DSI & DHET on programmes in support of Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan

Higher Education, Science and Technology

01 September 2021
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met virtually to receive the long anticipated engagement with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Department of Higher Education and Technology (DHET) on work that they had done in support of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP).

The DSI outlined its work in support on the ERRP, which included carbon capture and the green economy, agriculture and food security; tourism recovery; gender equality and inclusion of women in the economy; information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and cybersecurity; job creation; the hydrogen society and renewable hydrogen production; and the creation of a national policy data observatory. 

The DHET described the principles of its skills strategy; interventions focused on the provision of targeted education and training programmes; programmes focused on enabling and supporting the transition from education to work; and progress with the implementation of the skills strategy on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, sector education and training authorities (SETAs), universities, community education and training (CET) colleges, and the National Skills Fund.

The post-school education and training (PSET) system had geared itself up to respond to the challenges posed by Covid-19, and was committed to supporting the objectives of the ERRP. The DHET pointed out it was reliant on partnerships with the delivery departments and other stakeholders to keep it informed of the demand side requirements, to ensure that it remained responsive. Some of the outcomes indicated in the ERRP skills strategy could be realised only over the medium to long term, as some of the changes envisaged for such a large system would take time. The current financial constraints which were resulting in reduced or reprioritised funding allocations were likely to impact on the ability to realise expected outcomes in the short to medium term. However, the Department remained committed to working within the existing constraints to continue to advance the skills agenda of the country as fully as possible. The SETAs had expected to receive R19.4 billion for the financial year ending March 2021, but due to the skills development levy holiday as part of the government's tax relief measures, revenue had declined to only R12.4 billion.

Members asked whether the DSI's decadal plan would be the overarching framework for the Department for the duration of the ERRP; how South Africans could be protected from cybercrimes in the era of digitisation; and whether more players should be brought into the renewable energy sector to do away with over-dependency on Eskom. They sought details on the Limpopo Science Technology Park and the objectives of the Platinum Valley Park; suggested conducting an analysis on the areas or skills that would possibly have mass shortages, and align student funding towards achieving the desired goals; and wanted to know how serious the DHET was about ensuring that TVET colleges became the focal point for accelerating the skills that were needed in the market at the moment.

Other issues raised concerned training locals to handle local technical jobs, rather than importing specialists from overseas, or making skills transfer a condition in contracts; ensuring that jobs in the hard-hit tourism sector went to South Africans, rather than foreigners; engaging with network providers and operators to provide access to the internet for students; the procurement of laptops for TVET lecturers, and whether the TVET college students would also be receiving laptops; whether there were any challenges in the disbursement of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances; and the role of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) in the departments' support for ERRP projects.

Meeting report

DSI on programmes in support of Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan

Dr Phil Mjwara, Director-General (DG), Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), commenced the presentation with the focus on the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP) priority interventions.

These included:

Aggressive infrastructure investment;
Employment-orientated strategic localisation, reindustrialisation and export promotion;
Energy security;
Support for tourism recovery and growth;
Gender equality and economic inclusion of women and youth;
Green economy interventions;
Mass public employment interventions;
Strengthening food security; and
Macro-economic interventions.

The role of the DSI in the economic recovery included supporting economic growth and social development, and improving service delivery through science and innovation.

The presentation went on to touched on the role of the STI in economic recovery; the decadal plan as a strategy for inclusive innovation to achieve economic reconstruction and recovery; connecting ERRP pillars to DSI policy imperative and outcomes; alignment of its initiatives to ERRP pillars; the carbon capture and utilisation economy; the hydrogen society and renewable hydrogen production; and the platinum valley.

(See attached document for details)

DHET on programmes in support of Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan

Mr Zukile Mvalo, Deputy Director General (DDG): Skills Development, Post School Education and Training (PSET), presented the response to the ERRP, which in the main touched on the principles of the skills strategy; interventions focused on the provision of targeted education and training programmes; interventions focused on enabling and supporting education to work transitions; and progress on the implementation of the skills strategy at technical and vocational  education and training (TVET) colleges, sector education and training authorities (SETAs), universities, community education and training (CET) colleges, and the National Skills Fund (NSF).

He said government had developed the ERRP as part of its response to the devastating impact of the COVID -19 global health pandemic on the economy, and its effects on deepening the current levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. The extent of these challenges had been recognised by all social partners, resulting in a strong commitment to mobilise all the country's resources and efforts in economic activities that would put the economy on a sustainable recovery trajectory.

Reporting on the implementation of the ERRP skills strategy, he said that the number of beneficiaries supported in various learning programmes -- from artisanships, bursaries, internships, learnerships , skills programmes, and workplace-based learning -- amounted to 166 868 that had already been completed. By 31 March 2021, the beneficiaries supported totalled 86 672. The number of beneficiaries supported for scarce occupations in the sectors associated with the ERRP totalled 13 634 that had been completed, but only 8 192 had enrolled this year in the same categories mentioned above.

The PSET system had geared itself up to respond to the imperatives raised by the pandemic, and was committed to supporting the objectives of the ERRP. It was important to note that as a supply side response, the DHET was reliant on the partnerships with the delivery departments and other stakeholders to keep them informed of the demand side requirements to ensure that they remained responsive. Some of the outcomes indicated in the ERRP skills strategy could be realised only over the medium to long term, as some of the changes envisaged for such a large system took time.

The financial constraints that confronted the economy, which were manifested through reduced or reprioritised funding allocations, were likely to impact on the ability to realise expected outcomes in the short to medium term.  However, the Department remained committed to working within the existing constraints to continue to advance the skills agenda of the country as fully as possible.

The SETAs for the financial year ending March 2021 were expected to have received revenue of R19.4 billion, but due to the skills development levy holiday as part of tax relief measures, they had received a decline in revenue of R12.4 billion.

Discussion

The Chairperson addressed the DSI, and said that Covid-19 had instilled an understanding of the importance of investing in science, technology and innovation. With the ongoing work of the Department, they were assured of the fact that the country's resilience would be strengthened in the face of any other pandemics. Investment in science, technology and innovation was vital because it benefited the entire economy and boosted the resilience of the country.

Would the decadal plan be the overarching framework during the ERRP? Some of the matters interlinked between the two departments. It was important to ensure digital security. How did one protect citizens from cybercrimes and the data that the DSI would have collected to monitor and evaluate the transmission of Covid-19?

Did the programmes that the DHET and the DSI had mentioned with regard to building fibre infrastructure capacitate young people to respond to the current demands that Covid-19 had thrown at them?

Ms C King (DA) asked whether the departments were involving local government into the sector when talking about renewable energy. How could one encourage them to ensure that more players were brought on board for renewable energy in order to do away with over-dependency on Eskom to provide electricity in the long run?

The "Platinum Valley's” Limpopo Science Technology Park was scheduled to be completed by August 2021. Had it been completed? When would this park eventually open, and what was its real objective going forward? On page 40 of the DSI indicators, she would have liked to have seen the knowledge and skills exchange that would take place during the industrialisation process, in order to ensure that there would be a proper ERRP, and that over-dependence on other countries could be reduced.

Much had been said by the DHET, and it seemed like they were talking about things that were still yet to be happen, whereas they should have happened a long time ago – such as achieving proper skills development and preparing people for entry into the jobs market. There was a shortage of educators in the country, yet one would find a misalignment when the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) decided to not fund those students. Would it not be prudent to do a proper investigation and analysis into those areas or skills that possibly had mass shortages, and align the NSFAS funding towards to achieving the desired goals?

As for the SETAs and the TVET colleges, there was always reference to how outdated the curriculum was, and that the lecturers that might not have sufficient skills. Where did the SETAs and TVET colleges link to ensure that the students were up-skilled for the job market, and how was the infrastructure going to be utilised between the two sectors to ensure that they achieved the desired outcome? How serious were they to ensure that TVET colleges became the focal point going forward to push through the skills that were needed in the market at the moment?

Dr W Boshoff (FF Plus) said the community and the TVET colleges' budgets should not be reduced because the country needed to revive that sector, as opposed to investing more into universities. The CET and TVET colleges ought to bridge the practical training, or work-based learning, gap to which university students did not have access.

Referring to efforts to promote tourism around the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) area which had been launched to offset the negative economic conditions, he asked how well the communication with the farming community had gone, since it was possible that the farming community could also benefit? He was in that region very often, and the SKA was still a very unpopular there because there was a perception that one could not take the SKA at its word. He asked for more details on the ammonia production.

He asked the DHET whether it was open to the idea of public/private partnerships (PPPs) to provide training of people who could render some of the services to the SKA, because it had been previously agreed that a lot of money had been spent on maintenance, but the knowledge base in the area was minimal. This meant money was going out of the area because people who were doing the jobs were being imported. Was the Department aware of a group of engineers in the area who would be eager to get into the training of young people to be used for maintenance of the SKA, in order to benefit from the existence of the institution in that area?

Mr B Joko (PAC) said that for any plan to work effectively, consultations with the stakeholders must be done properly, otherwise it might not work. Considering that this plan cuts across many departments, had it been developed in consultation with them? Had a global view been taken of what the departments were doing? The cost implication of the plan was that other stakeholders needed to provide some funding. Had any analysis been conducted to ascertain how much it would cost for the entire plan to be executed?

The aspect of innovation did not only mean big things -- it could also mean small things. For example, the biggest challenge for emerging small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) was the funding bottlenecks. As part of the innovation plan, was anything being done which might cut across all departments to make it easier for SMMEs to become involved and be successful?

Institutions of higher learning did not seem to be in line with what the Department was saying about recognition of prior learning (RPL). He referred to the case of a retired lieutenant, who had only reached Grade Eight at school, but throughout his working life, he had worked in the legal fraternity. Once he retired from the army, he had wanted to study further, but had then been confronted with the situation where the university would not allow him to study because he did not have a matric certificate. He had to go to court, and the institution had been compelled to register him at the age of 64. He had finished his studies, and was now writing his board exams to be accepted as an advocate of the high court. Were institutions of higher learning in line with what the Department was saying about the recognition of higher learning? This pensioner had to use money from his pension to fight court battles to be admitted to a university. This was not an isolated case -- surely there must be a number of people that may be going through the same thing.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said the DHET had mentioned the challenges that it was experiencing in rolling out information communication technology (ICT) skills by the PSETA, and asked what engagements had been held with network providers and operators and the Department of Communication to resolve these challenges? On the involvement of the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme, should people above the age of 25 years be included in this programme?

Mr W Letsie (ANC) said that key to the ERRP was the need to use the available budget effectively and efficiently, and allocated money correctly, in order to achieve success. Had all the departments involved in the ERRP received a clean bill of health from the Auditor-General (AG) so that their targets had been set correctly?

The DHET had mentioned that there was one university that was considered to be medium risk in terms of completing the academic year, based on the assessment associated with semester one. What was the name of this institution? Had it completed semester one on time? What were the reasons for universities in general not complying with the timeous recording of semester results? How did this impact on the final results and certification of students at the end of that particular academic year? How did it impact broadly on the teaching and learning at universities?

Referring to the task team that had been established to work out the details for the provision of lecture laptops at TVET colleges, he asked what the status of the procurement of those laptops was, and the policy related to the funding model and management of the laptops. When would students be provided with the laptops, and how would the students be funded if they were included?

When did the Department envisage completing the funding model? What was the status of the NSFAS allowance disbursement, and were there any challenges in that regard?

Were any STI programmes going to be devised specifically to support the ERRP, because the DSI's programmes include many initiatives to enable the steps envisaged by the ERRP? Was there an acceleration or expansion in the current implementation of the planned goals? What were the timeframes of the initiatives envisaged? Which initiatives were going to be prioritised? What changes were envisaged, and how would those changes be supported and resourced? How would the departments measure the impact?

Mr B Yabo (ANC) commenced with questions to the DSI regarding its reference to hydrogen fuel cells in relation to the timeline attached to the reconstruction and transformation pillar. Why was the timeline for when heavy buses and trucks would be powered by hydrogen, set for 2025? What were the constraints involved?

Due to the challenges experienced in some parts of the country where sanitation is not yet modern, what attempts were being made by the DSI to find a solution that did not required capital resources to deal with the problem, especially in remote areas where one may not necessarily have wastewater treatment plants? Was there a plan to deal with that, and how was it being integrated into the ERRP programme of the Department? He understood that the departments were transversal in nature, and that there had been developments to deal with the sanitation problem. Had there been any attempts by the Department to implement solutions that were not capital and labour intensive in remote areas of the country where water boreholes may not exist?

He commented on the DSI’s participation in extra-terrestrial space, saying that in the ERRP there was nothing about setting up capabilities to have South Africa involved , such as launching satellites. As a leading country in Africa, South Africa ought to participate in that space.

With the generation of innovative ideas under the various pillars in the ERRP, how much interaction had there been with SMMEs from the "cradle" stage to the intermediate stage, and on to the throughput stage? How had this been quantified into economic output and job creation? How much of these interventions were linked to international work and channelled towards creating markets within the continent? There was a need to exploit the recent free trade agreement to the benefit of the country. It was shocking that there was now 34% unemployment in the country. One of the challenges was that even young people with qualifications were sitting at home unemployed.

Turning to the DHET, he said electricity graduates were the largest cohort of unemployed graduates from the TVET sector, and wanted to know why such a large number of graduates with specifically designed qualifications were unemployed. Was it the qualification that was problematic or the availability of the work that they needed to be slotted into? Was it because they were not able to perform in the workplace? It was alarming that one would have such a large number in that category unemployed.

The presentation had indicated that SETAs would have collected approximately R19 billion from the skills levy, but because of the incentives granted by the government, this had dropped to R12 billion. How much of this money was really being channelled into creating a capable workforce that was in demand, especially if one was speaking of reconstruction and transformation under the pillar of the ERRP?

He asked for the timeline of the ERRP, from the first pillar right through to the end. How long was it going to take to bring back the economy on its feet, reduce unemployment and the high gini coefficient? South Africa had the highest gini-coefficient income inequality ratio in the world, and this should be worrisome to everyone. How much time were they going to need to reduce the high inequality ratio, create sustainable jobs, industrialise and ensure that the innovative ideas were commercialised?

Ms N Tarabella-Marchesi (DA) said that there was a disjuncture with the vacancies that were available and not filled, and the people with the skills that were not filling those vacancies. What was the reason for this? Was it because they were producing graduates that were not fit for purpose? For example, in the engineering sector, the country had brought in engineers from another country while there were qualified engineers within South Africa. This was the disjuncture that could not be explained.

It looked like there was no clear indication of where people could find work. They had been told there were gaps, but those gaps were not being filled. There were also qualified people who were constantly applying for jobs but did not get them. How could one resolve this issue? Was there no way labour centres could provide information on available vacancies? This would also assist those who were still at high school to have an understanding of the most sought after skills and make the necessary adjustments to their career prospects.

The Department had to come up with a programme that would open up the economy and provide job opportunities for young people, but they had not heard it talking about transport. This was another sector that contributed significantly into the economy.

What were the macroeconomic interventions referred to in the presentation about? South Africa did not have energy security and for any economy to function optimally, it needed a sustainable supply of energy. They were now hearing more about nuclear energy -- could the Committee get an explanation about this? What was the country doing in terms of energy security?

The need to revise the tourism sector had been raised. Currently, the country was in lockdown, and most other countries were also in lockdown. This presented an opportunity to revive local or domestic tourism. What could be done to ensure that South Africans were able to move around within the country? Flight tickets were very expensive and these were some of things that slowed local tourism down.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked if any new STI programmes had been devised to support the ERRP. What role did the Department and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) play in the establishment of the artificial intelligence institution, as indicated on page 13 of the ERRP?

Ms K Mahlatsi (ANC) asked the DSI about securing energy security. What was the collaboration with Sasol in the transition from grey to green hydrogen and ammonia? There environmental factors involving air pollution. There had been reference to a programme that seeks to employ 10 000 within the medium term expenditure framework (MTEF) period, and she wanted details on the programme and how much it would cost. What was the relationship between the DSI and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC)? She also asked what the targets were for the transformation to green sources of energy.

On the issue of scarce skills, it was important to give the Committee an indication that the signed agreements were not only limited to monetary value, but were also translated into the transfer of skills and development. Therefore, the issue of engineers coming from another country should be part of that agreement. During the Cobid-19 outbreak, there had been much excitement about doctors coming from another country, but this had did not meant South Africa's own people who were skilled had been overlooked. Members of Parliament needed to assess the trade agreements that the country had signed with other countries.

Ms Marchesi asked about the partnerships with Microsoft, and whether there would be any incubators and training centres involved. Given the fact that so many jobs had been lost, and people were finding themselves in jobs that may be wiped in the future, was there a way that those people could be up-skilled?

The Chairperson sought clarity on whether pre-learning programmes were the same as bridging courses. On slide 18, there were number of initiatives listed, but there were no timeframes when those initiatives would commence.

When dealing with university education, the presentation referred to the targeted number of graduates for this sector and the scarce skills. There was also an indication for teacher education as well. She had a concern and fear over mass producing educators, but she was more concerned with the curriculum that educators received through the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) programme. Covid-19 had stressed the importance of digital skills, so they should not mass produce educators who could not respond to the demands of the economy right now.

As for work-integrated learning (WIL), there was a need to make sure that it continued to exist within the realm of Covid-19, and the pandemic must not be used as an excuse for why people could not have WIL opportunities.

The Entrepreneurship Higher Education Programme, which was established in 2016, was a brilliant programme. Was it programme rolled out nationally or departmentally at a centralised level, and how would it trickle down to the various institutions?  Was there an interface between the DHET and the institutions on the delegation of responsibilities?

The presentation referred to earmarked funding within the CET sector to be utilised to fund skills programmes and capacity building interventions. The net effect of this was limited intervention by the CET colleges. This was concerning, taking into account a lot more funding was required for the CET programme, which also needed a lot of attention.

Slide 25 referred to an NSF commitment of funding for infrastructure construction, refurbishment and maintenance at nine TVET colleges. This was also an area of concern, because it highlights the funding limitation of the two departments. The NSF should not be funding infrastructure, but programmes, and this was not sustainable.

Lastly, in this ERRP, it was important to take into account the recovery and reconstruction that was caused by the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Gauteng. How could one factor the young people requiring in-service training that must take place, into the opportunities that may come out of rebuilding the malls and businesses? How could the Department assist young people who could have businesses based in these malls?

Responses

Department of Science and Innovation

Dr Mjwara said that the DSI's contribution to the ERRP would be informed by the decadal plan being completed. The initiatives proposed in the plan were a framework which supported the various pillars of the ERRP. The Department was almost at the end of consultations on the decadal plan, and it would clarify a lot of questions that were being asked. Key to some of the proposals in the plan was the lessons that had been learnt about how the work of the Department and the investments made in the national system of innovation, had not been taken up by other government departments. The decadal plan therefore included proposals such as the importance of the role of STI in the economy, and that social development should be an agreed agenda within the government, hence the proposal to have an inter-ministerial committee to agree on research development and innovation plans that would support the sectors of the economy that were in other line departments, leading to agreement on an innovation compact. These were in the decadal plan, and would solve some of the problems that had been picked up along the years.

Secondly, on the matter of budget coordination, the DSI had a proposal on how budgets could be coordinated across government. Treasury had agreed to work with the Department to develop this concept further, including how the MTEF process would be structured to ensure that there were budgets that were earmarked for STI activities in other departments' plans. This was work in progress, but the framework on how this could be done was available.

There was an interface framework which had been agreed upon in 2004 by Cabinet, called a "Strategic Management Model." It had tried to define the role of the DSI at the time, which areas of science and technology had to be funded by the DSI, and which must be funded by other departments. The DSI had been given the responsibility of funding new and emerging areas of research – the bulk of the budget. Certain proportions would fund research and development that could support other departments’ mandates in the hope that when the DSI could demonstrate what could be done with the investment, then the full rollout would be taken up by that line department. They had seen a discussion taking place between the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the KZN Research Innovation Sequencing Platform, because the capability of sequencing that had been used to identify the mutation of the Covid-19 virus, had now been seen as something that could help the police reduce crimes by using the DNA forensic analysis. They hoped to clarify these roles in the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) coming up so that they could get agreements and commitments through an innovation compact.

On the interface of the ERRP and the decadal plan, the DSI had learnt that the investments that had been made could be repurposed to support the ERRP. If one took the investments that they had been making in vaccine production, they were linking this to the work done with the universities. Hence, they were now going to produce MRNA vaccine for the rest of the continent, through building on the old investments.

Dr Mjwara referred to the example of the work that the DSI had proposed on hydrogen, where huge investments over time had been made, and said the Department was going to address the challenge of pollution in Mpumalanga, and the issue of re-industrialisation through beneficiation.

On the issues that were related to transport, energy security and nuclear, the line department was supposed to come up with an energy strategy for the country. The DSI's role was to look at what it could contribute towards the research, development and innovation perspective, either to support and/or inform a strategy. They could not comment on nuclear, but if a decision had been made on nuclear, they could contribute on how to use the nuclear programme to build South Africa's own local capacity.  

The DSI did not have any macro-economic interventions because they were not involved in monetary policy on how one could use it as a lever to drive economic activity.

Mr Imraan Patel, DDG: Socio-economic Innovation Partnerships, DSI, said that in the current financial year the Department was setting up some additional living laboratories. The current indication was that by December they would add three laboratories to the portfolio.

The green economy was traditionally looked at from the perspective of energy. The Department had done research and development (R&D) work on the green economy in the energy portfolio, but had also done a lot of work in the waste economy. This was not a different economy, but it was about making it more circular -- which means recycling a lot more, and was therefore a much more long- term agenda item.

The DSI had been doing work with researchers on cybersecurity. ICT was so pervasive and therefore integrated into a lot of issues. Moving forward, they would be focusing on foundational digital capabilities that could be acquired by people who could apply these capabilities in particular settings. They had identified a whole range of these settings, such as artificial intelligence, block chain and cybersecurity. They were working with the CSIR at a number of universities to look at how deep our capabilities in these areas were, and how they could invest at a much deeper level.

The DSI had set up a platform, together with industry and other departments, to develop government arrangements for data and data protection. It was called the South African Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It was something that would come up quite often in future in the Department’s briefs.

Finally, even though the ARC and Water Research Commission report to other line function departments, the DSI worked together with the ARC, which implements many of their programmes.

Dr Mjwara asked the Chairperson to allow the Department to respond to some of the questions in writing. 

Dr Rebecca Maserumule, Chief Director: Hydrogen and Energy, DSI, said that the current market for decentralised green hydrogen and ammonia production was sitting at around US$3 billion, and was expected to have grown by 34% by 2028. The only way that the South African market could participate in that market was to set its costs at the same level as other countries. Everyone was working towards moving towards US$2 per kilogram of green hydrogen. The only way to achieve that was by economies of scale and large production of renewables. The Northern Cape may be the perfect place for the production of renewables on a large scale, but this meant they would need to bring water to the Northern Cape, because it was a water scarce province. Essentially, water would be disseminated to produce hydrogen. Because the cost of the water represented about 10% of the total cost, they could ask the facilities that were close by to produce the water to assist with the price. If one located green hydrogen facilities in Limpopo or KZN, it would cost US$4 per kg, which meant South Africa would not be competitive with other countries.

The role of the DSI was not to build a science and technology park, but to support the park in its aspirations to be a tier four data centre. Data centres had different tiers -- a tier one meant that one could store data, but the backup energy was very weak. The DSI was bringing in the fuel to help with the back of the data centre energy. If one looks at the bigger data centres, like Google and Microsoft, they use fuel cells for back power. The DSI's role was to assist the park with its status and the level of the tier for the data centre. The study they were working on with them, to analyse how fuel cells or solar energy would assist them with powering the data centre for the Science and Technology Park in Limpopo, would be completed at the end of September.

Regarding the number of hydro fuel cell trucks, there were three constraints. These were cost, lack of local manufacturing, and policy and regulation. With regards to the first constraint, hydro fuel cells trucks were more expensive than the diesel trucks because of the existing subsidy, and the upfront costs were much more expensive because there were not many in the world. The DSI was trying to bring the costs down, but could do so only with economies of scale. As for local manufacturing, these trucks were not manufactured in the country. The Department was working with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to see if they could put the trucks on the road, as this would create jobs for South Africans. Lastly, if one puts a fuel cell truck on the road, it would not be covered by the Road Accident Fund (RAF) because one would not pay tax on it, so changes to the regulations were needed to allow fuel cell-based trucks to be on the road.

Turning to the Sasolburg air pollution issue, she said the DSI was demonstrating how to capture the fuel gas and turn it into carbon-link fields, using green hydrogen or green ammonia as an input. The DSI was helping Sasol to raise funding for demonstration projects. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) programme out of Japan was bringing about R70 million to support the large scale demonstration and a scaling up of green ammonia production. The DSI was also helping them with the training of the technicians who would be on site for the green ammonia production facility. If South Africa intended moving into the global hydrogen economy to try and sell hydrogen, it needed to have local production. The DSI was in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Sasol to co-fund research around the demonstration of carbon use and green ammonia production and up-scaling.

Dr Mjwara proposed that the DSI should come and brief the Committee on all the aspects of the hydrogen platinum valley, including the plants that would be set up for ammonia production in the Northern Cape.

The second proposal was related to the matter of communication at different levels with the farmers in Northern Cape on the SKA facility. A very detailed conversation about this must be held, either during the oversight visit to Carnarvon, or by creating a platform where this conversation could take place.

The third issue was related to the space programme, and the DSI would be happy to come and share the details, from the perspective of both the  launch and value-added products.

The fourth issue involved the "cradle to grave" engagements with SMMEs on the technology stations programme, and this detail could be submitted to the Committee.


Department of Higher Education and Training

Mr Mvalo said that since the arrival of Covid-19, the DHET had been digital. This was something they were learning along the line, which they should have been doing a long time ago.

On cybersecurity, there were initiatives taking place currently by the SETA responsible for this area of ICT. The BankSETA was also doing work on this currently.

There were 770 apprentices within the TVET sector, and the DHET had ensured that the infrastructure and equipment was in place. For the first time now, the TVET colleges had started trade testing. This was expensive in the private sector, now this work was going to be done at the various colleges. This showed that the Department was investing on the work of the ERRP.

The DHET had done its review on the Centres of Specialisation and Methodology, and there had been mixed outcomes.

He said the information that the DHET was reporting on, for the work that it had done for the ERRP covered the period up to 31 March, but it would be able to provide progress quarterly on the rolling out of some of the work on the ERRP and skills strategy. If one looked into the work of the universities, there were medium to long term programmes, and the long programmes may not be reported on a quarterly basis.

For every intervention of the skills strategy, the DHET had identified actions, and part of those actions referred to the funding of the ERRP skills that were required. It had identified the Sector Education and Training Authority, the National Skills Fund and other departments to support in terms of funding. It was committing in the skills strategy that it would be having a specialised window period during the NSF and SETAs would be open. For the skills that are required, the Department needs to make it a point that funding has to be made available.

The ERRP was fairly new. It had been established in October 2020, and the DHET had had to develop a skills strategy. Under the circumstances, it still had to consult with leading departments. There was the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), which was an important platform for social partners in terms of the Nedlac Act and which could not be bypassed. There was also the National Skills Authority, empowered by the chapter of the Skills Development Act, to advise the Minister on issues related to skills development in the country. This was about social partners and involved the entire country, not just the department running these projects.

Regarding what had already been done, the DHET had more than 13 000 beneficiaries through the interventions which were readily available in various areas. There were also questions around another more than 44 000 in critical areas. The work that had been done so far indicated that in some areas, maybe the curriculum was not specialised or there was a lack of work place experience for those who had already completed the curriculum,.

The DHET had just received a report this week which outlined the progress of the work that had already been done with network providers. There were close to 2 000 who had already been enrolled in digital skills training.

The biggest challenge in the country was unemployment of the youth, and this told the DHET that it needed to focus on employment for young people. South Africa was a youthful country, with over 20 million young people out of a population of 60 million.

The DHET had increased the apprenticeship learner grant. It had been R165 000 for many years, and it had now been increased to R206 000. This was a measure to entice employers to come to the party on workplace-based learning programmes. Though the Department had not met the target, it had revised it from 170 000 to 100 000, and had achieved 78 000. It was not expected that employers would open up their work places. The Department could make a determination that this would be case, given the current vaccination rollout in the country.

The skills development levy would get 1% from employers having a payroll in excess of R500 000, of which 80% goes to the SETAs and 20% to the National Skills Fund. The 80% that goes to the SETAs was segmented – 10.5% goes towards administration, 20% which goes to the mandatory budget and 49.5% goes towards discretionary budget. From that 49.5%, 80% goes towards pivotal programmes which were associated with programmes that were associated with critical skills. It was a huge budget that was being invested in the area of critical skills that were required by the economy.

Graduate unemployment in South Africa was sitting at 11%. The DHET wished to have everyone employed, but it told a good story that the universities were providing quality training and employers were taking graduates into the labour force.

The DHET agreed that it was essential to be creative, and it had met with the Department of Tourism -- a sector was that was struggling. There had been a significant drop in tourists coming into the country. As a result, some of the businesses had closed down. Colleagues had suggested that some of the skills and occupations within the sector had been identified, but there was a need for them to come to the party and open up businesses. The other departments should be offering opportunities – workplace-based learning -- but it was difficult for the DHET to guarantee someone employment. However, it had to ensure that the curriculums respond to the needs required by the industry.

The Minister had launched the digital skills programme rollout by the PSETA in April 2021. The PSETA and Microsoft plan was to have it run until December. There had been some challenges, but the DHET was impressed to see there were 1 996 of learners in the programme, with 457 who learners who had completed it and 22 learners who had enrolled and completed a technical certificate. The Department now needed to assist where there were challenges with this programme.

Mr Sam Zungu, DDG: TVET Colleges, said there were some political issues around the recognition of prior learning.  It was similar to it being a bridging course for students who were not ready to enter the TVET system.

On increasing entrepreneurial opportunities for TVET students, the DHET was in the process of expanding the entrepreneurial hubs. There was an initial target of five hubs that were going to be piloted, but only three were existing in some of the institutions.

It was indeed true that the Department could not continue depending on the NSF for sustainable ways of funding TVET infrastructure, and should be looking at other ways of funding. However, this was the only option available to it for now.

The DHET had developed a policy on the procurement of laptops for TVET lecturers that would guide it in rolling out the project. However, at the same time, over 60% of the colleges had started supplying laptops to their lecturers. About 50% of the colleges had already distributed or procured these laptops. The DHET had already finalised the policy on this, but it was now working on the funding model to ensure that it was sustained over a long period of time.

He requested the submission of a final report on the status of the disbursements at NSFAS at a later stage. There had been some disbursements that had happened recently. The current status was a bit outdated, so the updated one would be sent to the Committee at a later stage.

Regarding the unemployment of students who studied electrical engineering, the entry or middle level skills sector seemed to be flooded by foreign nationals. There was no proper regulation. Instead of finding qualified South African electricians or plumbers at constructions sites, one would find the construction companies opting for cheap labour. This cheap labour was ordinarily occupied by foreign nationals instead of qualified South Africans. This also spoke to the issue of work placement -- for example, companies that were offered government tenders were not compelled to employ a certain number of graduates as a condition of the tender.

This was also the situation in the hospitality industry. In local restaurants, people that were serving one with food were not necessarily students that had done hospitality programmes in TVET colleges, but were foreign nationals. These were some of the matters that had to be looked at to ensure work was created for South Africans, instead of foreign nationals who were providing cheap labour. The government had made provision through the skills levy for employers to tap into that 1%. This would benefit them more, as compared to opting for cheap labour.

The TVET colleges did offer programmes on transport logistics, in partnership with the Department of Transport. It was one of the successful programmes.

Ms Nolwazi Gasa, DDG: Planning, Policy and Strategy, responded to questions about infrastructure, RPL and gender-based violence (GBV).

She said that when the DHET was hit by Covid-19 last year, they understood that for the PSET system, the strategy was never one that only took concept learning going forward. They had to recognise that for the PSET system to be sustainable, the DHET needed to be critical on saving the academic year and saving lives. As part of the infrastructure strategy, the Department therefore reprioritised its budget. The Minister had set up a Ministerial Technical Task Team in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies. They had engaged the mobile network operators and entered into agreements to ensure that data was accessible to students, and had agreed on a package that cost R65 for 30 gigabytes for students.

Certain universities faced difficulties regarding bulk infrastructure for water and sanitation. For example, a few months ago the Department went to the University of Fort Hare with a range of stakeholders involved in student accommodation. Part of the work done at that institution was linked to the District Development Model, and it was realised that for some universities the work was complex – it was not only about teaching and learning, but also that institutions must provide water and sanitation, amongst other things.

The DHET was concerned about a number of GBV incidents, and looked forward to coming before the Committee on 8 September to address these issues.

Lastly, the DHET had recently hosted a huge engagement session with 165 stakeholders to reflect on the recognition of prior learning framework, as part of the articulation policy work that had been brought before the Committee last year, and the National Qualitative Framework. The Department had needed to engage on whether they were making strides on addressing the trajectory that was set beforehand, and the extent to which the PSET system could help realise the gaps that were not being filled.

The meeting was adjourned.


 

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