Department Budget Submissions: response by Committee

Basic Education

07 June 2004
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Meeting report

Education Portfolio Committee

EDUCATION AD HOC COMMITTEE
8 June 2004
DEPARTMENT BUDGET SUBMISSIONS: RESPONSE BY COMMITTEE

Chairperson
: Mr S Mayatula

Documents handed out
South African Universities Vice-Chancellors' Association Submission

SUMMARY
The Committee examined the responses from the public on the education budget vote. Some Members complained that the responses were not fully representative of all stakeholders in education. Discussion centred around school fees and exemptions; conditions in schools such as the buildings and the learner: educator ratio; further education and training; the funding formula for higher education institutions, student financial aid; and provincial spending on education.

MINUTES
Mr S Mayatula (ANC) opened the meeting and explained that its purpose was to examine the responses made at the public hearings on the education budget.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) said the frank exchange of views at the public hearing, and the acknowledgement of progress in education was heartening. The Centre for Education Policy Development (CEPD) had been concerned that many poor pupils were compelled to pay fees. The ANC felt that the ability of the state to provide free, quality education while allowing wealthier communities to levy school fees, should be examined.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA) expressed concern about the teacher/pupil ratio, 'learning under trees', mud schools and lack of clean water.

SADTU and the Education Policy Unit (EPU) had been concerned that some areas of education were not well-resourced at provincial level. Mr Van den Heever suggested that 'ring-fencing' education funds so that they could not be siphoned off into other projects in the provinces. Stakeholders had been concerned about delays in the implementation of 'Curriculum 2005' at Further Education and Training (FET) level.

Three main issues had emerged from the higher education (HE) sector. The first was the new funding formula for higher education institutions. Mr Van den Heever suggested that the Committee reserve judgement on this issue until the Department had briefed the Committee on the new funding formula.
On the second issue of student funding, he suggested that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) should fund less students in full instead of funding many students partially, and the Committee should engage the Department on the payment of registration fees.
On the third issue of the merging process, the Committee should be alert to the possibility that the merging process could result in higher fees for historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs).

Mr Mayatula conveyed apologies from Department of Education officials, who were meeting with the Minister and MECs. Dr Ahmed Essop of the Department, however, was present and would be able to respond to the higher education issues.

Ms H Zille (DA) raised the procedural issue that the public hearings were not representative and many stakeholders had been unaware of them. Secondly, that receiving the collated public responses on the day of the meeting made it impossible for her to properly fulfil her constitutional responsibility to participate in public debate.

Mr Mayatula said that the Committee had never held public hearings on the budget before and the timeframe was unfortunately too short to advertise them in the press. The Committee had decided that it would be better to consult with those stakeholders who were available than not at all. A list of previous participants in public hearings was used to notify people of the hearings.

Ms Zille suggested that the Committee should use the Constitution, and not timeframes, as their guideline. The Committee should acknowledge that the submissions were partial and selective.

Mr Mayatula said that the Constitution did not oblige the Committee to hold public hearings. As the hearings were intended to help the Committee to prepare for the budget vote which was to take place shortly, no other procedure for announcing them was possible.

Mr A Mpontsahne (IFP) suggested that a sub-Committee to design a programme for the Committee should be convened. Mr Mayatula agreed that this should happen at the end of the meeting. He asked for Members' responses to the content of the hearings.

Mr A Gaum (NNP) said that a recent poll had found that the concerns raised were common to all South Africans. The Committee should discuss and investigate them. Proposed legislation would exempt the poorest 40% of learners from school fees. The cost of this would be R200 per learner per annum. If this were to be raised by 'top-slicing', learners in the third quintile would be negatively affected. Poor learners in less poor provinces would also be a problem to arrange exemptions for. Although the average learner to educator ratio was 33:1, ratios of 60:1 were common in individual schools. The only solution was to create more teaching posts and that would require more money. Constant policy change also had a negative impact and the system should move towards implementation. Early Childhood Development (ECD) and Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) were rightly emphasised. Members should monitor that provincial and national departments were ready for implementation of outcomes-based education in the FET phase. Funds allocated to the provinces should be used for education; but unfortunately welfare spending was a threat to education spending. He proposed asking the provincial education departments to brief the Committee - not to undermine their autonomy, but to gain understanding.

Mr Mpontshane said that the ANC's response was a fair reflection. Overall, there was a gap between policy and implementation, partly because there was no monitoring. As the higher education funding formula was based on research capacity, he feared this would change comprehensive institutions' aspirations. He asked how to respond to 'schools under trees' that he had found in his constituency. He was concerned that the South African National Literacy Initiative was no longer funded by the Department.

M L Greyling (ID) agreed that it was good to have public hearings, even if they were not fully representative, but agreed that they should be more representative in future. Some children were still barred from schools, particularly in the rural areas and he suggested a national audit to determine why. Although education comprised 23% of the national budget, needs were still not being well addressed - where were the inefficiencies? With respect to higher education, the funds generated by skills development levies required a common framework for utilisation.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) said that the key goals of education were "equity, equality, access and redress". More schools were needed, the learner to educator ratio should be dealt with and more FET colleges should be built. Mr Mayatula asked for a clear proposal. Mr Boinamo asked if the Committee could go through the documents more thoroughly. Mr Mayatula explained that it was not possible to change Parliament's programme and the day of the Budget Vote, but the Committee could use the discussion to inform the Minister about next year's vote.

Ms Zille expressed that the Committee should define what was meant by "quality education". Also, not only material resources affected quality, but also less tangible issues like time management. For example, at some schools, learners got 35 days of instruction per year and at others, pupils got 200. Debate about school fees distracted attention from more important issues; the existing fee exemption mechanisms worked perfectly well. Parents were required to ask for exemptions so the Committee should look at parent involvement. Free education could be attained, but it might be of extremely poor quality.

She noted that the Constitution allowed for the central state to intervene in schedule 4 functions of the provinces. School governing bodies (SGBs) were complex and should be looked at in terms of educational outcomes. Those schools that were functioning well should be left alone, and the state should intervene in schools that were functioning poorly, especially in numeracy and literacy. With regards to higher education, there was no transparency on the formulation of the subsidy. Professor Melck had been unable to determine how allocations were made.

Mr T Godi (PAC) acknowledged that some objectives had not been met but felt that the public hearings were balanced.

Mr Y Bhamjee (ANC) thought the fees exemption mechanism was imperfect because bureaucracy terrified people who were ignorant of their rights. Middle-class people were not afraid of SGBs for historical reasons. At the mid-year review of education, the Committee should engage from a Committee perspective, instead of a party political one, particularly at public hearings.

Mr Mayatula agreed that not everything in education depended on material resources, but if a child was unable to pay the R50 annual fee, and the school did not have enough money to function, that was definitely an example of material resources affecting quality. On monitoring provincial spending and implementing strategic plans, he proposed asking the Finance Department to brief the Committee on the Public Finance Management Act. All Members should determine how many 'schools under trees' there were in their constituencies. He disagreed with Ms Zille regarding intervention in SGBs; there were national norms and the Minister could overrule the Constitution.

Ms Zille replied that in terms of schedule 4 of the Constitution, the Minister and MEC had concurrent power. The Minister would only take precedence if there was no provincial capacity or if there had to be national consistency.

Mr Mayatula said that Ms Zille's allegations that the fees exemption mechanism worked well was informed by the public hearings.

Mr Greyling suggested that the meeting could find more consensus if they focused on funding and fees. The South African Schools Act allowed for exemptions but people were ignorant of it. He proposed a national audit on enrolment, to determine the reasons many learners were not attending school. Under the Constitution, children had a right to education, but the word "free" was not used. If an SGB was compelled to exempt learners from fees but was then unable to function, would the state intervene?

The Chair then asked Dr Essop of the Department of Education to respond to the higher education issues.

Dr Essop offered to arrange for a detailed presentation on the new funding framework. There were many inaccuracies in the SA University Vice-Chancellors Association (SAUVCA) submission, which surprised him because there had been workshops and negotiation on their subsidies. The Department had established benchmarks for teaching and research outputs. If an institution did not meet the benchmarks, they could put in a proposal to access development funds. The policy was not to dictate to institutions that they should be research, teaching or comprehensive institutions.

He repeated his concern about the lack of transparency. The new formula required detailed figures from the Deparment (and not higher education institutions) submitted to them in October. The first subsidy calculations were provisional and there were responses and workshops on the process in May.

Mr Mayatula asked for Dr Essop's comment on a hearing allegation that the new funding framework would lead to a unitary and uniform system with no distinction between the different institutional types. Dr Essop explained that if any institution was found to be well beneath the benchmark, it would be encouraged to improve with development funds.

Mr Van den Heever said that the Programme Sub-Committee was essential to arrange discussion of the many issues, especially the funding framework. It was agreed that this Committee would comprise seven people, four from the ANC and one each from the DA, NNP and IFP.

The Chair reminded Members that the next meeting on 22 June would brief them on mergers of higher education institutions. Such facilities would be visited during the first week in August. He suggested that Fridays could be used for briefings on the funding formula and the Public Finance Management Act. He had earlier suggested that the subcommittee developing the Committee programme should urgently prioritise training on technical aspects of the Public Finance Management Act, facilitated by Treasury.

The meeting was adjourned.

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