Higher Education South Africa briefing; Teacher Assessment Manager System: African General Equity Group briefing

Basic Education

24 June 2008
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Meeting Summary

The African General Equity Group and Educational Resources addressed the Committee on a system called Assessment Manager, which was devised as an electronic system to assist with the recording and administering of assessments, which, in addition, provided a monitoring function at various levels. The project had been successfully piloted and was being used in many schools. Members asked questions about the compatibility with existing networks, affordability, the possibility of financial assistance, and whether there had been communication with the Department. Members would assess the level of support in their own constituencies and make a decision on the adoption of the system in due course.

Higher Education South Africa, a body representing 23 tertiary institutions in South Africa, briefed the Committee on the successes achieved in higher education, in terms of participation rates, completion of study, academic support programmes, and gradual increases in funding, both for students and institutions. The challenges were the high drop out rates, as high as 35% at some universities, relating mainly to first year students. Other concerns were the increasing costs, which were linked to institutions having to write off large amounts of fees each year, the lack of university readiness, the low throughput rate, declining qualifications of academics, and feelings of alienation, which were often acted out in violence. The body requested assistance from Parliament in incentivising the private sector to support institutions of learning, perhaps through tax incentives. Members asked how successful the mergers of institutions had been, the reasons for rising fees, which were contributing to the drop outs, whether there would be restructuring of programmes to accommodate students who were poorly prepared, efforts to support secondary school teaching, perceptions of South African graduates, the quality of staff, and whether language problems were contributory factors. Further clarity was sought on why funding for students seemed to be delayed, and whether universities were to cap fees.

Meeting report

Teachers’ Assessment system: African General Equity Group briefing
Ms Merle Werbeloff, Industrial Psychologist, Educational Resources, and Mr Reggie Naidoo, CEO, African General Equity Group, introduced the African General Equity Group (AGE) as a social investment company that had given its backing to educational resources as it felt that the system they had developed would reduce the administrative load of teachers.

Ms Werbeloff explained the workings of Assessment Manager by means of a PowerPoint presentation (see attached document). She noted that it had received overwhelming support from teachers so far. The programme was customised for every subject area, did all calculations and produced all documents required by the curriculum.  The added benefit was that it would allow statistics to be extrapolated at school, local, provincial or national level as desired. This would obviously facilitate accurate monitoring by all the role-players in education.

The benefit of the training model used by Educational Resources was that school administrators received two to three hours of training and could then become trainers themselves, to on-train the other teachers at their schools on the premises.  Support was provided through the existing structures at district and provincial level.

Adv A Gaum (ANC) asked whether the Department of Education (DoE) would purchase the programme for schools, and asked if the Western Cape Education Department had done so already. He also asked if the programme was compatible with existing systems used in all the provinces.

Mrs M Matsomela (ANC) asked if Education Resources would be able to support the programme in all schools through provincial, district and cluster structures. She was also desirous to know how successful it had been so far.

Mr I Mfundisi (ANC) asked for clarification on what Ms Werbeloff had meant by “reduced level of complexity” and asked what the unit cost of the programme was.

Mr Naidoo responded that the cost of R6 000 to R7 500 per school per year included the cost of a call centre for support purposes, but, depending on the number of schools buying in, a better price could be negotiated.

Ms Werbeloff reported that the Assessment Manager system worked well with the Khanya system, and it had been tested in a number of other provinces successfully. Support was initially very close, as was the case in the D7 district (Heidelberg and Vereeniging) and whatever ongoing support was needed could be provided. There were currently over one hundred very satisfied schools registered with her company.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) noted that provinces had their own training programmes and asked Mr Naidoo and Mrs Werbeloff to give their impression of the buy-in from the DoE. He also asked if the programme would be accessible to all schools in the long term and whether it would be affordable.

Mr Naidoo said that wide consultation had been done throughout the DoE and at the office of the DG, not to mention the Portfolio Committee on Education. On the question of affordability he said that with sufficient support from government he was convinced that he would be able to secure private sector funding through the AGE network.

Ms Werbeloff noted that she had recently seen the Director General, Mr Duncan Hindle and his team, and had worked closely with them to align the programme fully to their expectations. Currently the Western Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga were all considering proposals.

The Chairperson thanked the presenters and indicated that the Members would find out for themselves from their constituencies how the programme was working before they could endorse the programme.

Higher Education South Africa (HESA): Interaction on high dropout and low throughput rates, student support programme (SSP), funding, admission issues and student governance.
A delegation from Higher Education South Africa briefed the Committee on various matters.
Professor Theuns Eloff, Chairperson of HESA and Vice-Chancellor of North West University, explained that HESA was a unified body representing higher education in South Africa and that it was the voice of all twenty three tertiary institutions.

He began with the successes achieved in Higher Education, noting an increase in access to and numbers attending tertiary institutions. The participation rate for individuals between 18 and 24 years had increased from 14% to 18% currently, which was quite acceptable for a developing country. In terms of success rates: 70% of African students, 79% of coloured students and 85% of white students completed their undergraduate study. All universities offered some form of academic support, ranging from foundational knowledge to additional instruction in courses where the failure rate was high. There had also been a gradual but positive increase in funding, largely for infrastructure and scarce skills, driven by the Joint Initiative for Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA). Through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) there had also been an increase in student funding, which was welcome.

Challenges included high drop out rates, which were up to 35% at some universities. These figures related mostly to first year students who dropped out before June. The increasing cost of higher education, coupled with the need for tertiary institutions to write off a large portion of outstanding fees each year, was a pressing concern. There was lack of university readiness in applicants, especially in relation to Maths and Science. It was clear that students from all backgrounds read and wrote more poorly than they did five years ago.

There was a low throughput rate of about 18%. The relatively low academic qualifications of academic staff on average, the poor adaptation to the changing demographics of the student body, and the feeling of “institutional alienation” experienced by the students were further problems.  The fact that this was often expressed or acted out through violence was a cause of further concern. There remained the fact that white students still were more likely to complete their course of study, which was also worrying. 

Professor Eloff stated that the University of Venda had finally been connected to the internet this year, and although this was a positive development, it was sad that it had taken so long to reach this stage.

Prof Eloff said that HESA would greatly appreciate assistance from Parliament in incentivising the private sector to contribute to HE, by providing tax incentives and similar encouragement.

Adv Gaum asked how successful the mergers of institutions had been. There were still problematic divisions along racial lines, as evidenced by the situation earlier in the year in the Free State, but in Adv Gaum’s opinion this was largely due to the language policy. He asked for the views of HESA on how language teaching could not only promote various languages, but also promote racial harmony.

Prof Eloff replied candidly, in respect of the merged universities, that success was limited if one looked at bare statistics. This was, however, not the only criterion as it was of paramount importance for the democracy that integration occurred at all levels.

Mrs C Dudley (ACDP) asked if substance abuse was a cause for the high dropout rate and whether the lack of mother tongue learning was also a contributing factor.

Prof Eloff responded that no figures were available on substance abuse because those who dropped out were not present long enough for the universities to gather information.

Ms Matsomela asked HESA, and especially the Vice-Chancellors, why fees rose every year. She believed this explained the under-representation of black students.

Prof Loyiso Nongxa, Vice Chancellor, Wits University, noted that fees were a very complex question and only part of the financing equation. Other factors such as the exchange rate also influenced the equation.

Ms Matsomela asked if HESA intended structuring their programmes to accommodate poorly prepared students.

Mr Mfundisi asked whether universities had made an effort to align school and university syllabuses, and whether universities were being proactive in helping schools improve, especially in their Mathematics and Science teaching.

Prof Nongxa noted that preparedness was more than just an academic question, but it also included other factors such as maturity and economic and social factors.

Prof Lineo Mazwi-Tanga ,Vice-Chancellor, CPUT, was adamant that addressing the lack of preparedness of new students by tweaking the curricula of universities was akin to accepting mediocrity. The aim should be to support proper teaching and learning in schools. Universities were active in schools and supported Mathematics and Science teaching especially. Prof Mazwi-Tanga insisted that that South Africa should not accept under-preparedness as a norm, but seek to eradicate it.

Prof Nongxa agreed and said that companies in South Africa and overseas must have total confidence in South African graduates. He also agreed with Prof Mazwi-Tanga that every university had a form of outreach to local schools.

Mr Boinamo asked how South African graduates were perceived overseas.

Prof Nongxa replied that the Chairman of Tata Corporation in India told him that the quality of South African graduates was the prime factor that persuaded him to invest in our country.

Ms Matsomela noted that the problems with student governance seemed to her to be a result of rules not being implemented by administrators.

Mr G Boinamo (DA) expressed the concern that every year funds intended for the financial assistance of students were rolled over.

Mr Boinamo asked how the quality of staff at previously disadvantaged institutions could be improved.

Prof Eloff noted that HESA was a voluntary organisation and therefore it could not discipline its members. It could only make use of “peer pressure”.

Mr S Mfundisi (ANC) believed that the representivity in the governance of universities must be addressed.

Mr Mosala asked how the universities were dealing with students who felt excluded because of the language policy at certain universities. He asked what mechanisms were in place to prevent the high dropout levels. He noted wryly that certain student leaders had assumed the status of traditional leaders as they had been at university for so many years through continually failing their courses. 

Prof Eloff then replied to questions surrounding the high dropout rates. He said that there were four main reasons: a lack of financial support, lack of family support, an alienating institutional culture, and the question of language. From a staffing point of view one of the main reasons for the fall out of staff was poor pay. The government could assist by channelling new funding to academic staff. The university system had grown by a third but the staff complement had not kept pace. It was, however, problematic to give a blanket increase. He suggested that it would be necessary to introduce some form of appraisal system to facilitate this.

In terms of broadening of access Prof Eloff noted that 74% of the tertiary system was black, and this was no longer a problem. However, the campuses were over-full and new buildings and infrastructure were urgently needed to procure broader access.

Prof Eloff agreed that no nonsense should be tolerated from students, and that most universities had rules that students who continued to fail were not allowed to continue on the Students Representative Council. The issue of language was indeed a vexed one, but the support of the Minister of Education was welcome in terms of promoting mother tongue education. Language could be used as an integrating rather than divisive factor, if simultaneous instruction was practised, with different language groups in the same class. It would also be desirable to promote indigenous languages in each region.

The Chairperson posed a question regarding NSFAS, asking why students were not getting their funds after they qualified for aid, until June, or even later in some cases.

Prof Eloff agreed that this was criminal and largely due to bad management.

Prof Mazwi-Tanga added that the situation was actually more complex, because although many students were aware of the existence of NSFAS before they came to university they would not supply the documentary proof required until after the first semester in June. In most cases funds were withheld because of a lack of documentation.

Prof Eloff added that universities could not carry the burden of these write-offs of fees, and if more funding was provided for students, then universities would be more liquid.

Mr Boinamo asked whether universities agreed on the proposal to cap fees.

Prof Nongxa answered that the Minister was making a study and would give the results to HESA when it was finished.

The meeting was adjourned.


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