The Committee met with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) to receive their revised strategic and annual performance plans for 2023/24. The meeting took place at the NSFAS office in Cape Town.
Members asked the SAQA and the QCTO about their reasons for needing additional funding; implementation of the Vision 2027 strategy; the revised Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF); and encouraged them to develop synergy in the sector. They asked about the outcomes of the industry partnership summit; SAQA’s ability to generate revenue and not rely on the state; if the QCTO believed that the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) college curriculum was aligned with industry expectations and requirements; the identifications made by the QCTO for the TVET curricula and proposed occupational skills programmes; if the QCTO had applied for a rollover of the funds and how much had been approved; what had informed the revision of the indicators; and SAQA’s ability to operate as a viable entity.
Members said they were not pleased that the entities were not proactively working towards reducing the turnaround times for the verification of qualifications. SAQA had lamented the limited funding, but Members believed that if it reduced its turnaround time, it would attract more customers. The QCTO was also applying for a rollover, yet some of its programmes were underfunded, and Members were perplexed as to why the rollover funds were not redirected towards under-funded programmes.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme was not spared from dissatisfaction by Members. It started with the incomplete presentation that had been sent to Members, which did not include NSFAS’s financial information. Members also noticed that its indicators and targets may not ascribe to "SMART" principles, and thus might clash with the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA), particularly in the manner that its targets and indicators were developed. Though Members welcomed the efforts of the SIU to recoup over R400 million from institutions that owed the Scheme, they were frustrated with the entity for the non-completion of the close-out project. They also criticised the fact that NSFAS was renting new offices at a staggering R1.9 million per month while there were so many students who still had not been paid their allowances by the Scheme, halfway through the year. NSFAS had information communication technology (ICT) challenges and budgetary constraints for its administration, yet it still saw it fit to pay R1.9 million monthly for "luxury" office accommodation.
Members felt that it was vitally important for NSFAS to conclude its close-out report, given the recent revelations by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) that it had paid R5 billion to ineligible students. This left a bitter taste in Members’ mouths, because they believed that it was a recipe for student protests, especially with exams around the corner. The protests had already commenced at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. A consensus was reached for another urgent meeting with the NSFAS.
Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) Annual Performance Plan 2023/24
Mr Themba Dlamini, Chairperson of the third QCTO Council, made opening remarks about the Council’s establishment, mandate, and a high-level view of the revised strategic plan of the entity. The QCTO was uniquely positioned in the post-school education and training (PSET) sector, with its mandate to develop, manage and quality assure occupational qualifications, part-qualifications and skills programmes on the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF) that were accessible and credible. He said the Council would ensure that it met the demands of the economy -- for employers, employees and entrepreneurs.
The gazetting of the OQSF by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation (MHESI) on 29 October 2021 provided the framework for such positioning. Other initiatives to ensure that the QCTO could respond to its “extending” mandate include:
Implementation of the Vision 2027 strategy;
Tweaking of its organogram;
Developing a management information system (MIS).
Mr Vijayen Naidoo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), QCTO, took Members through the presentation, which covered his introductory remarks; Vision 2020; the revised OQSF; performance information, strategic outcomes and indicators; and the entity’s budget information.
[See the presentation for more details]
South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) Annual Performance Plan 2023/24
Prof Peliwe Lolwana, Chairperson, SAQA board, said the entity was reporting on a strategic plan and annual performance plans (APPs) that had already been consulted by the board. When the new board moved in, it had found a very destabilised organisation. It had no money to pay staff, and a few decisions were subsequently made to steer the entity forward. It had been a painful period.
The organisation was now stable with fewer people. It was important to revisit the purpose of this entity – its flaws, and how the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) could be a useful tool for the country.
Ms Nadia Starr, CEO, SAQA, made the presentation which covered the entity’s 2020-25 revised strategy; progress against the strategic plan; its performance; strategic priorities; additional priorities and its budget.
She referred to some of the salient points regarding its budget.
SAQA ‘s financial environment has been unstable for the past three years, mainly due to being manually driven and a bloated structure. This was exacerbated by Covid-19. This resulted in the restructuring of the organisation, in line with the financial reality facing the organisation.
There had, however, been some positive improvements in the operations of the organisation, as revenue had been increasing in the current financial year. The funding model of the organisation was still not ideal -- currently at approximately 60% from the National Treasury and 40% from its own sources of revenue. The organisation had to ensure that more, or alternate, revenue sources were found, and this had been put as the focus of the chief financial officer (CFO) for the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) period.
She said that over the past two years, the organisation had stabilised and was now a going concern. SAQA had become a smaller organisation – half its original size – and had to rethink how it uses its physical space as well as its human and financial resources. In 2023, SAQA was reviewing the NQF architecture and its purpose, as well as its role with professional bodies. The financial cushion built up over the two years allowed SAQA to develop the NQF and make it useful for South Africans. Additional funding from the DHET had allowed them to build their automation project, and thus its organisational competencies.
[See the presentation for more details]
The Chairperson appreciated the presentations and the responses that had been submitted to the Committee. She asked the entities to respond in writing about what the additional funding was needed for. Regarding Vision 2020, there was a last step that could not be concluded -- what happened to the last phase? She appreciated the revised OQSF and the work behind ensuring that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges became institutions of choice. Hopefully, with the revised OQSF, the roles of the community education and training (CET) and TVET colleges will be clear, with no confusion. Synergy in the PSET sector was critical.
What was the relationship between the revised OQSF and the shortage of funding for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)? The narrative out there was that South Africa's education system was not going anywhere, but whether this was true or not, was another question. However, their planning must translate to the lived realities of the people in the labour market and at ground level. Industry partnerships had been done, but what was the follow-up from that? Some resolutions had come out of the industry partnership summit -- what was the next step?
She said there were many entities in the PSET that had to work together to overcome the challenges in the sector. The QCTO talks about strong relationships between the QCTO and sector education and training authorities (SETAs), but the skills development provided by SETAs was not private. When Members asked about the relevance of the skills training, officials tell them that they did not train themselves. The entities should be in control of what skills they were training young people. She was concerned that people were just being given money to train citizens without quality assurance being checked.
Mr T Letsie (ANC) appreciated the work of the entities, but the world was now moving towards the end of the 4th industrial revolution. He appreciated SAQA’s efforts to move to a digital process for applications. Hopefully, most of the work would not be given to consultants.
The CFO of SAQA had said the Committee had committed to engaging the Department to provide additional funding for SAQA. The entity was lobbying the Department to fund the verification fees, and that would have amounted to R10.5 million in additional funding to verify South African qualifications for free. The entity had competition -- it was not the only one verifying -- though the Committee had suggested that SAQA should be the only organisation doing verifications in South Africa. The reason why people used other entities for verification was because of the turnaround time. The entity’s turnaround time may be a challenge, and had to be reconsidered and revised.
There was a serious problem with public servants in the country. Sometimes one would go to the municipality just for proof of residence, and it would take a whole day. It was the same thing at the Department of Home Affairs. There was a cultural problem that they had to address in their public institutions.
SAQA could be making more money. There was potential for the entity to make more money. He had previously suggested that SAQA devise creative ways of raising funds instead of relying on the state. There was potential for the entity to be self-sustainable.
He said the revised OQSF talked about making TVET colleges institutions of choice. Did the entity believe that the curriculum taught in TVET colleges was aligned with industry requirements. At the constituency level, people were saying that the government was funding courses that did not get people employed. Did the QCTO believe this to be true, and what was it doing to develop curricula that were industry-aligned? What kind of programmes would QCTO suggest should be introduced that were aligned with the industry requirements of the future? How long would it take to develop a curriculum that was believed to be industry and economy-aligned?
Ms K Khakhau (DA) asked the QCTO about the creation of a workplace that was capable, the identifications made by the QCTO for the TVET curricula, and the proposed occupational skills programmes.
She asked SAQA about the TVET college scandal that seemed to have been chucked under the carpet. There were many entities and personnel that had been involved, including the staff of that college. Could the Committee be brought into confidence about SAQA’s involvement in that matter? Secondly, how far was the entity in filling the gaps in its recruitment of personnel?
Mr S Ngcobo (DA) asked if the QCTO had applied for a rollover of the funds, and how much had been approved. Secondly, what informed the revision of the indicators?
With its limited budget, how long would SAQA operate as a viable entity? Regarding the non-essential vacancies, which posts would be frozen and for how long, and what would be the impact on the entity?
Ms C King (DA) asked both entities how the National Qualifications Amended Act would impact them. She was impressed with the QCTO’s central system for qualification approvals, but wanted to know what the new timeframes for certificate recognition would be. The revised OQSF was progressive, with TVET colleges being at the centre. Members had made recommendations for TVET colleges to be at the same level as universities, and shift some of the courses to the CET programme. What was the QCTO’s involvement to ensure that it had input on the alignment of the TVET curriculum? The QCTO would be spending all the funds that it would receive. How much money was in the reserves within the entity?
She was pleased with SAQA's progress from the legacy issues that had been crippling it. However, she was concerned about accreditation of foreign qualifications, and the linkage between higher education institutions and SAQA. At Fort Hare, Prof Edwin Ijeoma’s qualifications had been under the spotlight, and it was surprising that SAQA had not picked that up.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) asked the QCTO about critical vacancies that were not yet filled; the limited budget and rollover and surplus funds; how much it was and why it was not used on the under-funded programmes by redirecting the excess. He asked whether, three years after Vision 2020, the goals had been achieved. He also wanted to know if any audit had been conducted of institutions that offered qualifications, and if those qualifications should continue being offered.
Many critical vacancies at SAQA were not filled -- when were they going to be filled? Had SAQA considered memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) concerning the accreditation of foreign qualifications? The entity was relying on revenue, but the turnaround time for accreditation was too long. SAQA and the NQF had limited awareness of information in the public domain -- how was this going to be changed so that ordinary people were aware of the entity and its work?
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked SAQA about the long-term sustainability plan to retain the skills in the entity, and the mitigation measures that would be implemented for the adverse impact. What partnerships did the QCTO have with the Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (EWSETA)?
Mr B Yabo (ANC) said that the country wanted to make vocational training a priority to produce as many qualified artisans as possible, but this should reflect in the amount of money put towards a public relations (PR) exercise. A country like Germany had mastered the vocational space. South Africa needed to rebrand this space and adopt the method of the Germans. It achieved that if it did not put money into its PR. The Committee needed to see numbers matching the output, but the QCTO had not displayed this.
The time it takes for a learner to get a certificate should be reduced, particularly the space between completing the qualification and receiving the certificate. If learners did not get their certificates timeously, it was frustrating because it prevented the learners from seeking employment. The waiting period was too long, and though the reduced backlog is acknowledged, the system must be modernised enough for learners to receive their certificates in real time.
Referring to SAQA, he said governance was often viewed as a soft skill, and one sees leadership personnel in institutions without governance skills pushing other people around who possessed even higher levels of qualifications than they did. What was the general health of the SAQA board and the QCTO? Institutional boards had become fiefdoms – projects became stalled there, and there was often so much more that got blocked at that level.
He suggested that the Committee should be shown a dashboard of decisions regarding projects and their status. They needed to know if important projects and work were being stalled at the board level, and appreciate how long it took for decisions made to hit the ground. This could assist in resolving any bottlenecks. If it was individuals that stalled these processes, Members would lobby the Minister to act accordingly.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said the presentations showed what Members wanted to hear. Hopefully, they had noted what had happened in Parliament on 2 May, with sign language becoming an official language. Going forward, one should ensure that people who could not see or were deaf, would also be treated with a level of importance.
If entities were properly coordinated and worked together, the issue of inadequate budgets would not unfold. Ms Mananis asked the QCTO how many SETAs had signed service level agreements (SLAs), and the timeframes to fill critical vacancies at QCTO.
She commended the fact that SAQA wanted to be a commercial entity. If an entity had the potential to self-fund and generate its own revenue, it must do so. The entity must showcase to Members its programme of action to meet its unachieved targets.
The Chairperson asked the entities to respond to the Committee in writing by Friday. The Committee needed to put together a report that would be part of the budget vote debate to be presented to the House. There had been an affirmation of the plans and the importance of the success of those plans. Sometimes presentations leave out critical information that may be in the actual APP document.
She urged all Members to ensure that they read the responses from the Department and the entities. She also appreciated the quality of their responses. She asked the entities also to explain in their responses how their engagements with the AGSA were going.
Mr Dlamini said that all the members of the Council had their own responsibilities, and there was no overreach. Once the dashboard had been submitted to the Committee, Members would also see in the dashboard the issues that were discussed at the executive committee (EXCO), the turnaround times and other salient matters raised by Members.
Mr Naidoo thanked the Committee for its support, and assured Members that responses would be submitted timeously.
Prof Lolwana said that they did not appoint themselves to the positions they occupied. However, even when people got appointed, one would find all kinds of people with factions and other exhausting issues. It was important to appoint boards that were focused on the development of the organisation and its ability to meet its mandate. SAQA interacted with the Committee more frequently than with the government. She had been requesting to meet with the DG, but to no avail.
Ms Starr said that the entity had had an incredibly difficult time, and she had been focusing on the staff culture and their development in the entity. They were building succession while contributing to the development of the country. Entities could work effectively and efficiently when their staff personnel were supported.
The Chairperson encouraged entities to work together and preserve the limited resources that were available for the sector.
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General, DHET, said that he had his checklist of what had been done and not done for the entities and the Department. The Department would ensure that it took responsibility where it needed to, and would ensure the entities provided their responses by the prescribed day.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme Annual Performance Plan 2023/24
Mr Ernest Khosa, Chairperson, NSFAS Board, commented on the important developments of the work that NSFAS continued to do to transform the entity and its role in the sector. Some of the important achievements were deepened and enhanced sustainability, with automatic approvals for South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) beneficiaries, and real-time decisions for those that qualify were achieved. Engagements with institutions on the close-out report had borne some fruit, and they had received R400 million of what was owed to NSFAS. The money had been collected in the last few weeks, with over R300 million coming from the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and over R100 million from North-West University.
Mr Masile Ramorwesi, Acting CEO: NSFAS, presented the entity's revised strategy and annual performance plan. The presentation covered NSFAS’s impact on the National Development Plan 2030;
its revised vision, mission and values; the reasons for updating the strategy and APP; a summary of the old vs revised strategy and APP; the revised goals, strategic objectives, outcomes and technical indicator descriptions (TIDs); output indicators: annual and quarterly targets, and the roles of managers in the execution of the annual performance plan and strategy.
No financial information was included in the presentation.
See attached for full presentation
Ms Sibiya said the presentation of NSFAS was not complete. She wanted to know how much was budgeted for the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) in the 2023/24 financial year, and if NSFAS planned to implement programmes to change the institutional culture. It was also confusing to have an internal CFO employed, and then hire a consultant to do the same job – what was the point of having a CFO if NSFAS was still consulting?
Ms King said that the presentation lacked detail on the financials. How many appeals had been addressed by NSFAS? It was stated that 96.6% of funding had been paid out, but what was the number of students paid and those that were still going to receive funding?
In the previous engagement, an information communication technology (ICT) plan had been presented, despite the lack of funding for this. The amount budgeted for the previous years was not disclosed, but R90 million was being requested to be rolled over for this ICT plan. How far was the NSFAS in implementing the ICT plan?
NSFAS had made some improvements over the years, but it could reconcile the close-out report. How much was owed by NSFAS to institutions? The current building costs R1.9 million per month, yet NSFAS had funding challenges for its administration and ICT, with students that still needed funding. Many students had been rejected for funding, yet NSFAS was renting a building at R1.9 million per month.
Mr Ngcobo shared the same concerns as Ms King. He wanted to know about funding approvals for students living with disabilities, and how much had been budgeted for them, and to assist students with devices at TVET colleges and universities. Regarding the SIU investigation, had NSFAS budgeted for this in the financial year, and how much had been budgeted?
Ms Khakhau said it seemed as if NSFAS was operating with a lack of respect for the Committee. Members had not been given an opportunity to scrutinise its financials. They had incomplete presentations before them and felt disrespected that presentations were not sent out to Members timeously. If they were going to move forward, they could not allow such tardiness. NSFAS was asking for rollovers, yet it was paying R1.9 million for luxury. She struggled to take NSFAS seriously and to have confidence that the heart of the NSFAS management was in a good place.
Regarding the rollover, was NSFAS happy to cite reasons of capacity and financial challenges, but it did not seem that it knew what to do with the funds that remained? How could NSFAS ask for a rollover – did it not know where and how to spend the funds? As a former student leader, she had seen students’ struggles and understood the importance of the NSFAS’ role, because these very same students were doing so much.
Ms Mananiso temporarily took over as the Chairperson of the Committee. She said correct documents were not sent timeously to the Committee, and repeated that Members felt disrespected and that NSFAS seemed not to take the Committee seriously.
Mr Letsie said that one of the fundamental reasons why an APP was presented was to get a sense from the entity of their targets for the year, and these targets must be linked to the finances. He also registered his dissatisfaction with the issue of documents not being submitted timeously. Last year, about R1.2 billion was supposed to go to universities, but it had not happened, and Members were not aware of the reasons why.
He wanted to know the reasons behind the resignation of the former chief operating officer, and how far the process was of appointing a permanent COO. What was the motivation behind the rollover of the funds? The Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) had said it could not verify or measure NSFAS's performance, and that they did not adhere to SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) principles. NSFAS and the AGSA could not agree on anything, and Members could not get the budgetary review and recommendations report (BRRR) last year. The Committee could not afford not to have the BRRR of any institution, because that was where Members accounted to the citizens on how their money was utilised. He welcomed the revised APP, and asked if Treasury had been consulted and if it had been part of the process. Was the APP developed internally or was it outsourced? If it was outsourced, how much did it cost? In 2019, NSFAS had paid over R400 000 for its APP.
The core business of NSFAS was to provide access to higher education institutions for poor and working-class students. Perusing the key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets of NSFAS, he did not believe that these spoke to the core business of NSFAS. There was no KPI for the turnaround time on funding decisions. He predicted that there would be a performance issue between the NSFAS and the AGSA at the end of the year. NSFAS indicators did not seem aligned with the core business of NSFAS, and did not seem SMART in their nature.
Regarding the R190 million for NSFAS's ICT, it was almost five years now and NSFAS had always been saying it did not have enough money for ICT. The Department had given NSFAS R65 million for 2022/23 and R45 million for 2023/24. The Department had brought its own personnel to evaluate NSFAS's ICT challenges. Was the R190 million going to be utilised at the end of this financial year? If not, why not? This would have been the money that had been lobbied for.
The UJ had agreed that it owed NSFAS about R300 million. Since 2019, the Committee has been complaining about this close-out project, but how much did NSFAS owe to institutions? How far was NSFAS with the close-out project? NSFAS funded over R5 billion to incorrect students. The Committee had alleged that there were cartels in institutions for student accommodation, but no one believed it. People within universities were operating cartels to defraud NSFAS by creating fake students.
There was a need to go deeply into why UJ owed NSFAS R300 million. It had been uncovered that NSFAS was paying for students at Fort Hare and UJ for years. The close-out report must be prioritised. NSFAS must also work on its public relations communications.
NSFAS had stated it had now paid R9.2 billion out of the projected R38 billion to universities. There were strikes in various institutions like the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). Students were claiming that NSFAS had not paid, yet R9.2 billion had already been paid to students and institutions, so why were they still having protests? He asked that NSFAS deal urgently with its communications issues.
Ms Mananiso echoed the same sentiments regarding the close-out report; assisting people living with disabilities; NSFAS’s public relations and communications; calls that NSFAS could respond to daily, and the 2% target on assisted calls. She acknowledged the progress made regarding SASSA beneficiaries, but every entity that had KPIs and outcomes must be aligned with the realities of the people. Female or women executives must be prioritised when NSFAS conducts its recruitment for critical vacancies.
The Chairperson thanked the Members for the engagement. There might be a need to convene again, or call an urgent meeting. It was awkward discussing the future without the performance information. Members were expecting written responses by Friday.
She said the Committee needed to have an urgent meeting with NSFAS on outstanding matters of performance. There was a great possibility that there could be unrest. Members were receiving letters from the South African Students Congress (SASCO), the Port Elizabeth TVET College, and different student bodies. Both universities and TVET colleges were threatening protest action if NSFAS matters were not resolved.
She expressed her frustration at NSFAS for sounding like a broken record. The plans meant nothing if next year looked like this year. They were in May, yet some students had not received funding. Exams were around the corner, and students had not received their allowances for books and other essentials. Students were not even ready to write exams, and they would protest against writing exams because they had not been resourced halfway into the year. Something must give.
If the staff component did not understand these plans, they would be back to January and February with protests. There was an interest in destabilising the state. If they wanted to make this government unstable because they thought they were dealing with the governing party, they were grossly misled and incorrect -- they were dealing with the students. She was pleased about the investigation of the SIU. Who were these people who wanted to destabilise the NSFAS?
She was not inspired or confident about the NSFAS. It was unfortunate that Members received limited information from NSFAS. Issues were brewing in the sector – they must be investigated and addressed as soon as possible.
She thanked the NSFAS board members who were present. The Committee needed to get to the bottom of the issues. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) had met with NSFAS many times, but nothing seemed to be coming out of those meetings.
Mr Max Fuzani, NSFAS board member, said that NSFAS was still facing a range of challenges. It was not the first time he had heard of the challenges, and some of the queries came to him directly. All the issues raised by the Members were morally unjustifiable. NSFAS would provide comprehensive replies to all the issues raised by Members.
He concurred with the need for an urgent meeting with NSFAS.
Mr Ramorwesi assured Members that NSFAS respected the Committee and its students. NSFAS would respond to all the questions raised by Members in writing. The close-out report groundwork was at about 80% completion.
The Chairperson said that it was painful that Members were being subjected to dealing with hearsay in the PSET sector. Integrating data was critical.
Dr Sishi said the university sector had already been allocated over R80 billion. The plans of the entities must translate to the resources that were given to them. The Department was also not just sitting back, but was ensuring that it held its entities to account. The Department was just as responsible for respecting the issues raised. The Department had made it clear to NSFAS, QCTO and SAQA that the indicators were relevant to the budget and the outcomes.
As a way forward, the task was to meet NSFAS through the Department's university branch and develop an oversight report that would be tabled to the Committee to see how the DHET supports its entities. They had to ensure that the indicators were aligned with the sectors.
The DG would meet with NSFAS management to talk about Treasury frameworks for planning, and how important it was for them to be adopted by NSFAS. Hopefully, within a week, this would happen.
He apologised for the omissions that had been identified. He also appreciated the work that had been done. This year, NSFAS had funded 1.1 million students, which was an increase from over 700 000 students. The magnitude of NSFAS’s task today was not comparable to the one in the past. The attitude of government towards NSFAS was indicated in the numbers and funding given to the entity, which was R47 billion compared to R5 billion three years ago. He assured Members that in the next meeting, the Committee would see an NSFAS of the future.
The Chairperson thanked the Department and entities for the engagement.
The meeting was adjourned.
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