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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE MEETING
12 November 2003
COUNCIL ON HIGHER EDUCATION: ANNUAL REPORT
Chairperson: Prof. S M Mayatula
Documents handed out:
CHE Annual Report 2002/2003
The Council on Higher Education provided an annual report of its activities and plans. Discussion covered what input if any the CHE made into the Further Education and Training curriculum and N1-N6 qualifications from private institutions, the need for more black South African postgraduates to be funded, monitoring and evaluation instruments and comparison of tuition programmes at different institutions, first year drop-outs, poor salaries for academics, student debt, ratio of black to white academics and the need for academics to understand the different background of the current student population to that of twenty years ago.
- The Chair welcomed the Committee's new secretary, Mr Steve Morometsi.
- The briefing by the Committee of Technikon Principals had been cancelled.
- The purpose of the next meeting was to approve the report on provincial visits. The report would be debated on 26 November.
- The National Qualifications Framework Team would brief this committee and the Labour Portfolio Committee on 24 November.
- He expressed concern about the committee's attendance register, which recorded apologies only, but not the reason for the committee member's absence. Mr S Ripinga (ANC) shared this concern and hoped that this committee's register could be examined along with other committees as meeting times often clashed.
Council on Higher Education (CHE)
Prof S Badat, Chief Executive Officer, briefed the committee on the activities of the CHE in 2002/3, highlighting the advice given to the Minister:
- on the criteria needed for a tertiary institution to be designated a university, technikon etc, and what the various categories of tertiary institutions should be called;
- on the funding framework
- on redress policy (formerly the "Size and Shape" document, linking the institutions' funding to their roles
- general agreements on trade and services in higher education. The World Trade Organisation had recently incorporated education as a service. CHE's advice was that education was not just a commodity but that the system should be ready to adapt to any new international plans. This might take some time, because the Cancun WTO Summit had concentrated on trade agreements.
One of CHE's challenges was to monitor higher education, through its permanent sub-committee, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC). It was hard to find a monitoring and evaluation tool/framework document. Quality assurance was an executive responsibility of the CHE and many learners did not develop their potential because of a lack of quality assurance. Only one hundred of 241 private providers who applied for accreditation as higher education institutions were successful and 75 out of the 163 applications from public institutions that were tabled between April 2002 and March 2003 were not accredited.
Personnel from the HEQC had visited all public and some private higher education institutions (HEIs) during the year under review and a pilot project had been carried out. There were huge variations in quality. The first six-year cycle of 4-day institutional visits would begin in 2004. Progress in establishing a national audit and evaluation system that could be managed efficiently had been made but there was a need to recruit and develop potential auditors to carry out this large task. The audits would be evidence-based.
The pilot project had indicated that many academics needed support because most of them were equipped to teach students with the kinds of background found 15 or 20 years ago in HEIs. It would be a challenge to persuade these academics that they needed support. A Finnish group had funded these quality assurance programmes.
Prof Badat was proud of CHE's staff profile, which comprised many women and blacks. He was also proud of CHE's cost recovery (11%) of its budget.
The HEQC was about to begin the process of accrediting MBAs at the request of the providers. It was Prof Badat's opinion that some would be de-accredited and some would be accredited with reservations and, as MBAs were a lucrative market, he expected that the CHE would be sued.
Overall, looking at the CHE's performance of the last seven year, Prof Badat said significant challenges would be to further deracialise and ensure gender equity in higher education. There were many black women undergraduates in the humanities, art, nursing etc but most post-graduates were white. Significant funding would need to introduce further equity.
HEIs were not ivory towers as they were responding to the flux of their context but it would be necessary to move to stability.
A further challenge would be to make policy implementation as good as policy design. One cause of the inability to plan realistically was because of financial and human resource constraints. Academic salaries were not competitive. If higher education was not producing human resources to transform itself, how could it produce graduates to transform other sectors?
Mr R Ntuli (DA) asked how much input the CHE had made into the Further Education and Training (FET) curriculum. It seemed that FET students did not gain worthwhile qualifications. The Faculty of Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand, for instance, was facing problems with the education of students entering it.
Prof Badat answered that poorer students tended to enrol at private HEIs. He did not know if this was because public HEIs would not accommodate them. Private HEIs, however, were here to stay and it was necessary to ensure their quality. The CHE did run an advocacy programme in some newspapers, and provided some means for students to compare the programmes offered by different HEIs. More inputs into career guidance would have to be made, as poorer students often found themselves locked into a particular course because of the FET curriculum they had chosen.
Mr Ntuli's colleague commented on the large number of foreign post-graduates in South African HEIs. He believed they were funded by their governments and wondered if more black South African postgraduates could be funded.
Prof Badat acknowledged that there were about 40 000 foreign students in South Africa, who contributed to the health of the higher education sector. The Saudi Arabian government sent 55 000 students to study in the USA; and had visited the CHE with a view to enrolling some here. Many Malaysians and Mauritians also studied in SA. It was important not to let their numbers distort enrolment figures expediently; one institution, for instance, had an 80% black enrolment, but these were not South Africans and the SA government should fund more of its own students.
Mr I Abrahams (ANC) noted monitoring and evaluation instruments in other government departments and asked if the CHE had collaborated with the public service in the one they had tested.
The CHE had collaborated as far as possible but there was a general lack, possibly because the reason for the necessity for monitoring was not fully appreciated.
Mr S Ripinga (ANC) asked for figures on drop-outs, especially in first year. He also asked if the Minister had been addressed about the problem of academics' salaries. Student debt would impact on the quality of education - how was the CHE addressing this problem from 1994? He noted that donors had significantly funded the CHE but donors were volatile and could not be relied on.
Prof Badat said that the 29% drop-out rate was a huge problem and it would be necessary to find out its causes. He suspected that many dropped out because of financial pressures to find work and support their families. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) could be trebled and it still would not be sufficient. Whether to give less money to more students or more money to fewer students was a dilemma. At wealthier institutions, NSFAS funds were not taken up because their students had better funding options. Another cause of the high drop-out rate was poor teaching. He related an anecdote of a black woman student at an historically white institution who said that she "was tired of being invisible" i.e. most of her lecturers' idioms, jokes and examples were relevant to a white middle-class context and he did not recognise her context and culture. He said that the ministry had been consulted about increased funding and the Treasury had made available R1.5bn for recapitalisation for disadvantaged institutions so that they did not carry debt. The Ministry would be asked to write off debts.
Prof Badat said that academics' salaries were decided by the HEIs and "a scandal".
Another question was whether the CHE had scrutinised N1-N6 qualifications from private institutions as it appeared many students with this qualification could not find work as they were not properly trained. There was a comment that there was not only insufficient black staff in academia but at the elementary level, quality teachers left teaching. There was the view that there should be penalties for inadequate tuition programmes, also that, as a university was an organ of state, the state should set minimum salaries.
Prof Badat said that the CHE did not deal with N1-N6 and FET qualifications but that the CHE would examine them with the Malusi project, with whom they met regularly. They were concerned about learners' qualifications and had asked the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) to investigate whether these qualifications were Level 5 or FET because employers found they could not do what they were alleged to be trained to do and there seemed to be a kind of "qualification inflation". There was a website that students could consult for advice, as well as by phone, but he agreed that communication was a problem.
Prof Badat agreed that teachers' salaries were a problem but that the problem was worse in higher education, that Pretoria was "full of UWC academics working for government" who would never go back to academia because the salaries were too low and senior academics could not afford a house in Cape Town. Although teaching was a vocation, the salaries were lower than in other countries and junior lecturers' salaries were markedly lower those of vice-chancellors. The problem was not only race and gender; the sector was characterised by "old, white men" and there were no younger people to replace them. White academics appeared to comprise about 75% of academia and this ratio was unlikely to change fast, although it had at the very top. Some institutions had dealt with employment equity requirements by creating a few extra posts, filled by blacks. It would be necessary to increase salaries, provide more bursaries and older staff should mentor younger staff in the last few years of their working lives. The future was bleak if action was not taken soon.
A member requested information on the comparison of tuition programmes at different institutions to take to rural constituencies.
Ms Mentor (ANC) asked when the managements of HEIs would be deracialised.
Mr Ripinga said that old private providers seemed to be more successful in efforts to gain accreditation than black economic empowerment providers and asked whether they could be given more guidance.
Prof Badat acknowledged the fact that most private providers were white, and said that the HEQC was addressing this as their principle was equity with quality.
Mr Mayatula asked whether there was any class of institution between a university, a comprehensive and a technikon.
Prof Badat said that the advice given the Minister regarding this was confidential but he "slept well at night". They had thought about having university colleges linked with another institution but if this was a private institution, the university would be reluctant to accredit it.
The meeting adjourned at noon after the Chair thanked Prof Badat for his visit.
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