Women in Science; CGE Investigation on Gender Transformation in TVET colleges; HSRC study

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

17 February 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary


Gender Transformation Investigation in TVET colleges 2022

The National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI) told the Committee in a virtual meeting that they had seen progress in the participation of women in science and technology, but wanted to reach more of the targets they had set for an increase in black women to be employed within these fields. There was a lot more to do to improve the participation of women and the employment of female researchers in the sector.

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) stated that women were under-represented in most scientific disciplines and published fewer articles, with fewer citations. However, they had formed local and global partnerships to ensure that most scientists were registered under the Academy. The role of the organisation included increasing and promoting the participation of women scientists in the development of their country, and promoting collaboration and communication among them. The organisation planned to close the gap by conducting research training, and providing networking opportunities and career development.

The Commission on Gender Equality (CGE) reported that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges had demonstrated a commitment to comply with its recommendations, but the challenge seemed to be that most were not able to comply because some of the projects could not be fulfilled without the approval of the Department of Higher Education and Training.

The Committee was not pleased with the progress of the CGE in managing the implementation of gender transformation policies at TVET colleges. The colleges' non-compliance with the CGE's recommendations was of concern, as there were no disciplinary methods to deal with the non-compliance.

Members emphasised to the NACI and ASSAF the importance of teaching learners at the basic education level about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes, particularly the importance of mathematics and science. They advised the entities to partner with the Department of Basic Education to influence young children, especially girls, about the careers and opportunities in the field.

Meeting report

Presentation by National Advisory Council on Innovation (NACI)

Prof Lindiwe Zungu, Council member, NACI, said the Council had begun its work to provide oversight to ensure that its mandate was fully implemented and realised. A structure had been established to help fulfil the Council’s mandate to its maximum, and they were committed to driving the transformation agenda with a view to promoting full participation of women in science and technology.

Dr Mlungisi Cele, Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), NACI, said that the transformation agenda was a standing item in the work of the Council, and that they had set out to bring different stakeholders together to evolve a programme and implement the agenda. Their work considered both the domestic and international context, characterised it by a range of transitions, and recognised the challenges society faced. They also recognised other global developments that impacted transformation, like the "Black Lives Matter" movement and the national strategic plan on gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF). Tracking the progress of the National System of Innovation (NSI) regarding the 2030 National Development Plan (NDP) targets was vital, and they aimed to influence fundamental change in society.

Ms Thandokazi Teti, Specialist Policy Analysis and Advice: NACI, said the transformation programme was important in the Council, emphasising inclusivity and transformation. The three pillars of the programme were:  

  • Strengthening human capital development;
  • Strengthening economic transformation; and
  • Strengthening institutions in the National System of Innovation (NSI).

The NDP had set enrolment at the postgraduate level for the 2009 to 2020 period at between 80-85%, and the actual enrolment had been between 15-20%. The target for academic staff with a Doctorate of Philosophy had been set to be between 35-50%, and the actual number of academic staff with a PhD degree was currently at 45%. More males enrolled and graduated in 2009, but in 2020 females dominated the enrolment and graduation for science, engineering and technology (SET) qualifications. More African people enrolled and graduated over the 2009 to 2020 period, dominating the numbers for whites, coloureds and Indians. From the 2005 to 2020 period, there had been an achievement of 50:50 male-female professional staff, and 42:58 male-female non-professional staff.

The Council believed that there should be progress towards the NDP targets, and that youth data and disability data should be segregated.

Presentation by Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)

Prof Stephanie Burton, Vice-President, ASSAf, said that their mandate as an academy was to offer evidence-based scientific advice to the government and other stakeholders, and they aspired to lead, as all their policies demonstrated that. The presentation would show the number of activities it supported to show the involvement of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and the challenges they faced in pursuit of inclusivity and gender equity. They had partnered with local and international organisations to achieve a decent number of women science leaders who were members of the Academy, serving on its important standing committees and review panels.

Dr Melusi Thwala, Manager: Science Advisory Programme and Strategic Partnerships, ASSAf, said that women researchers were 33.3% globally, but fewer than 4% had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and women were underrepresented in most scientific disciplines. The Academy had partnerships with the following entities:

  • ASSAF Girls and Women in STI Initiative, which aims to reinforce gender inclusiveness;
  • Lindau Nobel Prize meetings, which aims to bring together Nobel laureates and young international scientists to foster scientific exchange between different generations and culture; and  
  • The Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), which aims to strengthen the role of women scientists in the development process and promote their representation in scientific and technological leadership.

Dr Caroline Pule, Chairperson, OWSD, said that the role of the organisation included increasing and promoting the participation of women scientists in the development of their country, and promoting collaboration and communication among them. The organisation planned to close the gap by conducting research training,  and providing networking opportunities and career development. They also planned to increase participation of women scientists in scientific and technological research, working with the DSI through ASSAf, and maintaining working relationships with national chapters from South Africa's neighbouring countries.   

Presentation by Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)

Ms Nomasonto Mazibuko, Acting Chairperson, CGE, said that Commission was grateful to be able to present its work around the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges in dealing with the current wave of GBVF. An effort from all the role players was required to deal with this challenge, and the Commission's report was important to gain insight into the unique environments and gender dynamics of colleges.

Ms Phelisa Nkomo, CEO, CGE, appreciated the Committee’s oversight approach to the issue of women in STEM, institutions of higher learning and employment. They had committed themselves to present adequate evidence on gender equity so that those who were part of the ecosystem around GBV and its oversight, and those who were committed to eradicating GBV, were able to use their findings.

Dr Dennis Matotoka, Head of Department (HOD): Legal, CGE, said that the Commission had conducted follow-up transformation hearings in the TVET colleges in the 2021/22 financial year to determine compliance with its 2020/21 report recommendations. Institutions that were investigated were the Waterberg, Nkangala, Northern Cape Urban and Southwest Gauteng TVET colleges. The Commission had aimed to investigate the obstacles faced by women in the workplace, including why employers failed to comply with obligations aimed at promoting gender equality in the workplace, and the shortcomings in the workplace which impeded gender transformation and propose remedial measures.

The findings and recommendations of the investigations were as follows:

Waterberg TVET college

Ÿ The college had not developed its sexual harassment policy. It was in the process of developing this policy, and there were still gender-blind policies in place.  

Ÿ The college should review policies to be gender-sensitive, conduct training on sexual harassment, and invite the CGE to the training and develop a policy framework that ensures continuity, accountability and transparency in implementing equality and non-discriminatory transformation initiatives.

Nkangala TVET college

Ÿ The college informed the CGE that it was consulting with its current security company to address GBV matters. The mechanism identified was to use the Namola App, which assists in location sharing and tracking student movements where there is a safety concern.

Ÿ The college must ensure that it implements employment equity, with a plan in place to recruit persons with disabilities (PWD) and to work with disability organisations in Mpumalanga.

Northern Cape Urban TVET college

Ÿ The college had been due to appear before the CGE on 18 November 2021, but to date, it had failed to submit a further progress report to the Commission. The Commission was, therefore, unable to assess the progress made by the college in implementing the recommendations.

Southwest Gauteng TVET College

Ÿ There was no representation of PWD in the top and senior management positions of the college; no promotions for the period 2017 to date; the sexual harassment policy was still in a draft form; and reliance was on the disciplinary code for public servants’ resolution 1 of 2003.

Ÿ The college should provide accurate statistics regarding the number of sexual harassment cases pending and finalised on or before the end of February 2022.

TVET colleges had demonstrated commitment to comply with the recommendations of the CGE. However, the challenge seemed to be that most were not able to comply because some of the projects could not be fulfilled without the involvement of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The CGE would continue to discharge its constitutional mandate to engage the colleges to ensure full compliance with the recommendations.

Department comments

Ms Gugulethu Zwane, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Institutional Planning and Support (IPS), DSI, said the Department acknowledged the presentations, and that there was still more work to be done with the employment equity.

Ms Aruna Singh, Acting DDG: TVET Colleges, DHET, thanked the CGE for the presentations and said that it was required that colleges domesticate policies through the college councils and relevant academic boards. It was important that colleges had a documented policy around all its gender issues, and she said that they would perform oversight activities to ensure that this happened. GBV was an issue for students. Higher Health has conducted several interventions to track the statistics of occurring cases, and there was an increased level of reporting compared to five years ago.

She had noticed a high enrolment of female students in TVET colleges that had been consistent for years, and the success rates of females over males were also high. There was still an imbalance of males to females in senior management. As a Department, they tried to enforce transformation through the positions they oversaw by applying gender equity policies during recruitment.


The Chairperson said that she saw a continuation of engagements that the Committee had with the representatives from Rocketry in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN), where they had discussed the succession journey of a female student in the sciences, and had been told that young women did not to complete their journey as males would normally do. There was a correlation with the opinion from the data that NACI had provided in their presentation, but she felt nothing had been done to change the fact that there was a shortage of women in the sciences field. She noted the importance of setting targets to push the representation of women in the sciences, and that expositions and programmes needed to be implemented to draw women into this field.  

She said that it was interesting to see that the representation of some of the races had declined from the 2009 to the 2022 period, and that inclusion did not result in the exclusion of others. There was a concern over male academics dominating the academic space. She applauded the balance of the genders of authors in Argentina, Russia and Portugal, and suggested that a study should be conducted about how they maintained gender equality. The increase in enrolment of women for the Master’s and PhD qualification was impressive, but there was a concern as to whether the number of enrolments correlated to the number of intentional funds handed out to black women enrolled for these qualifications. She acknowledged the proactiveness of colleges that had not yet had any GBV cases by ensuring that they took measures to prevent any violence from happening on their campuses.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said that the presentations by NACI and ASSAF showed that there was a lot of work to be done to ensure they lobbied and advocated that people must have mathematics and sciences at the primary level. She was happy that the presentations were transparent and reflected the reality of the little job they were doing to ensure equality, and that they were working towards doing more to promote the transformation agenda. A stance should be taken towards the Department's transformation agenda to ensure that there are policies to implement in educational institutions. The CGE should follow these institutions to achieve uniformity. She asked the DHET to give the Committee a time frame as to when its institutions would have the policies in place for the gender transformation agenda

She said the CGE presentation had indicated that they lacked in a lot of areas, and she thought that maybe the institutions did not take the Commission seriously, or maybe they did not enforce a response to recommendations, and asked them to submit a report explaining their recommendations and programme of monitoring and evaluation. She suggested that the CGE share the best practices from institutions that were doing well in dealing with the gender transformation agenda inclusively during their monitoring process. She hoped that the Commission was putting more effort into training all the institutions to know more about gender and femicide issues.

Ms N Marchesi (DA) said she had an issue with the small representation of young people in the science field. She suggested that there should be influence from the Department of Basic Education for them to be interested in the sciences. She applauded the ASSAf for coming up with strategies to intensify the interest of students interested in sciences. She asked NACI what they planned to do to draw the youth to sciences, and what the DSI planned to do to make South Africa lead in science by employing capable and knowledgeable teachers to teach children in schools about the importance of mathematics and science.

She was disappointed that most entities showed underperformance with their statistics, but did not develop concrete plans to reduce the decline in meeting their targets. She said GBV was still looked down on -- at an oversight in Bloemfontein, she had seen endangered women leaving the court without the protection orders they had come to court to get, because it had been said that printers were not functioning. She felt that the CGE should do more to protect the women from their perpetrators, work together with the courts, and be vocal about their existence, as the Commission was not exposed enough to people who needed them.  

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked the CGE what capacity they expected the TVET colleges, especially the Nkangala college, to have to deal with GBV cases. What was the ideal capacity for a TVET college to deal with GBV, and did most colleges have these capacities? Why did the Southwest Gauteng college have the lowest compliance with the recommendations? She recommended that the DHET ensure that this college develops an implementation plan for responding to the CGE's recommendations.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said the CGE had told the Committee in the last meeting they had, that the Northern Cape Urban TVET college could not appear before them, and that they had sent a letter through a lawyer stating that they would not be able to attend and had asked for postponement. The CGE had then informed the Committee that they were in the process of laying criminal charges against this college. He asked if the charges had been laid and how far the case was. He asked their view on the GBV statistics from the four colleges, which colleges had a relatively high chance of having GBV cases, and if they thought these colleges had the capacity to deal with GBV. The DHET must set up a roadmap for achieving the finalisation and adoption of sexual harassment policies this year.

He asked if ASSAF and NACI had looked at the cost of STEM-related programmes at universities, as it was the most common reason for a low number of students in STEM-related programmes compared to social sciences and humanities. Had they engaged DHET to regulate STEM-related programmes to be accessible to more students who were prevented by affordability from being part of the programmes? What factors contributed to postgraduate enrolment not growing above 18%, and the low percentage of males in postgraduate diploma and bachelor levels? What had led to a sharp increase in other races, resulting in a decrease in African researchers from 2015? What investment was being made to increase the number of female professors, and how long would it take for the gap to be filled under the existing supporting mechanisms?

He said the NACI presentation did not provide fund allocation data to show how the funds were distributed to different races, classes and genders. What was the impact of the current programmes as accelerators to support the historically disadvantaged individual (HDI) researchers? He recommended that the NACI submit the fund allocation report. They should advocate support for female innovators, more professor pipeline programmes focusing on women and STEM, and prioritise improving STEM enrolment in the basic education system.

He asked ASSAF what lessons South Africa could learn from countries like Argentina and Russia, which had a relatively equitable distribution of gender in science. OWSD was an important initiative, but there was a lack of focus in supporting schools and promoting maths and science in basic education -- this should be done in the first ten years of a child’s life by parents and educators. He encouraged the Academy to partner with the DBE, as it had institutions that dealt with STEM programmes at the lower levels.  

Ms F Masiko (ANC), a Member of the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and People with Disabilities, appreciated the presentations and the invitation from the Committee. She commented that the Members had been challenged to ensure that they were part of the transformation agenda in higher education. She said there should be a shift in the agenda as it had been an ongoing issue over the years. Equitable gender distribution was important, and the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders must be defined clearly to ensure an effective monitoring process. There was no excuse for some institutions not having sexual harassment policies. It was not for the CGE to remind them that they had not drawn up the policies, and there must be accountability from them for non-compliance.

She appreciated that the CGE had gone back to colleges where they had conducted investigations to see the progress of the implementation of its recommendations, and urged DHET and Department of Labour to continue with engagements where the colleges said that they needed their help to implement some of the recommendations. The Committee needs to be realistic about what the CGE could and could not do. The DHET should be responsible for monitoring compliance, accountability, and equitable gender distribution in the institutions.  

Response by NACI

Prof Zungu said that the data presented at this meeting was a descriptive part of their study to show the current situation. It was based on the existing data from the higher education management system. The decline in involvement of other racial groups had been part of the second phase of their study, and they were working on developing appropriate recommendations. They valued the input of Committee Members, as they would help with the study. They aimed to provide advisory services at the national level so that an equitable portion of enrolment could be done for students at the postgraduate level, and were mindful of the current systems that needed to be interrogated -- for example, the DHET university enrolment programme.

She emphasised that their role as a Council was to provide evidence-informed advice to the Minister on the role of science, technology and innovation so that the national objectives could be advanced. In the data collection that they were busy with, they would include the costs of enrolling in STEM programmes in universities, and recommend measures to involve more women in the programmes in relevant sectors. Student funding for postgraduate students was an issue that needed to be fixed so that high-performing students could be attracted to enrolling in postgraduate programmes. She appreciated the Committee's comments, questions and recommendations, as they would help the Council to give the Minister informed advice.  

Dr Cele said that the Committee’s recommendations would add value to their study, adding that their interest in maths, science and engineering was wide. They had conducted a study on improving the country’s performance in those specific fields across different educational levels, and they advised that these fields should be influenced.

Response by ASSAf

Prof. Sabiha Essack, Vice President and General Secretary, ASSAf, said that the Academy had approved the ASSAF transformation strategy to address the disparities in gender and discipline at geographically and historically disadvantaged institutions. They took seriously the fact that they did not have adequate gender representation, and they have a science, technology, engineering, mathematics and innovation (STEMI) committee that would be responsible for thinking, unpacking and giving effect to all recommendations made by the Committee. She added that investigating the impact of deliberate funding was important, and they would investigate the process of achieving a balanced gender representation of authorship by other countries.

Prof Himla Soodyall, CEO, ASSAf, thanked the Committee for their comments, and said that they should understand the pipeline of basic education to higher education, as it was not well sustained. The Academy had engaged with the Life Sciences division of the DBE about ways to promote sciences at the basic level. They had also used their quarterly magazine called "Quest" to try to attract youth to the sciences, and t were working on issuing copies in different South African languages. They worked annually on the National Science Week and the National Science Festival, collaborating with the South African Agency for Science, Technology and Advancement to bring different scholars and share interpreted information about the science field.

The previous week, she had presented at the Johannesburg Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in a series involving engagements with young learners and scientists. There were over 200 learners in grade 11, and they were actively engaging with the information presented to them. The Academy was planning outreach programmes that would start in the Limpopo province, as they believed it was an under-represented area of the country. The ASSAf presidential round table, hosted by the Academy, afforded opportunities for talks around advancing science education and technology intervention in schools. The work done in partnership with the DHET had resulted in the putting in place of a future "Professor Programme." Engaging with young scholars encouraged the Academy and gave them hope that the future of this country was in great hands, as they had high-quality knowledge of the sciences and were mentored to be able to take their current standing up to full professorship. She was saddened that most graduates were applying for the social relief of distress (SRD) grant due to unemployment, and urged the Committee Members to look into the matter in Parliament in depth.    

Response by CGE

Ms Mazibuko emphasised that the Commission made recommendations without binding the institutions in question. Therefore they needed the support of Portfolio Committees to review the CGE mandate to give them more authority so that their recommendations were binding.

Ms Nkomo said that she shared the same sentiments, and asked for support from the Committee when they presented a formal proposal. She welcomed the request to share the best practices, as they had discovered gender focal points in the municipalities, about which they would share more information with the Committee in due course. She said the numerical goals set by institutions were not translated fully into ensuring they got to honour and execute their commitments.     

Dr Matotoka said that the bulk of transformation tools or empowering provisions in the country were based on soft law. Because of this, there was a struggle to have a programme of action that could be enforced in court, and the Employment Equity Act stated that the quota system was not permissible in law. The transformation agenda needed to shift to a higher gear because there were many limitations in the current format, and gender equity was not a priority.

Part of the best practices that they were able to provide was that there must be a key performance indicator (KPI) for a gender-focal person or an employment equity manager, and there must be consequence management for failure to reach certain targets. They encouraged workplaces to develop childcare areas and breastfeeding facilities with caregivers, to allow women to balance their private and work lives.

The challenges within the justice cluster- for example, load-shedding and faulty infrastructure- prevented serving justice as expected. The Commissioners tried to deal with many cases that were brought to their attention, ensuring that their communications team was spreading the word to society members about their existence to reach more women and children.

The Nkangala TVET College did not have appropriate facilities to deal with gender issues. They had recommended that the college collaborate with the South African Police Service (SAPS) and hire security personnel to reduce the number of GBV cases on their campus. The issues coming from the TVET sector were more difficult, compared to those at universities, because universities could develop their own policies and measures and apply them effectively.

TVET colleges did not understand the purpose of the Commission’s engagements. There was a lack of appreciation of their importance, and they could not partake in any process from the Commission unless permitted by the DHET. The Commission had had a meeting with the DHET and there had been agreement that the Commission would not lay charges against the Northern Cape Urban TVET College, and for the Department to perform oversight and enforce policies at this college, including the Taletso, Motheo, Lovedale and KZN TVET colleges. They trusted that the DHET would be able to deal with the overall challenges and draft policy frameworks to be used to bring stability to their campuses. He emphasised the unified guidelines established by the Commission and the DHET on how to deal with GBV reports at all the colleges.   

DSI's comments

Ms Urszula Rust, Senior Policy Specialist: DSI, said the information received in the meeting had been useful. The DSI had a number of initiatives undertaken by different entities within the National System of Innovation, and they were working towards better coordination so that they did not duplicate issues and, where necessary, pool funding to have greater impact on the initiatives. They wanted to make sure that they built a reflective component into the work where the data was going to be useful to the Department and they were going to use the presentations in their engagements to make a detailed study of the information shared in the meeting.


Ms Singh said that they took the review of the gender policies at the colleges seriously, and would follow up on the process and set a deadline for them to implement the recommendations. The Deputy Principal Corporate must have the gender policies incorporated in their job description. It was unfortunate that in colleges, GBV and gender equity were not a priority. The Department was working closely with Higher Health to offer psychological and health aid to the victims of GBV on campuses. Colleges used a referral system to refer victims to Higher Health, and colleges in the Western Cape and the Motheo TVET College -- which won an award for their student support services two years ago -- had been successfully using this system.

Some GBV cases happened outside college premises, and those were law enforcement-focused instances. Interventions involving GBV cases never happen in an ideal environment -- very often, threats would be made against any attempts to investigate and bring perpetrators to book. This interrupted the justice process greatly, resulting in little to no justice served for the affected persons.

It had been disappointing to hear about the non-cooperation of the Northern Cape Urban TVET College, and she wished that the Department had been informed as soon as the event occurred so that they could intervene.  

The Chairperson said that they needed a written report from the DHET indicating that they had cleared the communication between the TVET colleges and the CGE so that they could work together to allow the Commission to perform their duties on colleges without delay and interruptions within the next seven working days.

The meeting was adjourned.


No related

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: