Latest developments at universities and TVET colleges: DHET, USAF and SAPCO briefing; with Deputy Minister
Higher Education, Science and Innovation
08 March 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
Video (Part 1)
Video (Part 2)
In a continuation of an urgent meeting, the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation was briefed by the Department of Higher Education and Training, Universities South Africa (USAf), and South African Public Colleges Organisation (SAPCO). This in light of a resurgence of protests at some universities over lack of accommodation and unpaid fees, among others. The protests have often turned violent and led to the destruction of property.
Since the 2023 academic year began, there was much unrest across many campuses, which was the result of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allowances, accommodation capping, limited space for registration, and infrastructure and security.
Students were not happy with how NSFAS was always delaying the list of funded students, making it hard for poor and middle-class students to register within the set registration window. These negatively impacted the teaching and learning process, and poor performances in the first term and instability on many campuses could be expected.
The Committee was not pleased with the poor communication by NSFAS and USAf, as it came up with policies without informing the Committee about the reasoning behind them. The workers on campuses needed to be trained by unions on how to handle protests without causing harm to protestors, and there should be a uniform policy formed by the Department on how to handle such situations.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) programmes should be promoted at the Basic Education level to attract more students for enrolment and for orientation programmes, across all institutions. This should be detailed enough for students to know what kind of programmes students will enrol in. There should be more communication between the Committee, NSFAS, and USAF, and a lot of confusion between the parties must be ironed out.
The Committee made a number of direct and hard-hitting recommendations to the stakeholders.
The Committee received apologies from the Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, and Ms K Khakhau (DA)
Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Technology, Ms Buti Manamela, read the opening remarks by the Minister, who said the meeting takes place in the month commemorating human rights under the theme Leave No One Behind, Walk for Your Rights. Among these rights, the right to access education is noted in the Freedom Charter, which says the doors of learning and culture shall be opened. Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by the state, allowances and scholarships shall be awarded on the basis of merit, and a mass State Education Plan shall end adult illiteracy.
The current meeting would elaborate on the state of universities and colleges throughout the country, as it is a very busy period of the year for these institutions. The Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges (TVET) reopened on 23 February, and university registrations began from 16 January through to 20 February because of delays and late release of results by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). In the current financial year, the NSFAS budget is estimated to be R47 billion to fund 1.1 million students. It is a good idea for the Committee to go around the country with the Department to monitor the reopening of the TVET’s and universities.
Presentation by Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)
Dr Marcia Socikwa, Deputy Director-General (DDG): University Education, Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), said the preparations for the 2023 academic year included hosting December 2022 engagements with registrars, Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), as well as NSFAS and developing a monitoring tool based on experience of previous years. This was distributed to all universities through the offices of the registrars. All universities responded to the monitoring tool, either by completing the tool before the monitoring visits or by providing detailed responses in presentations during the visits, or both.
The Monitoring Tool focused on:
- Registration related Issues
- NSFAS-related Issues
- Student accommodation
- Registration of returning students
- Financial matters
Currently, the clearing component known as the Central Application Clearing House is being conducted under the Central Application Service (CAS) Pilot for applicants participating in the pilot, and as a sign-up for applicants not participating in the CAS pilot. The clearing component takes place after completion of the selection process. Its primary objective is to locate space within institutions for applicants who were unsuccessful in obtaining a space during the initial round of the selection process.
For the 2023 entry, applicants who have not submitted an application through the CAS system can register for Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) online at cach.cas.ac.za, beginning on 27 January 2023 to 31 March 2023. The total number of CACH sign-ups received by 6 March 2023 was 75 455, and total attraction to the site was 5 014 545.
Issues for the 2023 registration period included the late release of NSC results, issues relating to possible fraud, capping of accommodation costs to R45 000, delayed submission of funded lists to universities, and delays in confirming spaces.
Main Protest Action from Week 2
The Dean of Students met with the Students Representative Council (SRC) over the weekend in efforts to address some of the students demands, however engagements dead-locked and students demanded to be addressed by the Vice-Chancellor (VC). Management who met with students claim student demands change at every sitting.
University of Johannesburg
At issue is water and electricity supply, as well as the crisis with NSFAS allowances. There are continuous engagements with the SRC.
University of Kwa-Zulu Natal
The Department received the list of demands submitted to the University by the SRC. The University said it has prevented protesting students from using petrol bombs in various arson attacks to date, on its campuses.
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
A media clip shows more than 90 students without accommodation and sleeping in hallways. The institution rolled out an unaccredited student housing system to assist those who were not successfully placed.
Vaal University of Technology
SRC president and some of his colleagues were suspended by the University, pending investigation. The Department has requested an official report on this matter, and the Chairperson of the Council has also requested a brief, given the concern by students that it is an act of victimisation by the University.
Sol Plaatjie University (SPU)
Accommodation is primarily accredited and off-campus. All first-time entering students who applied for accommodation were placed in SPU-owned/managed accommodation.
At issue is NSFAS funding for students doing programmes, who have less than 60 credits, and student accommodation waiver of late registration fee. Continuous engagements with the SRC and agreements on registration matters were made.
University of Cape Town
The demands submitted by students include the lifting of fee blocks for students who are unable to register. The University was granted an interdict against the protesters.
University of Western Cape
The concerns raised related to the registration of first year students who had accepted offers and were unable to register for various reasons. On receipt of funded lists from NSFAS more students were cleared.
- Accommodation: Finalise guidelines on norms and standards, develop policy framework for safe campuses, accreditation policy must be uniform across the sector.
- Extortion: Followed-up with universities to ensure universities act swiftly against any activity.
- Funding Challenges: Some universities raised funding to support students and DHET augmented funding for NSFAS.
- NSFAS System Challenges: With National Treasury the Department assessed its strategy, provided advice, and approved funding to support the improvement of systems.
- Student not finding space: Extended the project cycle of the Central Application System to ensure more students are assisted going forward. There was also a move from 10 to 26 universities, and TVET’s were playing a more active role.
- Appeals: Tribunal has been established, comprising students, DHET officials, and NSFAS staff. This structure will work faster with more experience.
Mr Sam Zungu, DDG: TVET Branch, DHET, said the disruptions in teaching and learning included the delayed release of results, delayed disbursement of allowances, demand for accommodations, a rape incident of a Tshwane North TVET student in private accommodation, and there are mitigation plans set for the reduction and prevention of further disruptions.
See presentation attached for further details
Dr Phethiwe Matutu, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), USAf, said academic classes began at all 26 universities. In most institutions, registration overlapped with attendance of lectures. Seven universities made provision for late registration for a selected number of students. Several universities had to extend their registration period and the start of the academic year because of the late release of matric results and delays in NSFAS funding. This was because decisions with students funding lists arrived late.
Ways for universities to prevent/ameliorate student protests
- Student engagement on a regular basis through established structures.
- Financial concessions made by universities to accommodate students and creation of hardship funding.
- Concessions on the registration period to allow all academically deserving students to register.
USAF’s interventions to deal with some of the challenges
- Missing Middle: Ongoing engagements with the Minister and his Department on the Comprehensive Student Funding Model, as taken from the report of the Ministerial Task Team.
- NSFAS Capping of Student Accommodation: Ongoing engagements with the Minister and the DHET. Participation in a Task Team set up by the DHET to find solutions.
- Substantive issues revealed by the appeal letters: Input costs have been pushed up by interest emanating from loans of the accommodation infrastructure, leases of accommodation, and associated costs such as transport and university staff manning those residences.
Most of the factors which contributed to student protests at individual universities point to broader systemic issues, however, institutional specifics should be recognised. USAF is committed to ongoing engagements with relevant stakeholders to ensure stability in the sector.
See presentation attached for further details
Prof Dipiloane Phutsisi, President, South African Public Colleges Organisation (SAPCO), said 14 colleges experienced student unrest. Not all colleges managed to submit their status reports because of time limitations, but 90% of colleges did. The main challenges at campuses revolve around NSFAS, shortage of lecturers, and in some cases, textbooks.
College responses in various provinces
Affected colleges include Port Elizabeth TVET College, Lovedale TVET College, King Sabatha Dalindyebo TVET College, King Hintsa TVET College, and Buffalo City TVET College.
Affected colleges include Sedibeng TVET College, Western TVET College, Tshwane North TVET College, South West Gauteng TVET College, Ekurhuleni West TVET College, Ekurhuleni East TVET College, and Central Johannesburg TVET College.
Affected colleges include Motheo TVET College, Maluti TVET College, Goldfields TVET College, and Flavius Mareka TVET College.
Affected colleges include Umfolozi TVET College, Thekwini TVET College, and Coastal KZN TVET College.
Affected colleges included Vhembe TVET College, Sekhukhune TVET College, Mopani TVET College, Lephalale TVET College, Letaba TVET College, and Capricorn TVET College.
Affected colleges include Nkangala TVET College, Gert Sibande TVET College, and Ehlanzeni TVET College.
Affected colleges include the Northern Cape Rural and Northern Cape Urban TVET colleges.
Affected colleges include Taletso and Orbit TVET College.
Affected colleges include the West Coast College, South Cape TVET College, False Bay TVET College, and Boland TVET College.
SAPCO will work closely with colleges to monitor the situation where there is unrest, and meetings will be held with SA TVET leadership for intervention.
NSFAS management will be continuously engaged to resolve funding issues, and more intervention processes will be implemented.
See presentation attached for further details
The Chairperson acknowledged all the presentations and the clear communication of the TVET sector with the Committee. She noted the good work done by the Ministry in spreading awareness to society about the TVET programmes and the state having little capacity to house the demand for access to those programmes. She could not understand how there were so few responses to the advert for the lecturer posts when there is high youth unemployment in the country. She asked for further explanation on this matter.
It does not make sense for workers of institutions to hinder the Department from having engagements which would lead to solving current issues. Unions must be involved in how their members conduct themselves.
She cautioned the sector about the wording used to identify certain things, for example, when it was said disciplinary action would be taken against “ring leaders”. This may cause more anger to students and result in damage.
She asked if there was no other way to address the concerns at Tshwane North TVET College, before resorting to immediate implementation of disciplinary action against protestors; if classes were continuing at Western TVET College; and if career expos at Sedibeng TVET College were completed.
She suggested a booklet should be published as a clear guide to learners who are still in basic education, helping these learners to find their way around the TVET programmes which they could enrol in after passing matric.
There should be a platform open where the Department, the Committee, students across universities, and the public can engage in fixing issues brought up during strikes. The procedures taken to fix these issues should be transparent for everyone involved.
The protests at the Ethekwini TVET College were not surprising, considering the last time the Chairperson was there in an oversight capacity, the accommodation premises were not appealing.
NSFAS is not communicating its decisions to the Committee clearly. The Chairperson said she had no idea why a R45 000 cap was put in place. There should be a meeting between the Committee, NSFAS, and USAF clearly substantiating its reasons for the cap.
While there is a back and forth between the Committee, the Department, and its entities, students suffer on the ground, and it would be unfair to blame students for poor performance in the first term. The Chairperson asked how USAF feels about the cap amount, and how much it thinks it should be.
There were concerns about the CATCH system, specifically the relationship between the data from institutions to the system. There have been reports by students of regression of previous concessions by institutions, for example, the institutions no longer send out results to potential employers of qualified students who have outstanding debt and can therefore not receive a graduation certificate.
The Chairperson asked if institutions received allowances; asked for the list of approved students from NSFAS; if the institutions have sent all student information needed by NSFAS, and if anything is outstanding; and how long it will take it to be recovered. The Committee visited Capricorn TVET College and were happy with the state of the College then. It is very disappointing to see this has changed to a point where there are protests about NSFAS and accommodation. There should not be an assumption that no protests mean there are no grievances from students and other stakeholders.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) appreciated the presentations and supported the Chairperson’s suggestion about having open engagements so all the parties involved could understand how systems work. She asked for a written response about the timeframes the Department is willing to put on all the recommendations it presented, and asked DHET to clarify the composition of the war room.
She asked if there was any engagement between universities and municipalities about the water and electricity issues affecting it. She said orientations should be strengthened so students can have more information about the programmes students enrol in.
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked why universities cannot top students up in instances where accommodation top-ups are required, and asked how many students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) are still sleeping in emergency accommodation spaces.
She also asked which interventions management made, related to food and security, for those students.
Mr T Mogale (EFF) asked the Ministry if it had been to any campuses experiencing protests to engage with students and try to find a solution. He said the situation with NSFAS paying allowances late and the difficulties with student accommodation which happen every year, without any solution, was unacceptable. He asked how the Department plans to fix this problem and prevent it from reoccurring. It is necessary for the Committee to engage with some of the Vice Chancellors (VC’s) about the decisions taken during protests, for example, there was an order by the VC of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN) to bring in guards with big guns to intimidate protestors. Student Representative Council (SRC) presidents at Witwatersrand (WITS) University had also been suspended.
Dr W Bosshoff (FF+) asked which institutions in Northern Cape rural were affected so he could perform oversight there.
Ms N Marchesi (DA) asked why the TVET sector still uses textbooks, chalk, and blackboards for its learning and teaching processes. The Basic Education Department was in the process of providing e-books for its learners and use of whiteboards in class. It was alarming to have colleges still stuck in the outdated way of teaching and learning.
She asked when the new NSFAS capping policy was being negotiated and put into place, and asked if it could not be proposed and finalised before the new academic year started so students would have a chance to get familiar with it, and potentially prevent the accommodation struggles there were now.
Ms C King (DA) noted that the subsidy funding to universities over the years has not increased by much in real terms. This places a huge strain on universities when it has to offer space to students, resulting in universities being forced to raise tuition and accommodation fees.
Expectations were created when free education came into play. Students have the expectation everything must be covered, and it is important a comprehensive funding model is discussed to assure the Committee funding for institutions and students will be feasible going forward. Unions should devise protocols which will be followed by the workers in instances like protests, to avoid the physical abuse of students by workers. Rules of engagement between institutions and student protestors should be made. She asked if the shortfall NSFAS had with TVET’s had been recovered, and if not, what measures it had planned to cover it.
Mr T Letsie (ANC) said seeing poor and middle-class NSFAS students sidelined was unacceptable because the institutions could not register them on the ‘receiving the NSFAS’ list. He asked USAF if it had discussions with NSFAS about this issue. The poor communication between universities and NSFAS and the accommodation matter. It is not fair for students to travel to institutions from other provinces, hoping to find accommodation, only to be told students could not register because the NSFAS list has not been released. USAF investigates how many learners there are in each course and arranges for these students to be accepted back to universities and for them to continue their studies until NSFAS confirms it will fund them. USAF cannot say it had only heard about the R45 000 accommodation cap this year when the relevant persons were physically present in the meeting between NSFAS and USAF in November of the previous year.
Mr Letsie said USAF should send a written response about its services and the accommodation provided by all universities, excluding the sleeping bedrooms and how much rent is charged per room. This information should be sent to the Committee within the next 14 days, by 22 March at the latest. He said he asked for this because he did not believe both private and public accommodation provided value for money.
He asked how DHET was working with all stakeholders to regulate the price of student accommodation in the country, and how it was making sure private accommodation gave value for money to students.
He asked how the Department ensured students' best interests were being served during suspensions, and after the suspensions were lifted; if there were psychological services planned for the wrongfully suspended students; and if USAF believed student accommodation rates currently charged were justifiable.
Response by SAPCO
Prof Phutsisi thanked the Committee for the engagement and said the water issue in the Coastal KZN TVET College was caused by a burst pipe in the campus and it was fixed. No campuses in the Northern Cape Rural had protests, but there would be investigations to see if there were any. The TVET sector planned to move to a more digital way of teaching and learning. In this regard, there were funding limitations which hindered progress. There were discussions with the Department about receiving more support, and some Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) were willing to provide support on this issue. There were implementations at the Motheo TVET College where e-books were given to students, but students were not happy with it. There will be a meeting with the South African Further Education and Training Student Association in the upcoming week to present a change management strategy to monitor the transition from traditional to digital learning style.
SAPCO was willing to be ‘on the ground’ to communicate with the affected institutions during the upcoming week. It would report to the Department in a week or two about the solutions and further support needed. Other matters in the recommendations were long term, issues such as expansion, which was a lengthy process and SAPCO was awaiting National Treasury regarding additional funding required. The remainder of the issues would be responded to in writing.
Response by USAF
Dr Matutu said there were risks taken by some universities, where it registered students who it thought would be accepted by NSFAS. When results came back from NSFAS, there was an over-enrolment which resulted in penalties and inefficiencies within the system. There was no intention of excluding poor and middle-class students. USAF supported the NSFAS accommodation capping as long as it was suitable for the areas the universities were in. Some universities submitted appeal letters to NSFAS, saying the cap amount was insufficient for the accommodation in its areas. Dr Matutu asked the Committee to request the report relating to the types of accommodation in and around institutions from NSFAS, as these deal with the research on this matter.
USAF and NSFAS had engagements on 5 and 6 October 2022 and USAF said it did not recommend a single-cap for all national institutions. It suggested this policy should be tested out in a few institutions, based on research about the demographics. USAF decided when a student owed an institution upon completing a qualification, the student should use their academic record and a confirmation letter to apply for employment. Ten institutions are suited by the cap amount, 15 are not, and UNISA is not affected. Some institutions can pay for the difference between the cap amount and the actual rent amount required by accommodation providers for students, it is all based on the ability of an institution to do so.
Prof Francis Petersen, Chairperson: Finance & Investment Committee, USAf, said student accommodation should be self-sustainable and not subsidised by universities. A lot of university contributions for students were usually for tuition, for example, the UFS has set aside an estimated amount of R120 million to provide bursaries for students who cannot afford to pay for tuition.
Mr Letsie said the response to his question about poor and middle-class students being sidelined was insufficient. He knew at least one student at the University of the Free State (UFS) who had been academically excluded on a technicality that NSFAS approved the student late. USAF cannot say it does not agree with the single-cap, and not provide the Committee with the research which backs its non-support.
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General (DG), DHET, said the Department met with the entities, discussed the present issues, and came up with solutions which will be implemented to fix them. It is important for the NSFAS to be afforded the opportunity to respond to the Committee regarding the cap concerns. It is the duty of the Department to make sure all the policies, including the cap policy, are based on thorough research, and are implemented correctly throughout institutions. There needs to be improvement in the Career Advisory System, and the Higher Health Programme would be able to intervene with students who might have been unfairly suspended.
The Department observes the reaction workers in institutions have to student protests. In due time it will make necessary interventions. The institutions are encouraged to normalise civil engagements with the members of the SRCs, and to avoid violent protests simply because of the slightest inconveniences being felt. The Department will make a statement about the recent protest, but it is waiting to be satisfied the institutions have exhausted its internal management measures before it can do so.
It deployed help to universities where there were intense protests. Implementing new policies and solutions will be a lengthy process for it to reach the stage where things are calm, but all can be achieved if stakeholders work together.
Mr Zungu said the Department was still in the process of developing programmes such as those universities were offering to train and develop TVET lecturers. It was attracting people who came from industries, so lecturers had industry-based methodologies.
Deputy Minister Manamela said the Ministry remained committed to ensuring the institutions were stable. The maturity shown by the senior and SRC management of protesting campuses during engagements thus far was commendable. The Department was in the loop of what was happening in institutions daily. It was prioritising teaching and learning processes, so it was not disrupted. Learners in Basic Education should be informed about TVET programmes and what they entail, so they may be attracted to participate. It was hoping for a period when universities and colleges reopened peacefully, where all students were in lecture halls as soon as teaching commenced.
Committee resolutions and recommendations
The Chairperson said the university programme did not inspire confidence about what exactly was being done in the programme to address the problems. Perhaps everyone was overwhelmed. Though funding was the overarching issue, she felt a bit more hopeful about the day-to-day issues around the TVET colleges. For example, with the CPUT media clip of students without accommodation sleeping in a hall, it was said the accommodation requests were being dealt with on a “case-by-case basis” but an updated figure was not provided. Was the media clip correct or was false information provided? She did not get the updated figures. The Chairperson personally knew of students affected.
The Chairperson said she had to leave the meeting and report back to constituents but did not know how to update them. She was concerned about the lack of coordination between the stakeholders. She urged for there to be stronger stakeholder relations so everyone was on the same page. She repeated that she was unclear about what was happening with the university programme.
The Chairperson recommended that data sharing amongst shareholders be strengthened. USAf was urged to coordinate the Vice-Chancellors as an institution. The Committee would write to all universities of concern to account directly to the Committee as clearly, the Committee would not get this information directly from the Department or USAf. There is a need for a colloquium on the PSET sector. NSFAS must immediately send the information on what informed their cap to the Committee.
The Committee would call for a meeting with NSFAS to also address registration data. The Committee needed all the institutions to be clear on what was happening. The Committee recommended that the war room be a permanent structure. NSFAS must ensure it is at all TVET colleges, especially on the issue of guidelines. There must be conversations with labour. Management must be able to account to the Department on who the security companies were and the regulations around their procurement, presence and identity. All stakeholders are to brief the Committee weekly on progress on resolving current sector challenges. The stakeholders were encouraged to develop relationships with local municipalities to support the TVET colleges and universities regarding service delivery issues. Updates on cooperation with the Department of Public Works were also expected. All colleges must have their textbooks. Universities must stick to their concessions and communicate changes thoroughly to students and parents.
Further written submissions to answer some of the questions raised today would be expected.
The Chairperson reiterated that she was not confident about the university programme. The DG and Ministry needed to meet directly with the Vice-Chancellors of UKZN and Wits. The Committee would start calling the universities in for direct accounting. The Department and USAf must work on ensuring there is proper information and data. Updated and exact numbers are critical in this situation to inspire confidence.
The meeting was adjourned.
Mkhatshwa, Ms NT
Boshoff, Dr WJ
King, Ms C
Letsie, Mr WT
Manamela, Mr KB
Mananiso, Ms JS
Mogale, Mr T
Sibiya, Ms DP
Tarabella - Marchesi, Ms NI
Yabo, Mr BS
Zondo, Mr S S
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