In its final meeting for 2022, the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture met on a virtual platform with the Minister to discuss the 2021/22 Annual Report for the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).
In his opening remarks, the Minister was impressed by the great progress made by the DHET since 1994. The DHET team reported that in the 2021/22 financial year 83 of its 123 targets (67%) had been met.
In the discussion on the Annual Report, Members asked the status of Community Education and Training (CET) and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges; certification backlog at TVET colleges; CET infrastructure spending; Review of Student Housing Norms and Standards; students stranded in Russia; the value and cost of international scholarships; R6.972 million irregular expenditure and doctoral scholarship allocations.
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, reported that the meeting coincided with DHET’s mid-term review of its Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) 2019-2024 at the midpoint of the Sixth Administration. The DG and his team will be presenting the DHET 2021/22 Annual Report.
Minister Nzimande agreed with the Chairperson that black South Africans under Apartheid would have greatly benefited if the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) had existed. NSFAS is considered a massive achievement of the ANC government since 1994. Minister Nzimande has even argued that the NSFAS has helped to establish a black middle class. NSFAS funding has increased from R21 billion in 2018 to R38.6 billion in 2021. In 2022 the NSFAS budgetary amount is over R45 million. This shows that NSFAS has doubled over four years.
Minister Nzimande reported that in 2018, TVET college 586 763 students received NSFAS funding and in 2021 the number increased to over 770 000 students.
The 2021/22 year saw feasibility studies for two new universities conducted. These universities included a university for science and innovation as well as a university for crime detection. The Minister reported that he received the two feasibility studies which will be processed within the following financial year. While the feasibility studies have been successfully conducted, there are still concerns about available funds for the construction of the two new universities.
Student enrollment at universities has increased from 1.85568 million in 2018 to 1.94808 million in the 2022 academic year. The year 2022 also 29% enrollment into science and technology programmes at universities. There has been an increase in doctoral graduates since 2018 adding the hope that these graduates as academics will assist in the development of science.
Minister Nzimande reported eight out of the ten accredited universities now offer TVET-related programmes to improve the qualification of TVET college lecturers. This is a far cry from 2009 when there were no universities offering TVET college qualifications which were non-existent. Additionally, there is steady progress with TVET colleges. This is evident by the fact that 9 of the new 16 TVET colleges have been completed and the remaining seven college sites are between 0 and 99% completed.
The Minister said that for the first time in South Africa, there are 32 trade testing centres within TVET colleges across the country which will lead to more artisans being produced. Thanks to the newly-constructed trade centres, students no longer have to travel long distances. The President announced the placement of 10 000 unemployed TVET college graduates. At the moment 7 000 students have been placed however the Minister is confident the 10 000 placement target will be reached by 31 March 2023.
Minister Nzimande explained that CET colleges will now transition to mass skill provision as CETs were previously limited in their mandate. R200 million from the National Skills Fund (NSF) will assist CET colleges in mass skills provision. Each province will have a CET college with various functional learning sites. Entrepreneurship and Digital Programming will be introduced in CET training offerings.
The Minister reported that since 2019, 78 536 artisans had been produced. This translated to an estimated 19 643 artisans per annum. The target of the National Development Plan (NDP) is 30 000 artisans per annum. DHET is optimistic about the provision of more than 100 000 apprenticeships and internships targeting unemployed youth during the following year.
Minister Nzimande reported that DHET is currently developing an overarching Master Skills Programme (MSP) comprised of different sectoral skills. The intent is to investigate areas experiencing skills shortages.
The Minister said it was unfortunate about the negative media coverage of the National Skills Fund (NSF) investigation. He condemned the media coverage. The Minister had initiated a full blown forensic investigation. The investigation looked at a time period when he was not even there as the minister. They were busy implementing the investigation recommendations when SCOPA asked him to come and report. As the parliamentary committees are public, it would be improper to inform them about those being investigated unless the implicated had been informed beforehand. In terms of the law and due process they had to inform people they were being fingered. The Hawks were in the process of investigating. SCOPA requested the forensic investigation report. He was reluctant to hand over the forensic report but he gave it with the request not to release it. He has done all that he was supposed to do. But he is being made out to be the culprit. The media is discrediting the minister as being corrupt. He could not understand this disinformation when he has done all he has done. The employees have now been suspended and they are charging them and opening a case. They will leave no stone unturned to ensure people are called to account.
Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) 2021/22 Annual Report
Dr Nkosnathi Sishi, Director General: DHET, along with his team: Mr Reineth Mgiba, Deputy Director General (DDG): Strategic Planning; and Ms Pretty Makukule: CFO, presented. DHET achieved 83 of 123 (67%) targets in 2021/22.
Programme One: Administration saw 87% of disciplinary cases resolved within 90 days. The reason why two out of seven targets were missed was prolonged power failures and outages.
Programme Two: Planning, Policy and Strategy, saw 9 out of 12 planned targets achieved.
Programme Three: University Education, 17 of the 25 planned targets were achieved. The key target not achieved was the draft regulatory framework for university fees, which was not finalised and submitted for approval by the Minister by 31 March 2022. The work towards finalising the framework may be delayed as the framework was still being reviewed by the Minister.
Programme Four: Technical and Vocational Education Training, 14 out of 17 targets were achieved. Among the targets achieved was the 99.4% reduction in the certification backlog of qualifying students. Four TVET colleges equipped with Disability Support units to support students with disabilities. However, only six of the 13 consolidated indicators for TVET colleges were achieved mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic impact on the education system.
Programme Five: Skills Development, only 6 out of 11 targets were met. The remaining five targets were not achieved due to the closure of workplaces and trade centres due to COVID-19 restrictions which led to a certification backlog in 2021/22.
Programme Six: Community Education and Training (CET) saw significantly higher target achievement rates with 14 out of 15 targets achieved. The unachieved goal was 100% CET colleges compliant with the policy on examination and assessment conduct and management. The reason was that the target was hampered by irregularities identified in the centres that were monitored in areas such as the writing of examinations and the marking of scripts.
The presenters outlined the financial report and an audit action plan to improve audit findings (see document).
The Chairperson spoke about TVET colleges especially in rural areas and the challenges with experiential learning and placements. He said his daughter graduated from a TVET college in 2021 and she still does not have her certificate – only a letter saying she has completed her course. There are many others like her who cannot be placed in a job. Those letters are not convincing as they are easily faked unlike a certificate which can be checked.
The Committee receives lots of letters of complaint from TVET students about TVET management not bothered that the students do not have work placements. You will find an electrical engineering student placed in a company that makes the student do meter readings - which is not appropriate but the company profits from this free labour. He quoted from the White Paper about the objectives for TVET colleges which were to address the complaints the Committee receives. Where do TVET colleges fit into the PSET system? TVET students feel like the step children of Higher Education.
On improving the SETAs, there was a programme running from 2020 to 2023 do ensure that the SETAs do what they are meant for. How far are we in implementing that programme?
Ms D Christians (DA, Northern Cape) asked about the key challenges the university sector faced such as relatively low graduation and success rates. TVETs and universities had experienced low throughput rates and what is also concerning is the number of students brought into the tertiary education. sector. What interventions is DHET considering to curb low graduation rates, low success rates and the inclusion of more students in the tertiary education sector? She had similar concerns as the Chairperson about the TVET sector about work placements for TVET student which was a long-standing problem. What is the way forward for additional partnerships with industries?
Ms Christians said that TVET college challenges include programme quality, TVET staff professional capabilities, management information systems etc. How will TVET colleges proceed in improving the public's perception of them and strengthening the deficits referenced in the White Paper? Certification is a historically huge problem that continues to remain so.
Ms Christians was unsure if Minister Nzimande was aware of recent media reports of students in Namaqualand at the Okiep TVET college. They had not received their diplomas despite completing their 18-month N6 training. The students applied for their diplomas but the DHET has not been able to certify them. This has been hampering the students’ economic opportunities. How was this being dealt with? She asked if this certification challenge was limited to Okiep TVET college or other TVET campuses were struggling with the same certification challenge.
Irregular expenditure of R6.972 million had accumulated over several years which is problematic. How is DHET addressing this and how will it curb irregular expenditure going forward?
Ms Christians noted the opening of the 32 trade centres in TVET colleges. She applauded it as “a step in the right direction” and “long overdue”. Trade centres will assist in adding more artisans to the South African economy. She asked that the Select Committee receive the list of the 32 new TVET trade centres to direct their constituents to them.
Ms Christians viewed the training of CET lecturers as a positive and asked when will CETs receive infrastructure and premises. She enquired about the challenges and success of the CETs since their inception.
Ms Christians noted the completion of 9 out of 16 TVET colleges and asked if it was possible to arrange an oversight visit to these colleges in 2023.
There were reports that students studying in Russia have been receiving poor treatment. She requested DHET confirm if the reports were true and what intervention has been done.
On NSFAS, she requested feedback on the success and failures of the disbursement of funds by the four new service providers selected during 2022.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) noted the unachieved target for norms and standards for PSET student housing by 31 December 2021. This was due to the delay in establishing the infrastructure development support unit which would be assisted in the analysis of complex technical issues during public consultation. She requested that DHET share key insights gained from the extended call for public comments as well as the outcomes achieved during its meetings with stakeholders to review the submitted comments. What was the progress in incorporating stakeholder comments into the PSET norms and standards for student housing?
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) discussed the target of 40 doctoral scholarship allocations through the university staff doctorate programmes to permanent instructional or research staff members. She asked about the achieved current progress of the doctoral scholarship allocations. She wanted proof that scholarships were granted to recommended candidates and that funds were distributed to the host universities of the candidates.
Ms N Ndongeni (ANC, Eastern Cape) also asked that Standing Committee receive a breakdown of candidate representation across provinces. Additionally, she also requested that details concerning topics and areas of doctoral research specialisation be provided.
Ms S Luthuli (EFF, KZN) thanked DHET and the Committee for their participation in the final committee meeting of 2022 [1:40:20 – 1:43:20 spoke in her vernacular language].
Ms S Lehihi (EFF, North West) discussed reports that students from the Free State province studying in Russia are facing evictions and that government has been non-responsive to this. She wanted confirmation from DHET if the allegations of government non-responsiveness are true. She asked how many students are studying abroad and how many are receiving government scholarships?
The Chairperson referred to students studying in Hungary among other countries. He asked about the value that these international graduates add to South Africa and the NDP. He asked about the costs and which was cheaper – studying internationally or domestically? Are there courses unavailable in South Africa that are only available abroad?
Dr Nkosnathi Sishi appreciated the input from the Select Committee. The comments were useful as they “expanded insight” into the problems experienced by students and constituents.
On the Department's TVET strategy on how to improve the fortune of TVET students, the PSET White Paper provided specific solutions which include the transformation of the TVET sector as well as how it will be accomplished. He would share the key TVET documents with the Committee as they provide the answers.
In response to immediate problems such as TVET graduate placement and DHET certification challenges, Dr Sishi replied that 99.9% of all students who had experienced certification challenges have now been issued their certificates. Although he was pleased with this development, there were lessons learned. In the past, only subject certificates were issued instead of actual qualifications. Over the time this has been considered as “wasteful expenditure”. Dr Sishi acknowledged concerns about subject certificates as in the past subject certificates helped students find employment before obtaining their full qualifications. The Chairperson had suggested to reconsider this and that the administration of certification must be resolved. The DG promised to continue to report on developments on this going forward.
On the concern about TVET student placement, the placement target was 10 500 students and so far more than 7 000 students have been placed. DHET is still proceeding with placements and it is confident that the placement target will be reached.
Dr Sishi recognized the importance of establishing stronger systems of collaboration between DHET and employers. Recently there was a summit on the subject of TVET colleges between DHET and employers. A set of resolutions were established and he would like to share them for transparency. Overall, there were two summits between DHET and employers. The two summits were about CET and TVET colleges and both provided DHET with advice from stakeholders on how to proceed on the key issues raised. He regarded the summit resolutions as a "compass” to guide his department in not only achieving the NDP but also achieving the African TVET strategy which South Africans are party to.
Dr Sishi acknowledged the positive remarks from Ms Christians on the creation of the 32 trade centres. He is pleased with the progress and assured her that DHET will continue to establish such initiatives and further improve the quality of trade testing. Trade testing is supported by employers as well as the qualification oversight authorities.
Dr Sishi promised to follow up on the Namaqualand TVET concern raised by Ms Christians.
On international scholarships, the three largest international scholarships from Russia, China and Hungary. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has disrupted the Russian scholarship programme. However before that, DHET was aware of problems concerning the scholarship. These problems include the decentralisation of the Russian education system, Russia's difficulty with educational autonomy at the institutional level and the language barrier. Currently, there are attempts between the South African and Russian governments to revive the scholarship programme. The Russian scholarship programme is the poorest in terms of performance mainly due to the language barrier. DHET is currently creating a support programme in cooperation with the South African organisations that have a base in Russia as well as between the two governments.
On a stronger infrastructure rollout programme. The Minister has centralised the previously-decentralised rollout programme. DHET has appointed implementation agents in cooperation with government to increase department capacity to roll out infrastructure. DHET has revised its student accommodation contracts with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to ensure the contract allows for closer oversight and monitoring by DHET. This is to swiftly deal with student accommodation problems. In cases where it is not happy with how institutions work with the student accommodation issue, DHET works with NSFAS to ensure that students are paid directly when this is desirable and there is agreement between stakeholders.
Dr Sishi reported that the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) consultation was conducted by NSFAS on student accommodation norms and standards. The input gathered from the consultations involved the improvement of TVET student accommodation. There were also concerns about third parties receiving funds from students but providing poor services. Dr Sishi admitted this is a problem and this is an area that needs improvement and they will use the initiatives reported on by the Minister Nzimande.
Dr Sishi responded to Ms Luthuli on consequence management. DHET recently reported its progress on the Minister’s investigation into NSF to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and the Portfolio Committee. It has openedd all the cases. DHET has been cooperating with law enforcement agencies such as the police and the Hawks. DHET does not only investigate civil ligation cases but also criminal matters. DHET has also established an independent panel to investigate administration-related matters raised by the Auditor General (AG). Some of these are repeat findings which are presently being tackled by DHET.
Dr Sishi replied about international scholarships. The Chairperson had spoken about DHET examining the desirability of external scholarships versus internal scholarships. This is to avoid repetition of courses that are offered internally. They take this advice and will report on this.
Dr Sishi was pleased with the performance of the Hungarian scholarship programme because of the diverse Hungarian scholarships offered. As a result, Hungarian scholarships are considered a success. The Minister wanted to broaden Hungarian scholarships to include exchange programmes for South African lecturers. This is so that lecturers learn more skills from their Hungarian counterparts to strengthen the integrity of the higher education system.
Ms Pretty Makukule: CFO, confirmed irregular expenditure had a closing balance of R6.972 million. R4.5 million of that emanated from the prior year. These were three different transactions such as the procurement of legal assistance previously.
Ms Makukule reported that DHET has written to Treasury requesting them to condone the irregular expenditure involved in the three transactions. Determination testing conducted by DHET internal auditors found that the transactions warranted condonement. Treasury then requested some information from DHET which the department provided.
DHET was advised by Treasury that the DG as the accounting officer can remove the irregular expenditure provided there is compliance with legal provisions. This was achieved and DHET was currently waiting for the approval of the expenditure. The process would be completed within a couple of weeks.
Ms Makukule stated DHET will continue to strengthen its internal financial controls to comply with legislation and prevent irregular expenditure. DHET is implementing internal financial controls including the training of procurement officers so they understand their roles and responsibilities as the irregular expenditure originated from non-compliance with supply chain management (SCM) regulations. Implementing consequence management as a corrective measure has been effective as there has been a trend of officials not committing repeat offences.
Minister Nzimande replied about student placement in workplaces for TVET colleges located in rural areas. He acknowledged this as a real ongoing challenge bolstered by the lack of significant workplaces. Following the President’s commitment to solving student placement, the issue was 70% dealt with. This highlights DHET’s commitment as it will initiate further investigations of rural conditions. The aim of these investigations will be, for example, to find available police stations and see if motor mechanic students can offer their services; there will be an effort to ensure the construction and repair school desks. It has now stated that performance agreement with TVET principals prioritise student work placements. This is because vocational training cannot exist without student placement.
CET infrastructure will now be incorporated into the DHET infrastructure plan. However, the Minister acknowledged that DHET does not access a huge source of funds. Despite, this financial setback, the Ministers will attempt to solve the CET infrastructure matter. DHET will seek to establish further partnerships with TVET colleges to use some of their buildings and ensure their suitability for skills programmes offered by CETs.
Minister Nzimande stated that he was is happy to arrange and facilitate visits to TVET and CET campuses for Select Committee members.
On international scholarships, the Minister stated that he requires assistance from the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) because provinces send students abroad “without notifying DHET and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO)”. DHET would only be notified when major problems emerged. For example, he was unaware of the plight of students from Mpumalanga studying in Russia until it became a major problem.
As a result, the Minister had requested that the President discuss the matter in his upcoming meeting with provincial leaders and the South African Local Government Association (SALGA). He wished there existed overarching legislation to prevent any arm of government from sending students abroad without notifying DHET and DIRCO. The Department is trying to build its organisational capacity to respond to and monitor all international scholarships. Prior notification from provinces and municipalities would be of great assistance to DHET and he requested assistance from the Chairperson on the matter.
Minister Nzimande reported the end-of-year applications for NSFAS and they will work closely with the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). DHET has been using social media with relative success. This is evident by the massive reach of NSFAS on social media along with other institutions in promoting student applications. Moreover, DHET has also been conventional media such as radio for advertisements.
Minister Nzimande rejected the word that students are 'blacklisted' in the tertiary education system. The challenge is that students owe institutions. In the past they would not get their academic results and certificates. At least now DHET has now ensured that these students can receive their results from institutions even if they do not give their certificates while they continue to look at this issue of withholding certificates. At least they can now show the results to employers.
The Minister agreed with the DG that DHET has taken massive steps to end the certificate backlog.
Minister Nzimande was made aware of the plight of Namaqualand TVET students through media coverage. He requested that the Select Committee bring specific cases to DHET so that it can follow up and act accordingly.
Minister Nzimande responded to the Chairperson's concerns about international scholarships. These scholarships were provided by other countries directly to government. These scholarships are normally accepted by the South African government because it is a positive opportunity for students to study in other countries. This is because those students return with knowledge and experience beneficial to South Africa.
However, when accepting scholarships offered by other countries, DHET does request the prioritization of areas where skills are scarce in South Africa. Students who acquire skills in these scarce areas would be able to greatly assist the government and the country.
Minister Nzimande had asked DHET to set aside funds from the National Skills Fund to send postgraduate students overseas. The intent is to ensure that these postgraduate students study in scarce skill areas. It is hoped that these newly-trained students who specialised in scarce skills will in turn provide training to future South African students.
Minister Nzimande acknowledged that studying abroad is expensive which is why foreign scholarships are those offered to the South African government by other countries.
The Minster replied that DHET currently has no information on the NSFAS service providers,. However, NSFAS can be directly contacted for further information. Alternatively, if given time the Minister and DHET can receive information from NSFAF and report it to the Chairperson.
Minister Nzimande appreciated the questions and comments as they assist in improving the quality of DHET’s work. He enjoyed interacting with the NCOP as he considered it as the interface between national government and its impact on provinces and municipalities.
The Chairperson thanked the Minister and his Department team.
The minutes of 2 November 202 were adopted and the meeting was adjourned.
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