Council on Higher Education: briefing

Basic Education

06 June 2005
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
8 June 2005
COUNCIL ON HIGHER EDUCATION: BRIEFING

Chairperson: Professor S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out
Council on Higher Education briefing
CHE's Higher Education Quality Committee briefing
Mandate of Higher Education Quality Programme
Higher Education Quality Committee: Plans and Activities for 2005/2006
National Review of Teaching Standards briefing
Council on Higher Education Annual Report 2003-2004
CHE's South African Higher Education: Chapter 13: Past, Present and Future
Higher Education Change in South Africa: PowerPoint Presentation

SUMMARY
The Council on Higher Education presented the transformation gains within higher education. The critical issues and challenges for the next decade were outlined. Some critical challenges were the equity versus quality issue, the new approach needed for teaching and learning, the institutional landscape and the retention of black students as academics. Members asked about re-admission of failed students; institutional support for disadvantaged students and the quality of Matric qualifications. The Committee decided to meet with the Council in future to ask more questions as the time allocated for this meeting was insufficient.

MINUTES

Council on Higher Education briefing

Professor S Badat (Chief Executive Officer) explained the progress and achievements that had been made in the first decade of democracy. The Council on Higher Education presented the transformation gains within higher education. Enrolments amongst black students and women had increased; the new organisation at system level and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme were some of the gains named in the first ten years of democracy. Some critical issues and challenges ahead were the equity versus quality debate, the new approach needed of teaching and learning, the institutional landscape and the retention of black students as academics. [See presentation.]

Discussion
Ms H Zille (DA) was impressed that the challenges were being dealt with in a comprehensive way. The DA would give their support for more funding under this approach. The real heart of the problem was in the school system. If the schools that mainly served disadvantaged students continued in the current direction, the plans of the university sector would come to nought. The plans to build capacity and fill the skills vacuum would also not be realised. The best lever for economic empowerment and growth for disadvantaged groups was an outstanding education. Then empowerment and affirmative action would look after itself because there was simply too few whites and black people would be propelled into the top positions by reason of good education.

The focus on quality was a good priority. The school system had paid lip service to quality with the emphasis being on quantity. The tragic result was a Matric certificate that was largely devalued and universities had to almost ignore it in admissions decisions. It was very heartening to hear Professor Badat state that quality was essential for a university degree. How would the Council balance the priorities of quality and quantity and prevent the buck being passed on to the universities to correct?

Professor Badat said that no one would disagree that ideally a good solid high quality of general level education was needed for society and higher education. This would lead to a much more productive society. Higher education had to understand that for some time they would have to work with students who were under-prepared. It would be deceitful to claim that this would be sorted out in the next two years. The point of departure had to be that for historical reasons which was no fault of the students, for some years to come higher level institutions would have to address that under prepared students would be enrolled. Once this was accepted, robust academic support systems would have to be put in place. This had been done in the past very effectively. The University of the Western Cape was given as an example. Most of these students were survivors and in reality they should have dropped out many years before. It was demanding for institutions and lecturers to put these systems in place because it was very labour intensive.

Until general education and training system was put right, until Further Education and Training Colleges (FETC) colleges were put right and started to take on the kind of bridging work they needed to do to free up academics, money and human resources would have to be put into academic support and mentoring. This academic development would not only take place in the first six months. This would also have to carry on into the second and third year. At times this would also have to be provided a postgraduate levels, because some of these students required support of the most basic kind. This was not their fault as they were short-changed in the past. A distinction had to be made between equity of access (welcome) and opportunity. It was about what happened when you had been welcomed. Had there been opportunities to graduate with effective support and mentoring? Many institutions in the past were not geared to deal with the challenge. Academics should not assume that the student profile had changed. It would take money and a mindset change amongst institutions and academics. Higher education could not wait for the school system to be fixed. They had to act now.

Professor Badat added that if a student came under prepared to university it did not automatically mean that there was a lowering of standards and quality. It was unacceptable that quality decreased because poor black students who had been historically disadvantaged had to be accommodated. It generated no public benefits because graduates were produced who were unable to do professional work. There was a private benefit for the student but it was not a public benefit. The challenge was to ensure that there was a focus on equity and on quality. Systems had to be put in place. The only people who would suffer were the poor because of inadequate public services and health services because graduates would not perform competently and professionally.

Mr A Gaum (ANC) asked how the Council viewed the proposal that if students failed a year they should not be allowed to return to the institution. Professor Badat denied the existence of such a proposal.

Mr Gaum asked, given the realistic view of funding of education institutions, whether it was really possible to address the composition of academic staff in view of the fact that highly educated Africans were in high demand in the private sector? One would have to increase the salaries substantially to make any impact. Would anything else make an impact? He also asked how the intention to introduce entrance examinations related to the concerns about quality.

Professor Badat responded that a Matric certificate was a good predictor at certain levels. If you got an A or a B it was a good indicator that you would do well at higher education level. The situation regarding Matric was not as bad as people were making it out to be. He said that if someone got a D or an E, you were less certain they would do well. However, if you came from a rural area and you got an E, perhaps it was as good as an A from a private urban school because it was telling you about how the student survived. That student should have dropped out but had survived and went on to university. It was the institution’s job to work with that type of student.

Mr Gaum asked if the Council would monitor academic institutions with regard to the development of indigenous languages.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) asked what exactly was needed for innovative curricula. What needed to be done before they came into being?

Professor Badat responded that the country was not able to produce 5 000 project managers of a high calibre. For instance, new fields of study were opening up in logistics and related disciplines. Some of the institutions had not come to grips with the way that the economy was changing. The country did not have the human resources in the universities to teach the new fields. South Africa would have to form partnerships with institutions elsewhere in order to ensure that institutions became equipped to produce project managers of a high calibre. It was not just about old knowledge, but also about new knowledge and could not be achieved overnight by thinking that money was the solution. A realistic time frame was five to ten years to build serious institutional capacity. Universities were unable to fix the inherited structural problems immediately. One idea was to start sending students overseas, but proper planning was needed and results would not be achieved immediately.

Ms Dudley asked how the Council planned to start attracting talented black people to the higher education sector. She also asked how the Council was dealing with high school qualifications. What was the impact and what could be done?

Mr D Montitsi (ANC) asked about student dropouts. There had been allegations from student leaders that most institutions competed for more students for the purposes of increased funding. However, once the students arrived on campus they were not supported. As a result, the dropout rate increased. When would the support system be in place that the Council had mentioned? Was it a question of funding?

He also asked about curriculum innovation and the skills that were required. Economic growth in South Africa had reached a point where it would not move forward because of the imported professional skills in the various industries. To what extent was the curriculum going to address the type of personnel required and how long would this take?

Ms N Badsha (Department Deputy Director-General) commented that the Ministry had recognised the need for funding for academic development. Funding had already been earmarked for this. A study had been launched by the National Treasury and Department of Education to look into the overall funding needed for higher education. Almost half of the money that had been made available for the restructuring of higher education was going into recapitalisation of institutions. A significant number of institutions had moved out of debt and could now plan for a sustainable financial future. The Department was working closely with the association of Vice Chancellors in order to look at the new proposed FETC system and requirements for admission.

Council on Higher Education Quality Committee briefing
Dr M Singh (HEQC Executive Director) explained the role of the Higher Education Quality Committee, the quality related challenges, the audit and accreditation process and the MBA review. See presentation.

National Review of Teaching Standards briefing
Mr T Bengu (Deputy Director) explained the approach and activities of the Council on Higher Education’s National Review of Teacher Standards Committee. See presentation.

Discussion
The Chairperson ruled that the Council would be asked to return as their work was the basis of transformation in the higher education sector. The Committee needed to have more time with the Council to ask questions and give their input.

Mr Gaum asked for clarity on his question regarding readmission after failing a year. Dr Singh explained that this was an "urban legend". The Minister had not made any statements about excluding students who failed after one year. All that the Minister had said was that institutions of higher learning had to look at their readmission policies closely in order to take into account all the factors when students failed.

The meeting was adjourned.

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