Update on Certification Backlog; Proliferation of Illegal Private Colleges; Quality Assurance of the TVET Examinations; with Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

23 March 2022
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee met virtually with the Department of Higher Education and Training, the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and Umalusi to receive an update on the eradication of the certification backlog. The Department of Higher Education and Training also briefed the Committee on the proliferation of illegal private colleges while Umalusi presented on the quality assurance of the examinations at Technical and Vocation Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

As for the certification backlog, the reduction was on the verge of 100% sitting at 99.85% leaving an outstanding 0.15% or 186 000 certificates. All stakeholders recognised and acknowledged that the remaining 0.15% still had to be cleared because that figure relates to people who were still waiting for their certificates. Members welcomed the significant reduction but also implored the stakeholders to further reduce the 0.15%. The Technology Agency assured Members that it would be reduced as it was not related to information and communication technology or systems; it was a matter of business rules that had to be implemented.

Umalusi touched on its role in the certification value chain, progress and status of the certification backlog with some concluding remarks while the Department concurred with the progress presented by Umalusi – it also touched on the proliferation of illegal private colleges. The Department has been working with the South African Police Services and the Department of Basic Education to crack down on the operators of bogus colleges. Over 40 operators of illegal colleges have been arrested including the US-based operators using the Department’s logo as a way of enticing students. The Department has also laid charges with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the US-based operators. A list of illegal or bogus colleges was published on the Department’s website to alert the public. Notably, the number of these illegal institutions has decreased significantly because of the constant efforts of the Department to eliminate them.

Members congratulated Umalusi for its 20th anniversary but also asked the entity questions about the action plan on Information and Communications Technology issues at the Technology Agency. They also asked about the moderation of question papers, examination centres and scripts; reasons for the outstanding 0.15% certificates; the process of reporting illegal or bogus colleges; why Umalusi was not providing quality assurance for other N-course qualifications but only N3 and why its scope was not yet expanded; the criteria for the selection of the institutions that are moderated by Umalusi; how quality assurance was maintained in the institutions that were not moderated by Umalusi and the number of those institutions; the eligibility criteria of registering a private institution or college; how long it takes to issue a certificate of compliance to institutions; how often were private institutions assessed of their credited courses and modules and whether labour unions had any role to play in the evaluation of markers. Members were not pleased that private institutions owed Umalusi certification fees and asked for a detailed breakdown of the institutions owing, how much they owed and for how long the debt was effective.  

Members recommended that the Department ensured the examiners appointed for the TVET college exams were qualified and that there would be continuous training afforded for them; that the Department issued directives timeously to ensure the implementation of examination requirements and strengthened its monitoring and evaluation of private TVET colleges; the Department to provide a detailed report on illegal colleges that were closed and criminalised, and that the Department should dedicate a unit that the public can whistle-blow or report these illegal colleges to.

Meeting report

The Chairperson opened the virtual meeting and welcomed everyone present. She asked to be excused because one of the staff members from the Parliamentary Constituency Office, Ms Eunice Mathenjwa, passed away recently, and she was asked, as an MP deployed to that Office, to pay tribute at the funeral. Ms D Mahlatsi (ANC) would stand in as the Acting Chairperson until she comes back to the meeting.

The Committee would receive a briefing on the certification backlog and an update on the work the Department has been doing in dealing with bogus or illegal colleges.

Deputy Minister’s Opening Remarks
Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, said that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that institutions offered adequate education and training, and were properly registered. The Department will provide an update on the certification backlog and the proliferation of private illegal institutions. It has made significant progress in the reduction of the backlog – the team comprised the Department, SITA and Umalusi. The backlog was reduced to 99.85%. Also, regional task teams have been set up to address current and future certification matters, with the view to strengthen capacity at the college level, and avert any future backlog.

Since 2011, the DHET has been working with the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to crack down on the operators of bogus colleges. Over 40 operators of illegal colleges have been arrested, including the US-based operators using the Department's logo as a way of enticing students. The DHET has laid charges with the FBI as well, for those that are US-based. They have published a list of colleges on the website to warn the public and service providers of these illegal and bogus colleges. The reason why the number of these illegal and bogus colleges has reduced is because of the team’s hard work with some of the colleges that were committed to meeting the requirements. Some of these institutions in the past were threatening legally but were now in compliance with the regulations and the laws of the country.

The presentations will provide a status report between February 2020 and March 2022. Both SITA and Umalusi would make their presentations and inputs.

Briefing by Umalusi: Update on the Eradication of the Certification Backlog and Quality Assurance of the TVET Examinations

Mr John Volmink, Chairperson of the Umalusi Board, made his opening remarks and said that Umalusi has a mandate to quality assurance and issue certificates to all qualifying students in the general and Further Education, Training and Qualification Sub-Framework. The entity has a mandate to quality-assure and issue certificates to all qualified learners through the NQF (National Qualification Framework) Act. To accomplish the mandate of issuing these certificates, Umalusi is dependent on the assessment bodies to submit requests for certification in compliance with regulations and directives for certification. Umalusi is responsible for the GETC (General Education and Training Certificate), NQF level one; National Certificate Vocation levels three, amongst others. As a quality council, Umalusi was to scrutinise and validate the data submitted by the Department for issuing these certificates. There have been several rejections in the past for the issuing of the certificates.

There has been progress made in the development of online systems and the applications of placement certificates. The objective is to provide an alternative method for candidates to apply for the replacement of their certificates if they have been lost or damaged. Umalusi was now in the testing phase of this system. The deployment of this system will commence on 01 April 2022. The entity is uploading all the records of the learners on the system.

The eradication of the certification backlog was at a 99.85% reduction rate. Umalusi remains committed to supporting all the efforts of the Department to reduce the backlog to zero. The entity was also still grappling with the outstanding debt of private colleges, thus withholding certificates. This affects the current learners. The entity is assisting the Department in the eradication of the certification backlog.

Umalusi has reviewed its policy for the national certificate and the policy is gazetted for implementation. In addition, Umalusi has also published a policy on the certification of candidates of their records on the GFETF for public comment. This policy was in the final stages of being gazetted.

Ms Eva Sujee, Senior Manager: Qualifications, Certification and Curriculum, Umalusi, took Members through the presentation, covering the introduction or overview as provided by the Chairperson of the Board; the detailed role of Umalusi in the certification value chain; progress and status of the certification backlog and conclusion.

[See the presentation document for details]

Briefing by the Department: Proliferation of Illegal Private Colleges
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General, DHET, presented to Members and commenced with the introduction; roles and responsibilities – DHET mandate; progress and status of the certification backlog – statistics; narrative summary; the proliferation of private colleges and the conclusion.

The progress to date provided that 99.85% of the certification backlog has been achieved. The first-issue certificates are conceptualised as certificated, where a candidate met part or full qualification certification requirements in one examination cycle (e.g., November 2019), including subject statements. On the other hand, the full certificates are where the candidate met all qualification certification requirements (passed all the required seven subjects) multiple examination cycles.

The Department, the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and Umalusi have processed 125 091 certificates of the 125 277 certificates reported on 18 February 2020. While a decrease in the number of potential candidates who are eligible for certification has been recorded across all the four qualifications, the remainder is due to the degree of clumsiness of the aged examination IT system. The certification records that could not be processed by both DHET and Umalusi are shared with the SITA team on a bi-weekly basis for enhancement of the IT system and further processing. A list of the errors is shared between all role-players to assist with direct intervention. The interventions that were presented to the PCHETST remain in place to address the challenges experienced in the reduction of the certification backlog of respective TVET and CET qualifications. However, most challenges affecting the reduction of certification backlog are mainly IT system-related and largely reliant on human resources from both college and the multitask-team stakeholders to manage the system.

As for the proliferation of private colleges, the Department, South African Police Service and Metro Police established a good working relationship in dealing with illegal private colleges. From February 2020 to date, two private colleges were closed down in Rustenburg, North West.

Briefing by the State Information Technology Agency: Update in the Eradication of the Certification Backlog

Mr Luvuyo Keyise, Chief Executive Officer, SITA, said that SITA would be repeating all the information that was presented by Umalusi and the Department. With that said, the presentation is available for Members to peruse. Two years ago, SITA was asked about what it can do to make resources available to assist the Department and Umalusi in resolving the challenges of the backlog using technology tools and systems. The two stakeholders have already confirmed that SITA has assisted. There is only 0.15% that is left of the backlog. The SITA was still working together with the Department and Umalusi to reduce that 0.15%. Although this was not system-related, it is more about business rules that must be implemented. SITA has also availed itself and its resources to assist the Department and Umalusi with the remaining 0.15%.

The Chairperson welcomed the suggestion that SITA would not make its presentation, as it related to the same things that were already presented by Umalusi and the Department on the issue of the certification backlog.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) welcomed the presentations. One would say that progress has been made, but the DHET needs to provide a plan of action in terms of all the recommendations by SITA and Umalusi. She had issues with the report because the information was only available in spaces for people with access to the internet. The Department should consider ensuring that this information reaches the public as much as possible and even consider doing radio interviews or shows to send this information out to the public.

As for SITA and Umalusi, one was pleased with the presentation and the commitments to reduce this backlog. She asked for a breakdown per region on the work that has been done on the certification backlog. She was also pleased that Umalusi was engaging institutions regularly, and she encouraged the entity to continue. Can Umalusi explain what it does about repetitive offenders or invigilators coming into examination centres late?

To SITA, she asked if it had a plan of action and when it was anticipating dealing with the ICT issue. Is there a specific date set for this?

Umalusi has a record of learners since November 1992 to date. How many of these records are available and have been certified?

Dr W Boshoff (FF Plus) wanted to know about the part where DG talked about the private colleges and the legality around that. Some of these colleges exploit the grey areas – they are registered for something but then provide that they teach something that they are not registered for. The way they package their messaging to get students is also fraudulent because they often tell students what qualifications they will obtain but then it is not the case. Is there an institution, like an SIU, in the sector, where one could report these bogus colleges and have faith that it will be taken on?

Ms N Marchesi (DA) commended Umalusi for achieving 99.85% for the provision of certificates but there was still 0.15% outstanding. When will Umalusi give these certificates to students, and from which year are these certificates were outstanding? Secondly, on datasets, what are the datasets about?

The SITA has managed to deal with IT issues but the problem is capacity; is there now sufficient capacity to process the data that must be processed?

When students are assigned for in-service training, some of them have complained to do training that is not related or relevant to the qualification that they obtained from the college. When this scenario occurs, who is at fault for this?

Umalusi only provides certificates for N3, but what is the reason Umalusi was not providing certificates for other N qualifications? The entity is known for its credibility, and this is something that is missing for TVET colleges. Umalusi has problems in terms of capacity and budget but is there no scope for it to have the budget revisited to give the entity more scope because of its credibility. What is the reason the scope has not been expanded?

Dr N Khumalo (DA) asked what the reasons were that exist for Umalusi to reject qualifications submitted by the Department. How is quality assurance between the work done by the Department and Umalusi? On slide 11, the 160 question papers and institutions that are being moderated: how is the number determined, and what is the percentage of assessments per qualification or module that Umalusi moderates? What are the criteria for the selection of the institutions that are moderated by Umalusi? How is quality assurance maintained in the institutions that were not moderated by Umalusi?

Ms C King (DA) commended Umalusi for the work that it has done over the years. One thing that was lacking in some of the documents presented today is the number of students who registered to write the exams and the number of the students who wrote. This would give a clear indication of the dropout rate and assessments done to assess the reasons why students dropped out from wiring exams. Secondly, students are reaching out to Members regarding the in-service training, which they have completed but were not accredited to receive the certificate. The main concern was that most of them did not know which form or letter to send to the Department to get their certification. Is there a standardised form or letter that students can use to ensure that they receive their certification, if KPIs have been set for officials to issue these certificates to students?

What are the eligibility criteria to register a private institution in the Department? In some of these institutions, one can see that it is difficult to understand what criteria were used to approve them and set up because some of them would be in ‘funny buildings’ and one would expect some sort of oversight to be conducted to ensure that the building was conducive. How long does it take to issue a certificate of compliance to institutions? How often are private institutions assessed of their credited courses and modules? Do we have proper measures to ensure that we conduct oversight and apply consequence management in all involved stakeholders?

Is the process used by Umlusi still linked to the basic education way of doing assessments for grade 12 to ascertain that the ICAS, evaluation and PACT assessments were done correctly and compliant? In the report, one finds that various question papers were not of great standard. What measures have been put in place to ensure that we do sit again with the people who set up the question papers poorly?

On a higher education level, do Unions have a role to play when markers are being evaluated?

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) said that she heard that the illegal TVET colleges were closed in some provinces but there was no mention of who was arrested; are there any arrests from these bogus colleges when they are detected?

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that he also served in the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, and it was indicated in those meetings that the Committee would be interacting with the Board for the last time. The handover of the entity must indicate that it has a 20-year great service and has received good audit outcomes in the previous financial year. Firstly, the Chairperson of Umalusi noted that the entity has challenges with outstanding debt from private colleges. This is a problematic statement that private colleges owed Umalusi. Due to this, Umalusi does not give private colleges the certificates. These certificates do not belong to the colleges but the students. Students are found in a difficult position where they cannot advance themselves because their certificates were withheld. But how much do these private colleges owe Umalusi, and how many colleges owed the entity? He asked for an indication of which colleges owed the entity. As a result, how many certificates were not issued due to the monies owed? Members also need to know how old the debt is and which colleges were serial offenders. The Department should assist the entity to ensure these private colleges complied and paid Umalusi, if not, their licenses should perhaps be suspended or revoked. The Department should also have an intervention plan to assist Umalusi to recover the funds owed by the private institutions.

On the certification backlog or infamous “Day Zero”, he commended the Department for the reduction of the backlog. One hopes that this will be a positive contribution as students need their certificates to apply for jobs. Without the certificates, students were unable to apply for jobs.

On quality assurance, there was a mention of an investigation and blocking of some results; which subjects were affected, and which exam centres were implicated in this? Is Umalusi confident that the public TVET sector is offering quality training; if not, what are the proposed areas of improvement?

On ICT systems at SITA, the Department had indicated that its main problem was the examination of the ICT system and its dysfunctionality been addressed. When the Committee visited SITA’s facilities in 2019, it was indicated that it was implementing IT systems at the time, but the service provider was taking longer to complete the IT work. Have the challenges in the ICT system that existed before the implementation been addressed? If not, why have these challenges not been addressed?

Responses SITA
Mr Keyise responded to say that SITA is not playing any role in the implementation of the ICT system. The implementation of this system is run by the Department. The Department can explain this.

On the current legacy system that is still being used for exam purposes, SITA has allocated more resources to support the Department on the legacy system. The developers of the legacy solutions of the AG are also working with SITA to ensure that there were no issues that took longer. As the current leadership finds challenges in the legacy system, it also develops solutions – it does not have backlogs, going forward.

The 0.15% is translated to 186 000 people but the DG will speak to the timelines on when their students will get their certificates. “There is little work we need to do in terms of IT systems. We are providing them access to reviewing the data but there are business decisions that must be made. We have people to ensure that work is done without any delay”, he explained.

Although SITA is not responsible for the new system, it was working on an alternative programme to modernise all legacy systems of government, including the one used for exams. This journey will also be shared with the Department so that SITA can ascertain the additional functionalities that can be implemented now, while SITA waits for the new system. About 99.85% of the backlog has been resolved.

SITA would like to employ new students and young people to come and assist but for the legacy systems. The languages that these systems are programmed in were not taught anymore in institutions.

Umalusi responses
Mr Rakometsi assured Members that, in celebrating the 20th anniversary of Umalusi, the ball will not be dropped. The standard operating procedure will be upheld. The 0.15% still outstanding was still a lot because there are people behind those numbers who are waiting for their certificates to get jobs. In the value chain, Umalusi is at the end because it depends on the submission of certification data sets from the Department with the help of SITA. Umalusi can only issue certificates once datasets have been received, which is after the examinations have been written. The process is long and includes remarking where students ask for such, students who want to view their scripts, concessions and where students wrote incorrect papers – all these matters often occur. Once these matters have been settled and the datasets are stable, Umalusi would then come in. The entity does not certify based on the submitted datasets, Umalusi must also verify those datasets by applying its quality assurance measures. If a leaner cannot be certified, reasons must be provided by Umalusi.

As for quality assurance on N1 and N2, Umalusi as a quality council only quality assure qualifications at the exit point and N1 and N2 are not at exit points. From N4 to N7, this is done by the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO).
Once question papers have been set, Umalusi must moderate them and also monitor the state of readiness to write the exams, monitor the writing of the examinations, verify marking and capturing of marks, standardise and approve the results. This is what Umalusi does. Moderation by its very nature is based on a sample in an unannounced manner; the entity does not announce which institutions it is going to moderate. Umalusi extracts a sample because of financial constraints – perhaps this sample may not be enough, and the sample is measured by the budget.

On the poor quality of question papers: this is worrisome, but the experts are human beings. Where they show weaknesses, the entity must train and empower them. Where they struggle, the entity trains them up to a point where they are dismissed for not possessing the right capacity for the job.

On the moderation of question papers: Umalusi moderated 160 out of 261 question papers because of budgetary constraints. The entity also included institutions that were found to be non-compliant in the previous examination cycle. “This was so that, as we choose our sample, we check the weaknesses of the system”, he added.

As for how much Umalusi is owed and the serious offenders, this information may be provided in writing. This information was provided to the Committee before, but it will be resubmitted with the updated data within the next seven days.

As for the blocked results and why they have been blocked: the information will be provided in detail within seven days.

The issue of certificates by Umalusi is a stamp of approval of the work done at the TVET colleges. “We must agree that DHET, SITA and Umalusi should not be complacent because we have reached 99% of the certification backlog reduction”, he added.

Dr Antoinette Dliwayo, Umalusi, said that the issue of numbers will be provided within seven days due to the large numbers that must be compiled.

Dr Sujee added that the N4 to N6 are registered on the OQSF (Occupation Qualifications Sub-framework), hence they are not certified by Umalusi.

DHET responses
Dr Sishi welcomed and concurred with the responses provided by the entities. He also encouraged the sentiment of regular meetings with the entities, as they continue to reduce the remaining percentage of outstanding certificates.

Mr Sam Zungu noted some of the recommendations made by Members on the action plan, the communication on the progress made as per slide nine of the presentation: a lot of progress has been made and the Department shall be able to guard against any regression from here on.

Dr Sishi thanked the Committee for the engagement on this matter.

The Chairperson implored the entities to send all the promised information in writing to be sent within seven days. The Committee recognised the twenty-year existence of Umalusi. The Committee also noted the progress on the reduction of the certification backlog. This matter was taken up by the Committee at the beginning of this administration. To see a matter raised by the Committee being addressed with the kind of progress reported today was encouraging. She further implored the stakeholders directly responsible for the reduction of the backlog to continue addressing the remaining outstanding certificates.

The Committee is concerned that there were private colleges that owed Umalusi, and notes with concern the impact this has on the issuing of certificates. The Committee implores the Department to assist Umalusi and ensure that consequence management is applied for the offenders. “We request a written response on the amount owed, the institutions that owe, the number of certificates affected, the period of the debt and the colleges who were serial offenders. We request this information to be provided within seven days”, she said.

On quality assurance, the Committee recommends that DHET ensures the examiners appointed for the TVET college exams are qualified and that there is continuous training in that regard. The Committee is not only fixated on the funding for students but also funding for the sustainability of the sector. Further, the Committee recommended that the DHET issues directives timeously to ensure the implementation of examination requirements and the Department strengthened its monitoring and evaluation of private TVET colleges.

On illegal colleges: the Committee requests the Department to provide a detailed report on illegal colleges that were closed and criminalised. The Department should dedicate a unit that the public can whistle-blow or report these illegal colleges to.

On the dissemination of information on the registered private institutions: these should be broadcasted on many platforms and not be limited to the internet, to allow everyone to have access to that information.

The Chairperson thanked everyone for attending the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.


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