The Director-General of Education briefed the Committee on the National Qualifications Framework Bill. This was the primary bill of a set of three bills. The other two were amendment bills amending the Higher Education Act and the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act.
The Bill aimed to deal with the fragmentation in the sector and referred to the creation of a new Quality Council, the Trades and Occupations Quality Council, which would stand alongside the existing General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Council (Umalusi) and the Quality Council for Higher Education.
The Bill would also empower the South African Qualifications Authority to centralise Quality Assurance and become an “apex organisation” in the sector. The Sector Training and Education Authorities were currently accredited to be Education Training Quality Assurance bodies. This function would now move to the Quality Councils. The Quality Councils could still utilise the SETAs in order to do quality assurance, but as a delegated function.
The members asked questions about possible conflict between the three Quality Councils and possibly between the Ministers of Education and Labour. The Director General of Education and its Head of Legal Services were, however, quite confident that there would be little conflict and the Minister of Education had been given a structure with which to address any conflict. It should also be kept in mind that although the Minister of Labour was part of the process, the Minister of Education bore the primary responsibility.
The capacity of SAQA to implement the amendments was questioned but the members were again assured that this was not a problem. The session concluded with an agreement that a detailed briefing on the bills would be given on 29 July and public hearings would be held on 30 and 31 July 2008. The closing date for submissions would be 18 July 2008.
National Qualifications Framework Bill: briefing by Department of Education (DoE)
Mr Duncan Hindle (Director General: DoE), assisted by Mr Eben Boshoff (Legal Advisor: DoE) provided a broad overview of theBill. He indicated that the current Bill was the culmination of a process which had begun in 2001. He stressed that the DoE and Department of Labour had worked closely on the Bill.
The Bill aimed to address the current fragmented state of assessment in South Africa in which there were too many players and a resultant lack of direction. Currently, there were 30 quality assurance bodies which led to a lot of “shopping around” for certification. The Bill would establish South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) as a single “apex organisation” which would not only be responsible for all quality assurance but would also be a “thought leader”, ensuring through research that the skills offered by institutions actually match the requirements in the marketplace.
Mr Hindle highlighted important aspects of the Bill and areas where significant amendments had been made. He emphasised that in Chapter 2 one set of level descriptors for all sectors had been specified. Clause 7 introduced a new quality assurance body. General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Council (GENFETQA, also called Umalusi) and the Higher Education Quality Assurance Council would be joined by the Trades and Occupations Quality Council. In terms of responsibility, the DoE would have executive power over the former two, while the Department of Labour would, logically, have power over the latter.
Mr Hindle noted that NEDLAC had approved Chapter 4 of the Bill. Indeed, he was satisfied that a fairly broad consultation had taken place prior to the drafting of the Bill. Chapter 5 dealt specifically with the new legislation relating to the Quality Councils, adding the Trades and Occupations QC. Chapter 7 indicated that until the new SAQA Board had been appointed there would not be wholesale changes, rather an evolution. There was also a reference to this in the Memorandum.
Mr B Mosala (ANC) asked why it was necessary to have three organisations doing Quality Assurance.
Mr Hindle replied that in fact there was only one structure with three separate legs. SAQA would oversee the process while GENFETQA or Umalusi, for example, would do the actual quality assurance.
Mr R van den Heever said that he understood that the need for the Bill was to organise the sector, but why, he asked was it necessary to first pass the SAQA Act and then repeal it with the National Qualifications Framework Bill.
Mr Boshoff (Legal advisor) answered that while the previous act was aimed at developing the framework for education and training in South Africa, the focus now was on animating the framework by empowering its organs to do their work more efficiently.
Mr B Mthembu (ANC) asked what would become of professional bodies that provided training and did their own quality assurance.
Mr Boshoff answered that Umalusi made use of non-statutory professional bodies to provide expertise because of the uniqueness of certain professions, such as the legal or medical professions. They were referred to as UTWCs and are recognised for their value. The Bill acknowledges that while they would not perform the original quality assurance function, they could still be used in the process.
Mr Hindle added that the intention of SAQA was not to interfere but to coordinate the process.
Ms M Matsomela (ANC) asked how the three Quality Councils (QCs) would work together in practice.
Mr Hindle replied that he foresaw no real conflict as Umalusi currently experienced difficulty in assessing the technical field, hence the creation of the Trade and Occupations QC. Umalusi and the Council for Higher Education would continue to function more or less as they have so far.
Mr Boshoff continued that the lack of expertise in the technical field allowed people to shop around for quality assurance, compromising the level of training provided. It was imperative that the Department of Labour be empowered to perform this function by means of its own QC.
Mr B Mthembu (ANC) was rather uncomfortable that there still existed a potential for conflict between the Ministers of Education and Labour.
Mr Hindle said that while there might be some overlap, workplace training would be the responsibility of the Department of Labour. In any industry there were always grey areas but the fact that the Minister of Education was primarily responsible would eliminate most conflict. It must be noted that in terms of the Bill, the Minister of Labour should always consult with the Minister of Education on issues relating to education and training.
The Chairperson asked whether Umalusi had the capacity to assess FET colleges.
Mr Hindle replied that broadly speaking the answer was that it did.
Mr Boshoff added that Clause 7 indicated that the council may assume its functions progressively, which would allow the Minister to provide capacity where it was lacking.
The Chairperson asked where the SETAS would turn to if they wished to contest the removal of their powers.
Mr Boshoff replied that any contestation would take place in the Labour Court.
Ms Matsomela asked whether SAQA would have the necessary authority to exert its proposed role in coordinating the sector.
Mr Hindle replied that education, higher education and the technical sector were currently working well together and though problems might occur in future, the prognosis was good at the moment. To this Mr Boshoff added that Clause 9 gave the Minister a structure by which to resolve disputes. The two representatives of the DoE then informed the Committee that most of the amendments were not wholesale changes but merely small alterations which clarify, or improve upon the existing Act.
The Chairperson agreed but expressed his view that the Committee must have a clear understanding of all the changes and their ramifications.
Ms Matsomela suggested – to general agreement – that a session was needed in which the changes were listed specifically and compared with the existing Act.
Mr Hindle undertook to provide a table in which the relevant sections of the existing Act were compared to the amendments in the current Bill. This was warmly received by the Committee
The Chairperson proposed public hearings on the Bill on 30 and 31 July 2008. The closing date for all submissions would be 18 July 2008. Another detailed briefing on the Bill was proposed for 29 July.
After approving the minutes of past meetings since March, the Committee adjourned.
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