Council on Higher Education and Umalusi 2006/07 Budgets: briefings

Basic Education

29 March 2006
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


29 March 2006

Chairperson: Mr S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
CHE: Final Draft of the Council on Higher Education and Higher Education Quality Committees
Umalusi Presentation to Education Portfolio Committee

The Council on Higher Education and Umalusi gave overviews of their organisations, activities, budget and challenges. Both were anticipating changes arising from the National Qualifications Framework review. The Council stressed that South Africa should attend to skills shortages as a matter of urgency. The lack of high-level person power was hampering economic growth and the proportion of black and women postgraduates had not altered much in a decade. University autonomy vs. accountability was likely to continue to be debated.

Members raised concerns about poor school results, importation of skills, inappropriate curricula, mother-tongue education and poor adult education.


Council on Higher Education (CHE) presentation

Dr Saleem Badat, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the CHE gave an overview of the CHE’s budget (R37m for 2005/06, of which R26m was derived from government, R4m from donors and the remainder from cost recovery). Eighty-five percent of the previous budget had been spent. The unspent portion was due to certain high-level posts not being filled. In 2006/07 the income from the Treasury and donors would increase and the unspent funds from the previous year would be rolled over. If the role of standards setting were moved from the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) to the CHE, more money would be needed.

The CHE had five key areas of responsibility:
-Advising the Minister of Education
-Monitoring and evaluation of higher education policies
-Quality assurance, the major part of the budget
-Development of higher education, including in other African countries
-Hosting an annual consultative conference

Concrete details of all of the activities flowing from the above were outlined in the handout.

One of the constraints hampering economic growth of the kind envisaged by the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (ASGISA) was the shortage of high-level person power. The challenges were both quantitative and qualitative. Notwithstanding whatever weaknesses and shortcomings there may be in the effectiveness and efficiency of higher education, it was clear that there was also under-investment in higher education. Considerably greater investment in higher education was going to be required if the South African economy and society was to meet its high-level person power needs. There were still far too few black and women graduates in particular fields relating to science and technology and in various areas there had been little significant change in the occupational structure since 1994. Both the ASGISA growth targets as well as goals of the transformation charters could be unrealistic unless there was serious attention given to expanding the capabilities of the institutions through additional financial investments and through other measures. In the short-term, South Africa would need to import high-level person power but unless we begin to address the challenges in this regard immediately, the problems will not be overcome in the medium and long term. More dialogue between Higher Education, the public and private sectors was needed. To address the high-level person power needs of the economy and society, as well as their knowledge needs. The danger was that universities could be blamed, when the problems did not necessarily reside in universities alone.

Autonomy of universities and academic freedom, including public accountability, was an issue currently being investigated by the CHE in the light of some complaints about alleged government interference in higher educstion. Academic freedom was a constitutional right but debate was required around its meaning in a post 1994 constitutional democracy.

The CHE involving key stakeholders like the Departments of Education, Science and Technology, was investigating the nature and quality of postgraduate education. Black women were better represented at undergraduate level than at postgraduate level. The opportunity cost was higher for blacks than for whites and the situation would not change unless policy addressed it.

All university academic programmes were accredited by the CHE. In addition, the CHE audited universities every six years. The audit reports of Rhodes, Cape Town and Stellenbosch Universities would be available soon. The lengthy, labour-intensive process began with and included universities’ self-evaluation reports.

National reviews of courses, for instance Masters of Business Administration (MBAs), were conducted regularly. The results of the M Ed reviews would be available shortly. There were three possible outcomes of the review process: accreditation, de-accreditation or conditional accreditation. The review panels comprised peers but their recommendations were rigorously interrogated. Some universities had withdrawn the programme that was to be reviewed shortly before the review panel's visit and would therefore lose the right to offer particular M Ed programmes and their government subsidy. For them to offer these programmes again they would have to go through rigorous accreditation processes, associated with the introduction of any new programme. In the coming period, the CHE Higher Education Quality Committee would be reviewing the Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE), the B Ed and the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). It was realised that this might have an impact on teacher supply, which was already inadequate but the CHE could not accredit poor programmes without losing credibility or contributing to the vicious cycle of poor teaching.

The Chair asked for more information on the CHE’s relationship with Umalusi and SAQA; with other African countries; and on these two areas within the budget.

Dr Badat said quality assurance consumed R27m of the R35m budget. The CEOs of SAQA, the CHE and Umalusi were on each other’s boards as individuals but they also interacted with the Boards as CEOs. All agreed that the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) should be 10 levels and that standards-setting should move to the CHE but nothing could be formalised until the NQF review was finalised. It had been pending for two years which caused problems throughout the education system and debilitated merged institutions especially. The CHE had signed agreements with Namibian and other universities with commitments to participate in concrete development programmes.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) said that the poor outputs in science and mathematics were because schooling in these areas was of low quality. What was Dr Badat’s view of the problem and what was he doing about it? What would happen to the ‘student victims’ of de-accreditation?

Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) said that importing skills meant that there was something wrong in the education system. What should be done? Six-year audits for universities were too infrequent; what were the interim controls? How long did it take to get a programme accredited?

Mr A Gaum (ANC) agreed that not enough high-level blacks were graduating and wanted to know what the problem with schooling was. There was tension between affirmative action and the need for high-level skills. Should universities not be enabled to take in more students? He mentioned a learner who had an 80% pass rate but had not been admitted to a university. Importing skills revealed tension between transformation and the availability of skills. There was a perception that South Africans with skills were available locally and abroad. Many matriculants and postgraduates had left South Africa since the 1980s. How could they be induced to return?

Mr A Mpontshane (IFP) said that the biggest part of the education budget went to higher education so why did Dr Badat say that SA was not investing in higher education? Regarding the debate about the language of instruction at Stellenbosch University, what did the CHE advise the Minister? What were the disincentives for black students to go beyond a basic degree?

Mr B Mthembu (ANC) asked Dr Badat to reconcile the instrumentalist approach with university autonomy. How could the CHE raise academic standards when as external quality assurors, they could only ensure the minimum? He claimed that universities did not do much research and asked Dr Badat about his idea of ‘the African university’.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) asked how exactly the ACE, PGCE and B Ed review would impact on teacher supply.

Dr Badat said that he would leave the questions about school to Umalusi but commented that matriculants were under-prepared for university. Twenty or thirty years ago, the education university entrants were equipped with was adequate but requirements had changed. Six out of eight high schools in Grahamstown had produced only 20 matric exemptions between them. He was about to take up the post of Vice-Chancellor at Rhodes and one of his aims was to increase this number.

Dr Badat added that de-accreditation meant that the programme would be phased out and not discontinued immediately i.e. the current cohort of students would have a chance to finish the programme and the CHE would work with the university to remedy deficiencies. He acknowledged, though, that the degree quality was devalued by its de-accreditation.

Dr Badat said it was only possible to audit universities every six years because the process was so time-, cost- and labour-consuming. Accreditation was a long process, not only because of the Department of Education and CHE requirements. After developing the programme and setting standards, the course developers would take the offering through the university faculty, Senate and Council, to the Department of Education for a subsidy and to the CHE for accreditation. For some courses, e.g. transport logistics, South African academics would have to share duties with foreign universities as we lacked knowledge and expertise in the area. The same applied to jewellery. That was why the country should address the problem now for beneficiation success.

Dr Badat added that university autonomy, freedom and accountability were a raging debate. For some, accountability and transformation were more important than autonomy and freedom. As food for thought, Dr Badat asked why the President could appoint the head of the Constitutional Court but not a university vice-chancellor?

Dr Badat said the CHE would give feedback on the teacher education reviews to the South African Council for Educators (SACE), the Education, Training and Development Practitioners Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP SETA) and others.

Dr Badat stated that there were many South Africans, both white and black, with scarce skills abroad and they should be asked to return but they would still not meet the demand. Affirmative action was a contributory factor to scarcity but in Dr Badat’s experience, white male Afrikaners did get jobs when they were the best candidates. It was possibly a perception that affirmative action would hamper their job prospects but perceptions created reality as well as reflected it.

Dr Badat argued that many rural black South Africans could not attend university even when they met the entrance requirements. He was investigating the cases of 20 such students at Rhodes University. Maybe the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was insufficient in the amount and number of grants it allocated and would need another R1bn to be effective. The dropout rate could be caused partly by too small loans. Money would solve a lot of problems.

Dr Badat felt the Committee should ask the Department of Education to present an overview of university research outputs, which were considerable. He agreed that ensuring minimum standards of programme offerings was insufficient. De-accreditation of teacher education programmes would immediately affect teacher supply negatively.

Umalusi presentation

Dr P Lolwana, CEO, Mr M Potterton, Chief Operating Officer and Mr J Thomas, Chief Financial Officer presented a brief summary of Umalusi’s activities to maintain a system for quality assuring qualifications for General and Further Education and Training (GET and FET) and accrediting its providers. Its budget for 2006/07 was R30m.

Dr Lolwana said that in five years the scope of Umalusi’s work had narrowed to the Senior Certificate. Umalusi charged provincial education departments for this service and this was their largest source of income. Grade 9 and Senior Certificate qualifications were well set but Umalusi would need more funding if it were to broaden its scope to monitor quality in all public and private and independent schools and FET colleges. Private provision was huge, ranging from ‘shack schooling to everything else’. Small computer and tourism colleges especially were mushrooming. ‘Suitcase’ providers were rife in adult education and the state should take prime responsibility for ensuring quality. Adult education did not correspond to any particular institutional type or form. Many citizens did not get a decent second chance to be educated; FET colleges alone could not solve the problem – many 30-40 year olds wanted to get back into the education system and many 20-somethings wanted a Senior Certificate, in other words the general education the young received.

Dr Lolwana also said that the NQF review was long overdue. Standards-based learning had not produced quality and the United Kingdom and Australia had abandoned this route. Umalusi could not accredit all institutions, nevertheless assessment and examinations had to be of high quality.

Regarding the curriculum, Dr Lolwana said that South Africa had not clarified what it wanted school learners to know, or why particular aspects of maths or history were being taught and Umalusi had little power to intervene there. Undoubtedly, learners failed because the curriculum was mediated poorly. Other African countries succeeded better at school education and there was ‘no need for that’.

Mr Mpontshane appreciated the self-criticism in the presentation. He asked whether learners who were being examined in a language other than their mother tongue still got extra points as compensation and, if so, whether it inflated the pass rate.

Mr Gaum said that it was imperative to ‘get the basics right’ and Umalusi had to be empowered to tell the Committee whether quality and standards were acceptable.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) admired the presenter’s candour and said that she was ‘right’. Unless we knew what wanted children to know, we were lost. If Australia and the United Kingdom had ‘called it a day’, they must have had good reason because ‘they’ve been at it longer than us’. A child with a C symbol from a township school should be allowed entrance to university because if that child had been to a private school, he would have got an A.

Ms L Maloney (ANC) asked how Umalusi could help South Africa meet the goals of ASGISA.

The Chair commented that FET colleges that did not have accreditation would be useless.

Dr Lolwana thanked all the speakers for their kind words. Regarding the articulation of school and higher education qualifications, universities had always had additional entrance tests because matric was not sufficient. The American system of SATs was worse because it diminished the curriculum. University entrance tests did not test the curriculum; they tested aptitudes. The Senior Certificate (SC) was very general and would not indicate fully whether a student was equipped to do medicine, for instance. Umalusi would not like a full-scale examination to rival the Senior Certificate, but university entrance tests were ‘not a problem’. The SC was getting better but, in co-operation with higher education, Umalusi hoped to improve it further.

Dr Lolwana added that learners who wrote in English when it was their second language (about 80% of the total) were compensated by 5%. It did not make much difference to the total and usually affected learners whose marks were close to failing.

Dr Lolwana was not sure that the current quality assurance system improved quality. Ten years ago it was obvious that the system produced unequal results and money had to be invested in disadvantaged schools. Then ‘quality assurance’ had been implemented but there was no consensus about what was needed to improve quality. The European Union have only four indicators of quality and Umalusi could emulate that. The UK and Australia had moved from a standards-based approach for reasons outlined in the Tomlinson report. Monitoring vocational qualifications at colleges was difficult because the qualification had to meet labour market needs, which were fickle, and had to articulate with higher education. Vocational education was standards based but there was little curriculum knowledge, for example no higher education institution offered programmes in vocational curriculum. "We know little about vocational education in this country." Working with SETAs to develop vocational programmes had been tough and Umalusi had fewer resources than SETAs.

The meeting was adjourned.


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