Higher Education Branch briefing & adoption of Committee Reports

Basic Education

12 November 2007
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
13 November 2007
HIGHER EDUCATION BRANCH BRIEFING & ADOPTION OF COMMITTEE REPORTS

Chairperson: Professor S Mayatula (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Education – Higher Education Branch
Committee Report :Education on Study Tour to the People’s Republic of China, August 2007
Committee Report : Education on the Oversight Visit to the Eastern Cape, Mbizana, during People’s Assembly
[Reports available at Committee Reports once published]

Audio recording of meeting

SUMMARY
The Higher Education Branch of the Department of Education briefed the Committee on the restructuring in the Higher Education Branch. It was focused on planning, funding and quality. The planning phase involved parameters that ensure that the higher education system contributed to the national Human Resource Development and research priorities. All institutions provided a plan that proposed targets for enrolments and student outputs. The Higher Education Qualifications Framework provided a guide for development of programmes and qualifications, and budgetary allocations were added in. The Fundisa Fund had been started as a pilot project to enable a person to save for the education of a child, using a reward system in which bonuses could be granted for more savings. The Committee was impressed with the planning and the funding that would go into higher education.

Questions were asked about how the degrees and their criteria would be decided on, the link with teachers at high schools, how the Department was assessing targets, challenges around enrolment figures, the steps to prevent any lowering of standards, systems to ensure appropriate use of funds, the encouragement for students to attain PhD degrees, and how funding was distributed equitably across campuses. Further questions related to whether there was improved access, whether the Department was involved in infrastructural change, retention of lecturers with scarce skills, monitoring, refurbishing of the campuses, whether there would be a capping of numbers and resources. It was suggested that a further presentation should address fee increments and the retention of lecturers and professors.

The Committee adopted two reports.

MINUTES
Higher Education Branch of Department of Education (DoE)presentation

Dr Molapo Qhobela, Deputy Director-General: Higher Education Branch: Department of Education, started the presentation by reminding the Committee of the three Levers of Change, being planning, funding and quality.

The higher education planning parameters included the higher education system having to contribute to national human resource development, and research priorities. Attention had to be paid to the need to increase the enrolment and graduate output of scarce and critical skills. Enrolments had to match the available physical, human and financial resources. Institutions had to be focussed on improving graduation and successful pass rates. A differentiated approach to enrolment planning must be adopted. All institutions that provided plans that proposed targets for enrolments and student outputs were expected to operate within the approved parameters. The Department of Education (DoE) would annually monitor the performance of these institutions relative to their input and output targets. The appropriate steps would be taken if targets were not met and there was non-compliance.

The Higher Education Academic Policy was intended to guide development programmes and qualifications and would be implemented on 1 January 2009. This policy defined the purposes and characteristics of all higher education qualifications.

Financial support to higher education was listed and special emphasis was placed on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The Fundisa Fund was launched as a complementary fund to NSFAS. The Fundisa Fund was a three-year pilot in partnership with the Association of Collective Investments (ACI) and NSFAS. It was a savings account for study of an accredited qualification at either a public college or a university. Beneficiaries must be citizens, but any person with an identity document could open an account on behalf of a prospective student.

The disbursement of funds was done after the institutions had had their infrastructure development plans approved. The plans had to be submitted to the Minister by 31 July 2007. The Department would provide support to institutions for development and for implementation of plans.

In conclusion of the presentation, examples of successful institutional projects were listed. Those with increasing enrolment and graduate outputs in scarce and critical skills were institutions such as the University of Cape Town and the University of Western Cape. Institutions that provided plans for improving the quality of teaching and infrastructure included the University of Venda. The improvements of the University of Venda was emphasised and the presentation ended with a video illustrating these changes.

Dr Qhobela concluded the presentation by saying that the media played an enormous role in helping the DoE to understand what was happening in society and in the institutions. It was unfortunate that the University of Venda was cited as offering bogus BComm Degrees, as the University did not offer BComm Accounting degrees at all. This attached an unwarranted stigma to the graduates.

Discussion
Mr A Mpontshane (ANC) wanted to know if each degree was specifically contained.

Dr Qhobela replied that the higher education qualification framework would certainly define nine qualification types. It set out criteria that were to be met in order for any degree proposed to be considered as a qualification.

Mr Mpontshane referred to the increase of enrolments and graduates and asked if higher education institutions were willing to link up with high schools. The high schools were preparing students to enrol into higher education institutions, and he wanted to know what type of projects could be used to assist high schools.

Dr Qhobela replied that it was institutions that provided the teachers. Many institutions had relationships with high schools as forums to provide career guidance, and where teachers could get ideas to improve on their teaching.
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Adv A Gaum (ANC) was impressed by the targets set for enrolments and the agreements made with institutions. He asked how the DoE would ascertain whether these targets were not too low.

Dr Qhobela replied that there were targets proposed by institutions who were then requested to raise the proposals. The Council then submitted the modified targets as the targets of the institution and it would have to be reported on to the Minister.

Ms M Matsomela (ANC) asked if the DoE had encountered institutions that had gone beyond the set parameters, and if so, what was then the role of the DoE.

Dr Qhobela replied that if targets were exceeded it would be welcomed in terms of academic performance. A challenge would arise, however, if a target was set for enrolment and that was exceeded. If the institution entered into a private partnership the DoE would want to know if that impacted on the primary mandate of the institution, and if so then it would create a dilemma.

Adv Gaum asked if the DoE would be able to prevent the lowering of standards in terms of student outputs.

Dr Qhobela replied that there was no evidence of the lowering of standards. There was an external audit that would ascertain the quality of that institution and the graduates it produced.

Adv Gaum was pleased with the fact that the infrastructure had improved because of the injection of funds. He asked if the DoE was satisfied with the systems in place to ensure that funds were being utilised appropriately.

Ms Matsomela referred to the issue of the lack of doctorates. She asked what was being done to stimulate graduates and to create a conducive environment in order for graduates to proceed towards attaining PhD degrees.

Dr Qhobela replied that staff development relied on the leaders of the institutions. Heads of Department needed to be able to stimulate the staff in order for further study to be pursued. The DoE would attempt to encourage them, but ultimately it would be the institution that ensured that staff attained PhDs.

Ms Matsomela wanted to know what was being done to ensure equity when distributing funds amongst campuses.

Dr Qhobela replied that there were two levels. The first was that they had to be circumspect of figures set for the scarce skills. These were based on an institutional plan that had to be approved. Merged institutions had to deliver to the Minister an institutional operational plan that explained how the institutions were going to operate, and sometimes that would require the movement of facilities.

The Chairperson asked about the improved access and whether progress had been made in this area.

Dr Qhobela responded that in some instances the funding was only allocated in the previous year. It should also be noted that there was a small window of opportunity for physical change.

Ms Matsomela wanted to know if the DoE only provided funding or if they were actively participating in the infrastructural change, so that accountability could be determined.

Dr Qhobela replied that there had to be commitment from leadership across all systems. The University leadership, management and the Council had to work in consultation with the DoE. The DoE did a great deal of background work with the institution. After discussions and planning the funding would be set for a particular purpose. The DoE set up rigorous accountability measures to be able to account for all the public resources utilised. The management of the institution accounted to their council and the Council in turn accounted to the Minister.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) wanted to if there was there a broad framework to strengthen the quality and faculties of education.

Dr Qhobela replied that there were particular funds that went to faculties of education and the quality assurance of the higher education qualification. The Department needed to find ways to identify the priorities.

Mr Ntuli wanted to know what was being done to ensure retention of lecturers or professors with scarce skills.

Dr Qhobela hoped that he could return to the Committee and answer that question. There was background work being done to find ways to retain those with scarce skills.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) referred to the targets set specifically for the number of enrolments and asked if these were stated per institution.

Mr Mosala asked for an example of the appropriate steps that would be taken if an institution did not comply with the targets set.

Mr I Mfundisi (UCDP) asked what the consequences would be in higher learning institutions that were not properly equipped so as to meet the set targets.

Dr Qhobela replied that the DoE was always monitoring. There was a higher education information system that allowed the DoE to further monitor institutions. First the DoE would want an explanation, to better understand why targets could not be met. The funding framework was input and output based. There was an inducement, rather than punitive mechanisms.

Mr Mfundisi referred to the Fundisa Fund and noted that one of the criteria set for the beneficiaries was that they had to be in possession of an identity document. This meant that even a foreigner who had an identity document would be able to benefit from the Fundisa Fund.

Prof Mbudzeni Sibara, Chief Director: Higher Education: DoE, replied that the Fund was intended to encourage everyone to open up an account and save for a learner. The DoE hoped that because of their partnership with the bank their security system would be able to pick up discrepancies. Unfortunately there was a problem with the identity documents in the country.

Mr Mfundisi referred to the refurbishing of the residences and asked if it would not be better to increase the number of new residences.

Dr Qhobela replied that if there were unlimited resources then a complete new university would be built. However in reality there were limitations. The refurbishment was not a response to the increase of student enrolment, but rather an improvement of the way of life for students.

Mr Mfundisi noted that money was allocated to all universities including the merged universities. The amount allocated was R200 million, and this had to be distributed amongst the universities. However in the case of the merged University of Limpopo and Medunsa, only the University of Limpopo had received funds. He asked for clarification on the matter.

Dr Qhobela replied that an allocation to the University of Limpopo was intended for both campuses. The plan that the DoE had was not a finalised plan but it did include both campuses.

The Chairperson asked if the Fundisa Fund was trying to bridge the gap created by the middle-income group that could not get funding from NSFAS or the banks.

Prof Sibara replied that it was targeted at the middle-income group that was called “low earners”. It was believed that it was affordable and could accommodate all in this group.

Mr Mpontshane asked if the rumours revolving around university funds being capped were true.

Dr Qhobela replied that there was no capping of student numbers. However, there had to be assurances that there would be enough resources for the number of students enrolled. Institutions needed to work with the capacity of the available resources.

Ms Sibara added that students were not involved in the process of fee increments and were only informed of the fee increments. There was no detailed explanation to illustrate the rationale for fee increments. This was why there were mediators in two institutions where students were dissatisfied with the fee increments. The general problem of management and planning of funding remained an issue.

The Chairperson suggested that when the DoE presented again to the Committee they should discuss the fee increments and the retention of lecturers and professors.

Adoption of Reports
The Committee agreed to table and introduce both of its reports on the Study Tour to the People’s Republic of China and the Oversight Visit to the Eastern Cape, Mbizana (during People’s Assembly) to Parliament, where the Chairperson would highlight the important issues.

The meeting was adjourned.


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