National Plan on Higher Education: briefing by Minister

Basic Education

12 March 2001
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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 March 2001
BRIEFING BY MINISTER ON NATIONAL PLAN FOR HIGHER EDUCATION

Chairperson:
Professor S Mayatula (ANC)

Relevant Document:
National Plan for Higher Education (on
Education Department website)
Executive Summary (see Appendix)

SUMMARY
The Minister of Education gave an overview of the National Plan for Higher Education. He explained the reasons for its approach, the challenges it faced and what aspects of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) report had been adopted. He also responded to certain criticisms and explained why certain aspects such as Autonomy, Language, HIV/ AIDS were not dealt with extensively in the National Plan. Thereafter political parties raised questions, voiced concerns and offered support for the programme.

MINUTES
The Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, began the presentation by emphasising that the National Plan had received broad approval from the press as well as from various institutions of higher education. The Cabinet approved the National Plan on 28 February.

The main reason for the necessity of such a plan, Prof Asmal explained, was that Transformation could not be left to chance. Letting matters drift would result in the destruction of higher education. He stressed that the time for decision-making had come. He asserted that the higher education system in South Africa could not be shaped by the market as the market is only interested in profit. He added that fourteen percent of the national budget has been allocated for education.

Prof Asmal outlined two main reasons why Transformation is overdue:
· Tertiary Institutions are the engines of the growth of skilled citizens and intellectuals, particularly black intellectuals.
· The Cabinet adopted a Human Resource Development Programme in January that intends to produce the "critical mass at the gates of the scientific revolution". The Higher Education Plan is designed to meet the needs of the country. This includes the need for social scientists and teachers, not just people skilled in Information Technology.

Prof Asmal said that Higher Education has been recognised as essential for South African development. However, it is not meeting the needs of society at present. The system is full of inefficiency and is lacking in research production. The National Plan for Higher Education provides the framework for transformation in line with the goals of higher education policy.

The goal was to establish a national co-ordinated higher education system that is non-racist and non-sexist.
There are legitimate expectations of higher education to respond to national development agenda. Co-ordination and collaboration are needed to achieve national goals, not competition between institutions in attempt to achieve their own goals.

Prof Asmal outlined three key challenges higher education faces:
· Inequality and inefficiency. Inequality due to admissions on the basis of race and violations of academic freedom during Apartheid, and inefficiency due to the spatial engineering during apartheid that did not address the real needs of the regions concerned.
· Addressing the skills and human resource needs of our country, especially regarding information technology. He said, at present we have bits and pieces of IT. We need to centralise IT by targeting a few institutions for investment, creating a "Silicon Valley of the mind."
· Administrative, management and financial issues. We need to remedy the lack of receptiveness to student needs. With regards to funding, all institutions will be considered on the basis of need which will outlined in the funding formula to be announced.

Prof Asmal said that the Council on Higher Education (CHE) report has been an extremely valuable contribution to the policy-making process. In all submissions to the report there was virtual unanimity on three propositions that form the heart of the National Plan;
· The need to restructure the higher education system.
· The need to diversify the higher education system.
· The need for greater collaboration, entailing the merging of some institutions.

Prof Asmal said that a proposal by CHE that was not supported by the ministry was the creation of three types of institutions: 'bedrock' institutions (mainly undergraduate), postgraduate institutions and institutions of doctoral and extensive research. Prof Asmal said that the Ministry felt that this system would entrench the inequities of the past.

Prof Asmal said that redress must not take place for redress sake. It is essential to examine each institution. The National Plan provides the opportunity to turn the system around. He asked why only fifteen percent of students in South Africa graduate when the worldwide average is thirty percent. And why there has there been no transformation in the make-up of staff. He asserted that higher education is not sensitive to the needs of mature students and added that there is no existing plan for disabled students.

Prof Asmal outlined issues that have not been dealt with extensively in the National Plan:
· Autonomy
He said that autonomy is not licence to do what you want. There must be a balance between academic freedom and public accountability. The aim of the National Plan is not to decide how subjects will be taught, but what institutions do and to make the system more efficient. The National Plan will steer the higher education system to uphold national goals.
· Language
In response to criticisms in the press that he has been silent on the language issue, Prof Asmal said that a small, informal group would be set up to look at the issue of language. He said that practicality is called for and that in order to attract students, there is a need to teach people in the language they use.
· HIV/ AIDS
Prof Asmal said that while it is recognized that HIV seriously affects higher education, it is not the subject of the plan. Work is being done by universities with regards to the impact of HIV. The Department of Education is working with other departments in this regard.
· Central Application Office
Prof Asmal likened prospective students making a career choice to sangoma's throwing bones as there is little guidance available as to what they can study where. He said that students need to make a real choice with regards to their future and that a central application office will be set up to assist students.

Finally, Prof Asmal stated that the time has come to focus on the implementation of the programme. In fact it has already started, with the mergers of some institutions already underway. He said that a Working Group Committee of eleven would be selected to oversee the implementation of the National Plan.

The Chief Director of Higher Education, Ahmed Essop outlined the Executive Summary of the Plan (see Appendix).

Discussion
Mr Vadi (ANC) commented that the plan is a huge step forward in that it puts something on the table. He expressed concern that the plan was attempting to do too much at once. He said that he would prefer a plan focusing on different things each year as he felt it was too big a task to do it all in one go.

Secondly, Mr Vadi said that a team of engineers would be needed to implement the plan and questioned the ability of a small directorate to deliver the goods. He said that shaking up each institution and forcing them to change track will be a difficult task and suggested a 'taxi-driver' to focus on each institution

In reply, Prof Asmal acknowledged that the National Plan must be cautious of taking on too much and said that time frames will be needed to carry out implementation. Regarding delivery by a small working group, regional investigations would take place that will report to the national working group.

Mr Ntuli (DP) asked where the large number of dysfunctional schools (in terms of resources) would fit in to the plan as the quality of secondary schooling would affect the intake of students.

Prof Asmal said that the report does recognize that intake will depend on secondary school outputs. He said that is why in South Africa there is one coordinated ministry for primary, secondary and tertiary education unlike in other countries where the ministry is divided.

Mr Ntuli said that the document was silent with regard to teachers training colleges.

Prof Asmal acknowledged the need to examine teachers training colleges. The problem at present is that it is largely unknown what happens at these colleges, as graduates do not like to run down their institutions. There are plans for a conference and a survey on this issue.

Finally, Mr Ntuli asked who would finance students drawn from the SADC regions

Prof Asmal said that the governments of the SADC countries would be responsible for financing these students. The fee structure would be the same as for South African students. Asmal added that attracting SADC students was essential as our borders are both porous and imperial and that these students should be encouraged to come to South Africa and learn our aspirations and share our goals.

Mr Geldenhuys (NNP) commented that his party whole-heartedly supported many of the proposals in the document and that they would welcome working groups to assess the language issue. However he was concerned that the Ministry will regulate admissions as stated in a report in Die Burger as this will undermine the autonomy of institutions.

Prof Asmal said that Die Burger must have got the story wrong. He was talking about a Central Applications Office not a Central Admissions Office. The aim is to give children an opportunity to find out what is available.in order to help them choose the right institution. He said that it would be up to universities to decide whether or not to accept prospective students. (Mr Geldenhuys then stated that it might have been himself that misquoted Die Burger rather than Die Burger getting the story wrong.)

Mr Geldenhuys raised the possibility that by linking funding to graduate output, standards would be lowered.

Prof Asmal said that a system of external examination, similar to the Matric system would be introduced to prevent universities artificially jacking up the marks in order to achieve greater graduate output.

Mr Geldenhuys read out the following paragraph contained in the document (p.82):
"The end goal of a transformed higher education system must surely be the creation of higher education institutions whose identity and cultural orientation is neither black, nor white, English or Afrikaans-speaking, but unabashedly and unashamedly South African."

In response to this Mr Geldenhuys said that groups can keep their own identity but still be South African. He then read out another paragraph from the document (p.82):
"The invocation of institutional identities that owe their existence to the apartheid and colonial past is not a legitimate defence in the context of a democratic dispensation and the ethos of the Constitution. This is not to imply that institutional identities, real or imagined, can be wished away. On the contrary, they need to be sensitively engaged.

Mr Geldenhuys asked, in light of this paragraph, whether there would be room for universities to retain their own culture in the future.

Prof Asmal said that a South African institution can retain its own identity and that homogeneity would be unfavourable. He added however, that identities do evolve and are not static. He stressed that cultures will be protected as long as they are non-racial and non-sexist and in keeping with the Constitution. Some traditions, he said are inimical to the building of a non-racial and non-sexist society and there are certain practices, for example initiations, that need to be addressed within the constitutional context. He also used the example of Pieter Dirk-Uys being prevented from performing at Potchefstroom University as a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

Mr Moonsamy (ANC) said that the plan was a radical one and supported by the ANC. He re-iterated the need for equity and that a plan was important as the market was not a 'magic-wand'. Autonomy, therefore must be subjected to the transformation of this country.

Prof Asmal commented that transformation will occur. He said however that these things take time and patience is called for.

Mr Aucamp (AEB) expressed his anger over the Pieter Dirk-Uys issue. He said that Potchefstroom was a Christian university and has the right to disallow events which go against its religious character. He said that if we disregard this right, we are paying lipservice to autonomy. Mr Aucamp also questioned the weight that will be put on to language as there is always a balancing trick between language and financial efficiency. He said that some universities have a specific character that would make it difficult to reach targets set by racial quotas. He suggested that this could be balanced out by other universities.

Prof Asmal said that Mr Aucamp was being inconsistent in that he does not want discrimination on language , but is prepared to discriminate on freedom of speech. With regards to autonomy, Prof Asmal said that he had referred the matter of the death of a Stellenbosch University student during initiation rites to the Human Rights Commission. This is not a violation of autonomy, he said. He said that the new government, as democrats, introduced autonomy, however, this autonomy must be on the basis of responsibility. He said that he is all for academic freedom. Unfortunately, however, some academics become vulgarians overnight in trying to suppress the plan. The plan is not trying to suppress anyone. He said that Afrikaners should not feel beleaguered. The government is not going to do what the Afrikaans government did in 1976. The issue will be dealt with sensitively.

Mr Mpontshane (IFP) said that for seven years we have been watching how universities perform and "encouraged" them in transformation. He asked whether a harder line than encouragement would be now adopted by the Department as encouragement does not guarantee transformation.

Prof Asmal said that the aim of the plan was for people to work together in achieving it, not to raise irrelevant issues. In closing, Prof Asmal said that briefings to this committee on the implementation of the National Plan would take place periodically.

The Chair thanked the Minister and those present before adjourning the meeting.

Appendix:
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
1.                 This National Plan provides the framework and mechanisms for the restructuring of the higher education system to achieve the vision and goals for the transformation of the higher education system outlined in Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education (July 1997).
 
1.1 It is the Ministry's response to the Council on Higher Education's Report, Towards a New Higher Education Landscape: Meeting the Equity, Quality and Social Development Imperatives of South Africa in the 21st Century, which was released in June 2000.
 
2.                  The National Plan establishes indicative targets for the size and shape of the higher education system, including overall growth and participation rates, institutional and programme mixes and equity and efficiency goals. It also provides a framework and outlines the processes and mechanisms for the restructuring of the institutional landscape of the higher education system, as well as for the development of institutional three-year "rolling" plans.
 
3. The National Plan proposes that the participation rate in higher education should be increased from 15% to 20% in the long-term, i.e. ten to fifteen years, to address both the imperative for equity, as well as changing human resource and labour needs.
 
3.1 In the short to medium-term, however, it would not be possible to increase the participation rate because of inadequate throughputs from the school system. The main focus over the next five years will therefore be on improving the efficiency of the higher education system through increasing graduate outputs. The National Plan therefore establishes graduation rate benchmarks that institutions would have to meet.
 
3.2 The National Plan recognises that efficiency improvements are dependent on addressing the underlying factors that contribute to low graduation rates. The National Plan therefore proposes that academic development programmes should be funded as an integral component of a new funding formula and that the role and efficacy of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme needs to be reviewed.
 
3.3 The National Plan proposes that the participation rate should also be increased through recruiting workers, mature students, in particular women, and the disabled, as well recruiting students from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries as part of the SADC Protocol on Education.
 
4. The National Plan proposes to shift the balance in enrolments over the next five to ten years between the humanities, business and commerce and science, engineering and technology from the current ratio of 49%: 26%: 25% to 40%: 30%: 30% respectively.
 
4.1 Further adjustment to the ratio is not possible in the short to medium-term because of the low number of students leaving the school system with the required proficiency in mathematics.
 
4.2 The desirability of shifting the humanities total below 40% is debatable given the continued need for skills in education, law, private and public sector management, social services and arts.
 
4.3 The National Plan proposes that irrespective of the balance in enrolments, the key issue is to ensure that all graduates are equipped with the skills and competencies necessary to function in modern society, in particular, computer literacy, information management, communication and analytical skills.
 
5. Although the demographic composition of the student body is changing and is beginning to reflect the composition of the population, equity of access still remains a problem, as black and women students are under-represented in business, commerce, science, engineering and technology programmes, as well as in postgraduate programmes in general.
 
5.1 Equity of access has also not been complemented by equity of outcomes, with black students accounting for a larger proportion of drop-out and failure rates than white students.
5.2 Institutions will be therefore expected to establish equity targets with the emphasis on the programmes in which black and women students are under-represented and to develop strategies to ensure equity of outcomes.
 
6.                  The staff composition of higher education has not changed in line with the changes in the student composition. Blacks and women remain under-represented in academic and professional positions, especially at senior levels.
 
6.1 Institutions will be therefore expected to develop employment equity plans with clear targets for rectifying race and gender inequities. The National Plan recognises the difficulties in the short to medium-term of achieving employment equity given the paucity of postgraduates and consequently, the small pool of potential recruits. It therefore encourages institutions to recruit black and women staff from the rest of the African Continent
 
7. The National Plan supports the view that to achieve the transformation goals of the White Paper, the higher education system must be differentiated and diverse.
 
7.1 The National Plan proposes to ensure diversity through mission and programme differentiation based on the type and range of qualifications offered.
 
7.2 The programme mix at each institution will be determined on the basis of its current programme profile, including the relevance of the profile to the institution's location and context and its responsiveness to regional and national priorities, in particular, Government's Human Resource Development Strategy, as well as the demonstrated capacity to add new programmes to the profile.
 
7.3 The National Plan proposes to continue to maintain, although in a loose form, the existing mission and programme differentiation between technikons and universities for at least the next five years, as it promotes the access goals and the human resource development priorities of the White Paper and Government's Human Resource Development Strategy.
 
7.4 The National Plan lifts the moratorium on the introduction of new distance education programmes in contact institutions, which was imposed by the Minister in February 2000. However, from 2002, new student places in existing and new distance education programmes, including programmes offered as part of public-private partnerships, will only be funded if the programmes have been approved as part of the institution's plans. Institutions will also have to seek approval for the introduction of distance education programmes for which State subsidies are not required.
 
 
7.5 Redress for historically black institutions will be linked to agreed missions and programme profiles, including developmental strategies to build capacity, in particular, administrative, management, governance and academic structures.
 
8. The National Plan proposes the establishment of a single dedicated distance education institution to address the opportunities presented by distance education for increasing access both locally and in the rest of Africa. It will also enable economies of scale and scope, thus ensuring that advantage is taken of the rapid changes in information and communications technology, which in investment terms would be beyond the scope of any one institution.
 
8.1 The single dedicated distance education institution will be established through the merger of the University of South Africa and Technikon South Africa and the incorporation the distance education centre of Vista University into the merged institution. The Ministry will establish a Working Group to facilitate the merger, including the development of an implementation plan.
 
9. The National Plan proposes to introduce a separate component for research in the new funding formula in order to ensure greater accountability and the more efficient use of limited research resources.
 
9.1 Research will be funded through a separate formula based on research outputs, including, at a minimum, masters and doctoral graduates and research publications.
 
9.2 Earmarked funds will be allocated to build research capacity, including scholarships to promote postgraduate enrolments, which would contribute to building the potential pool of recruits for the academic labour market.
 
10. The National Plan proposes that the institutional landscape of higher education must be restructured to create new institutional and organisational forms to address the racial fragmentation of the system, as well as administrative, human and financial capacity constraints. This will be achieved through:
 
10.1 Institutional collaboration at the regional level in programme development, delivery and rationalisation, in particular, of small and costly programmes, which cannot be sustained across all the institutions.
 
10.2 Investigating the feasibility of a more rational arrangement for the consolidation of higher education provision through reducing, where appropriate, the number of institutions but not the number of delivery sites on a regional basis. An initial analysis of the available data suggests that the number of institutions can be reduced. The key issue is to determine the number and form that this should take.
 
10.3 The Ministry will establish a National Working Group to undertake the investigation based on the principles and goals for the transformation of higher education system, as outlined in the White Paper.
 
11. The following mergers are proposed to go ahead, as they are not dependent on the investigation. However, their implications would be taken into account in the investigation.
 
11.1 The Merger of Natal Technikon and ML Sultan Technikon, which has been agreed to in-principle by the Councils of Natal Technikon and ML Sultan Technikon.
 
11.2 The incorporation of the Qwa-Qwa branch of the University of the North into the University of the Free State based on a previous decision relating to administrative difficulties in sustaining the linkage between the University of the North and its Qwa-Qwa branch.
 
11.3 The unbundling of Vista University and the incorporation of its constituent parts into the appropriate institutions within each region. This could await the outcome of the regional investigation.
 
12. The Ministry proposes to establish National Institutes for Higher Education in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape in order to facilitate access to higher education. The National Institutes will be established largely on the basis of collaboration between the different institutions that currently offer higher education programmes in the two provinces.

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