seemed to have been reintroduced. Was there a specific reason why no audits had been conducted since 2011 to date? Secondly, the CHE had found that some institutions’ requirements were not aligned with the specific quality assurance councils. She referred to the issue of the Durban University of Technology (DUT), where it had been found that the institution's requirements of the students were not aligned with what the technical dental qualification authority wanted, resulting in some of the learners having incomplete degrees.

Mr Letsie said that the flurry of resignations from the QCTO would have created instability. Although there were good reasons for the resignations, they could have created a bad situation nonetheless. All thanks were due to the chairperson for keeping the organisation intact. He suggested that perhaps the Minister should look into making appointees of the boards sign appointment letters that would not allow them to resign within months of assuming their positions.

The CHE had submitted that the review of the Act in such short succession would destabilise the sector, and had proposed that the 2018 review be halted to accommodate the review work on the NQF. What was the current view of the CHE on this matter?

He asked the QCTO whether the NQF Bill would affect the entity with its programmes. How far was it with the process of purchasing its own building, because previously the QCTO had indicated that it was incurring exorbitant rental amounts?

Was the institution going to be able to fill the vacancies with the reduced budget and meet its targets? One could see that the targets had increased against a reduced budget – was this not going to affect the performance of the institution? What was the vacancy rate, and how many posts had been frozen?  How was that going to impact the QCTO? When would the Minister appoint the full complement of the Board, including the chairperson?

The Acting Chairperson thanked both entities for the presentation, agreed with the CHE that they must lead various forms of research and create future projections on how the sector would look going into the future, perhaps beyond Covid-19. It had also been refreshing to see a continuation of thoughts from the Department's presentation to the entities – there was definitely synergy, which assured Members that there was collaboration. 

She also raised questions about the vacancies, and specifically asked about the change in the assessment coming out of the 2020 academic year, and whether they had made an analysis, or planned to make an analysis around the changes that had taken place with the assessments. In the report on the 2020 academic year covering the Department and the many institutions on the university and TVET programmes, there was a general indication of success. Could this mean that continuing with the current assessment would work? She would like to see an analysis of the quality of the education presented to the students, and the outcome of that education post Covid-19.

The biggest challenge with hybrid learning was plagiarism, and one wondered whether significant measures had been put in place to circumvent this.

CHE responses

Prof Mosia commented on the DUT matter, and said that there were programmes that were accredited by professional bodies, but the CHE was the overarching quality assurance body. There were instances where programmes were offered but not accredited or re-accredited, and there were numerous examples of this, but it was more about how one managed them to avoid students being the casualties.

Prof Lesley Le Grange, Council Member, CHE, responded to the matter of assessments and said that it had been flagged and discussed extensively. He agreed with Ms Mkhatshwa that there must be a collective effort to look into this matter, but one needed to understand that Covid-19 had required the institutions and the students to adapt very quickly to multi-modal learning and teaching. This was something that needed to be looked at much more deeply and assessed as to how it could be done to the extent of different modules, including those modules that required practical work. One had to be mindful of the fact that access to information these days was much easier, and to avoid the regurgitation of information they would need to rethink the assessments and the kind of questions that were asked when they were being assessed.

Prof Selby Ripinga, Council Member, CHE, said that the institutional audits of CHE were stopped in 2011. The process had been reviewed because of the problems that existed regarding the implementing of institutional audits. There were a number of processes that were set to review the nature in which institutional audits were presented. They had since had the development of integrated quality assurance, and the audits were re-worked in such a way that the institutions and the CHE would be participating in holding hands in implementing that programme. In the APP, a number of audits would be undertaken in order to resume the institutional audits in a fashion different from before. It was due to the reconceptualisation that these audits had been stopped, but now there was a new programme which would be part of the integrated quality assurance. It had been brought back in a new fashion, and it would now be more effective compared to the previous way.

Dr Whitfield Green, Chief Executive Officer, CHE, referred to the vacant posts, and said that the nine posts were permanent posts. Four of them were already occupied on fixed term contracts, and the process of filling the remaining five posts was under way. One of the issues that management had been working on in making decisions about filling the posts was the imminent implementation of the quality assurance framework, which positioned quality assurance in new ways, but required the CHE to think about its organisational structure in a way that was aligned with the implementation of the quality assurance framework. The intention was to fill the posts this year, since the NQF had been finalised.

QCTO responses

Mr Naidoo responded on the new occupational qualifications being fit for purpose, and said the presentation had indicated that QCTO had registered over 400 qualifications and part-qualifications which were fit for purpose to be offered by any institution that met the requirements for accreditation. The occupational qualifications were not easily implementable in the TVET college sector because of the way they were offered. In TVETs, the programmes were offered in a manner that mimicked a school or classroom situation, where students were exposed to four different lecturers for the four different subjects, whereas the occupational qualifications were much more integrated and more practically focused. That was the huge challenge with the limited and slow uptake of occupational qualifications in TVET colleges. It was a double-barrelled question, but the QCTO was assisting to help the TVET colleges on how these could be offered using the operating model of the TVET colleges, but accomplishing the QCTO qualifications.

The occupational qualifications could be offered via any route of learning because of the flexibility that was built into it. There were over 400 qualifications that could be taken up by TVET colleges. It had been presented previously that all of the TVET N4 to N6 business general studies had been reconfigured as occupational qualifications, but this had not been taken up as yet. All the qualifications had industry involvement right from the conceptualisation stage, through the development process, to the assessment, so they were fit for purpose in that sense.

On the turnaround time for accrediting programmes, the QCTO did not accredit programmes specifically, but accredited institutions to offer the programmes. The programmes would go through the QCTO and then to SAQA for registration on the NQF, which would then become national qualifications and could be offered by any provider, but they would have to seek accreditation from the QCTO. The turnaround time for accrediting institutions was 90 days, as per the policy, the time for approving a qualification was something that the QCTO was still working on. The current processes within the QCTO and SAQA could take up to a year and a half, but there was currently discussion on how to shorten and fast-track the process.

The QCTO was also of the opinion, as articulated by the CHE on reviewing the NQF Act, that it may not impact on its mandate.

Mr Naidoo said he was not in a position to comment on the vacancy level at the moment, but the QCTO had implemented a new organogram which sought to remove all quality assurance requirements from the SETAs. With this organogram, it would require about 280 staff. The plan was to implement it in three phases as funds become available. Unfortunately, vacancies had been reported against what was accomplished in phase two, but they had not yet been approved due to funding constraints. There may be a misalignment between what was reported as vacant versus the funded posts, but written clarity on this could be provided.

The QCTO was feeling the impact of the four months skills levy holiday, and it had come home to roost this year, with its operating budgeting dropping from R122 million to R95 million.

The mandate put out in terms of the APP was critical, all the way from developing qualifications to the issuing of certificates, but one would observe that most of the plans were crafted as percentages. The QCTO might find itself in trouble, but hopefully the National Skills Development Plan (NSDP) will make provision for it to receive more than the 0.5% that it currently receives. It hoped that the Department would look at this more proactively, and the QCTO would seek additional funding.

Mr Innocent Gumba, Chief Financial Officer, responded that the QCTO had moved and sent an offer to a landlord. It was a capital asset, and the valuation report took much longer to be completed due to Covid-19, and that would be part of the documentation to be submitted to the Department for support. The major hurdles had since been resolved, and from now on things should move with speed.

DDG Mvalo took the opportunity to thank Members for the opportunity to make presentation. The Department was happy with the work so far, and these plans had been submitted to the Committee.

Concluding comment

The Acting Chairperson thanked the Members and the entities for the presentations and engagement. There was a challenging term ahead, and all the stakeholders needed to work together and enhance their cooperation in order to get through it. The planning of the sector was critically important, and what had been planned had to be implemented.

The meeting was adjourned.

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