National Qualifications Framework Bill, Higher Education Amendment Bill, General & Further Education & Training Quality Assurance Amendment Bill: public hearings

Basic Education

30 July 2008
Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee heard submissions from the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants; the Catholic Institute of Education; BUSA; the South African Teachers’ Union; and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) on the National Qualifications Framework Bill and the linked legislation, the Higher Education Amendment Bill and the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Amendment Bill.

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants expressed concern around the registration of professional designations on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). It felt that the proposed Quality Councils may lead to a fragmented approach to the quality assurance of education and workplace-based learning. It noted that the proposed transitional arrangements would conflict with the provisions of the draft amended Skills Development Act.

The Catholic Institute of Education recommended designing a NQF for lifelong learning. It noted that the previous framework had not been successful, and that the concept of notional education and training time must be more flexible. Alternative wording was suggested for definitions of “learning”, “education “ and “Minister”, and for the Preamble, clauses 5 and 28.

Business Unity South Africa submitted that there must be only one NQF to ensure a single unitary system. The removal of accountability for quality assurance from the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), was questioned, as this should coordinate the work of the quality councils. Although the submission supported the quality councils, it believed the division of the NQF into sub-frameworks had the potential for fragmentation, and a clear distinction between the framework levels and quality councils was necessary. Amendments were suggested to the proposed sections 7 and 8(d).

The Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie suggested that the wording of the Bill must be brought in line, as the objectives should reflect a coordinated rather than integrated framework, alternatively that if the wording not change then the framework should be described in greater detail with the emphasis. There was a need to stress the importance of academic disciplines in the setting of standards. It was proposed that ideally Teacher Unions should be represented on the Quality Councils; but that at the very least there should be consultations with teachers in practice. Finally, the Union was concerned about the constitutional implications of two Ministers being given executive responsibility, and suggested that legal opinion be obtained on this point.

The Higher Education South Africa welcomed this further evolution of the NQF, welcomed the provisions made for SAQA in Clause 14 and for Quality Councils in Clause 28, but requested that consideration be given to ensuring that the Bill properly defined the relative roles of the four major players. There was still a need to ensure that the domains of the three Quality Councils were clearly demarcated. There was a need to ensure that the way in which professional bodies operated, particularly in respect of the registration of professional designations, ensured the appropriate demarcation of roles.

The Health Professions Council of South Africa made a detailed submission that there should be automatic recognition of Statutory Councils and their roles. However, an integrated model should oblige Statutory Councils and proposed Quality Councils in the Bill to cooperate with each other and for them to comply with NQF principles. That would ensure that the spirit of the Bill was carried through, and that there would not be fragmentation. It further submitted that there were certain areas needing to be further strengthened. Comments were also raised on the preceding submissions, of Higher Education South Africa, but it was pointed out that the legal ramifications of those submissions would have to be thought through as the roles of different professional bodies differed; for instance the health sector had a number of councils who did have to assess the content of the academic qualifications and ensure that those qualifications were equipping the graduates with the necessary skills.  Changes were proposed to clause 29, depending upon how the professional bodies were to be defined, and the Council would be happy to provide a written proposal.

The South African Qualifications Authority proposed a number of changes to the Bill, in support of the principles that the NQF was a single integrated framework and that all new structures should have a meaningful role with clear responsibilities assigned. It also suggested some instances, set out in the detailed presentation, in which the role of SAQA itself needed to be strengthened, and stressed that there should be consistency across all the pieces of legislation.

Questions raised by Members related to clarification of the specific points raised by each submission.


Meeting report

National Qualifications Framework Bill, Higher Education Amendment Bill  & General And Further Education And Training Quality Assurance Amendment Bill]: Public Hearings

South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Submission
Mr Nazeer Wadee, Chief Operating Officer, SAICA, briefed the Committee on the role of the SAICA. He stressed the distinction between the academic qualification alone, and the designation as chartered accountant, which also involved practical training and professional examinations. 

Ms Adri Kleinhans, Project Director: Training, SAICA, explained the qualification process further, and added that the designation was subject to ongoing requirements. Although the qualification was retained for life, the practising status was not, as a chartered accountant (similar to other professions) would have to comply with various post qualification structures such as a code of conduct, and disciplinary action and disbarment could result from non-compliance. SAICA would wish to see  more improvement in integration and coordination between the Education and the Training side.

Mr R van den Heever (ANC) noted the importance of professional qualifications and wondered whether the Bill did not try broadly to address this. He noted that SAICA had asked for addition of a fourth sub framework for professional qualification, in addition to the existing frameworks for  general and further education and training, higher education; and trades and occupation. He noted that these sub frameworks tried to incorporate the area of professional qualifications. He would like to hear what the State Law Advisers of the Department would say but he thought that perhaps the Act did in fact adequately cater for the professional qualifications emphasis placed by SAICA.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) added that the objects of the Act stated very clearly that the Act applied to qualifications offered by professional institutions, skills development providers and professional qualifications. He thought that was broad enough to encompass what was being suggested.

Catholic Institute of Education (CIE) Submission
Mr Kevin Roussel, Advocacy Officer, CIE, briefed the Committee on the role of the Catholic Institute of Education and the overriding concern towards the further development, reorganisation and governance of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). He stated that the Bill was in danger of rearranging current framework and responsibilities without providing clearer mandates. Although it might meet the objectives of organisation and governance but may be lacking in developing the NQF. The CIE therefore recommended that an NQF for lifelong learning be designed, that there must be a means of measuring the volume of education and training to meet national standards, and that design rules should govern the structure of qualifications.

Mr Mark Potterton, Director, CIE, stated that although interventions to date had done away with racial differentiation in schooling, there was still distinction from the socio economic standpoint across the educational system, The outcomes-based curriculum had not improved quality in the system. The shortage of skilled workers was a challenge to economic growth in South Africa.

Mr Potterton gave the historical background to the NQF, which was intended to transform the disparate education and training system. However, the policy had failed as the proliferation of its structures and its architecture were confusing and resulted in duplication. There was some conflict of interest and confusion about government policy, and this had resulted in a “one size fits all” approach. This Bill did affirm the authority of government, and had streamlined the quality assurance councils (QCs). However, it was recommended that education and labour market interests, independent occupational and professional bodies must be represented. Any standards of these bodies should remain with them, but advance NQF objectives

The CIE therefore made recommendations to replace the definition of “learning” with “lifelong learning”, and that a new definition of “education and training” be given. Instead of referring to the “Minister”, the Bills should refer to the “Member of Cabinet responsible for Education” to be consistent with other legislation. A new wording for the preamble was suggested, with lifelong learning being the focus. New wording was also suggested to clause 5(3)(b) to ensure regional integration, and 28(k)(i)

Mr G Boinamo (DA) commented that the current system was trying to address lifelong learning in trying to move away from the previous system of education, where a learner might pass matriculation examinations knowing very little. The current system of education was looking at providing learners with skills.

Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) Submission
Mr Vusi Mabena, Chair, Education & Training, BUSA, noted that although BUSA were not specialists in education they were very concerned with and related to specific Quality Councils. He submitted that there must always be only one NQF to ensure a single unitary system. BUSA was concerned about the removal of accountability for quality assurance from the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which should be regarded as an apex body, and which should coordinate the work of the quality councils.  It supported the quality councils. However, the division of the NQF into sub-frameworks had the potential to fragment the NQF, and it was important to clearly distinguish between the NQF levels and the QCs. Therefore the new sections 7 and 8(d) must be clarified. Similar clarification would be needed also in the other two Bills.

Mr van den Heever referred to general comments and concerns about the potential removal of the accountability of Quality Assurance from SAQA. In the explanatory memorandum, under the topic of simplification, there was an outline of the statutory Quality Assurance bodies that had been added to work within the SAQA system.  He noted the concern about potential removal of accountability, but pointed out that this function would not be lost, but would be taken care of by other bodies.

Mr Mosala referred to the concern around substitution of SAQA sub frameworks, but said that clause 12, read with clause 14, addressed that and that  realignment also created better cooperation.

Mr B Mkongi (ANC) followed up on the question of Quality Assurance being outsourced from SAQA to QCs.
He noted that the SAQA Board had representations relating to everything that the QCs would be doing, and there was information around the relationship between them. The NQF implementation would be the responsibility of three Sectoral Quality Councils, which would act in close liaison with each other and with SAQA. He thought that there was continuity throughout the Bill.

Mr Mabena responded that BUSA had realised that SAQA as a body might not necessarily have the capacity to deal with all that was required for qualification issues. Therefore the NQF should be coordinated by Quality Councils. Although BUSA appreciated that the CEOs of the three Quality Councils would sit on the SAQA Board, it still did not have confidence that SAQA could deal with issues, especially in view of the past uncertainty. The sub-frameworks had the potential to create other long drawn out processes; hence the suggestion for one NQF coordinated by three quality councils.

Adv A Gaum (ANC) said the Bill did not state that there would be three NQFs, and mention was made of sub frameworks. He asked why therefore the BUSA proposal would make a difference, as it did not seem to answer the concerns of sub-frameworks that it had raised.

Mr Mabena responded within the current system, SAQA and QCs existed. The confusion would come in if three other councils, with the same legal status as SAQA, were created, because SAQA’s role then simply became that of receiving developed qualifications and registering them in the NQF. Between the QCs and SAQA there might be deadlocks or disagreements that could delay the registration process of qualifications. Sub-frameworks were problematic in concept. 

Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie (SAOU) Submission
Mr Steve Roux, President, Suid Afrikaanse Onderwysers Unie, and Dr Gustav Niebuhr, Head: Curriculum Services: SAOU, ) briefed the committee on SATU’s submission, noted that the Union was concerned with the intention of the Bill, the representivity of the SAQA Board and Quality Councils, and the responsibilities of the Ministers. The SAQA Act had adopted a programmes approach, whereas this Bill provided a systems approach. They outlined why the NQF had failed to perform as expected under the previous legislation, and said that it would similarly not perform under this Bill because the Bill did not give SAQA the powers to ensure the co-operation of the Quality Councils, the description of the NQF and its levels was inadequate, the descriptors would have to be reduced to levels acceptable to all, and there was not sufficient emphasis on the importance of the academic disciplines in the setting of standards.

The Union said that the objectives should envisage the NQF as a national framework of co-ordinated, but not integrated, sub-frameworks for learning achievements, and that SAQA should rather be given more authority over the QCs. Teachers should be represented on all quality councils, through their unions.

In relation to the responsibility of the Ministers, the Union pointed out that the proposed section 9 provided that the Minister of Education and the Minister of Labour had responsibilities. The Union was not sure whether this was Constitutionally acceptable, and whether it might not impact negatively on functioning of the system, and suggested that legal advice be taken.

Mr Mkongi noted the comment around “authority” for SAQA, but questioned what type of authority was envisaged, and whether this related to quality assurance or governance. He also commented that sectors had been approached in relation to quality councils, and surely sub-frameworks would have their own programmes. He believed that there was a contradiction in the suggestion that the NQF, which was common to all three QCs, should be implemented as a sub-framework. 

Mr Mosala felt the presentation raised valid points. It should be expected that the Ministers concerned should involve the key stakeholders at each level of QCs. He asked whether, in relation to form, it was envisaged that the Unions would suggest candidates or whether the Minister would appoint, probably in consultation with leadership of teachers. He said that the focus had been on quality assurance, so the issue should be the appointment of teachers with the necessary competences to ensure quality. Unions would be carrying a mandate but he was concerned about inefficiency.

Mr Roux said, in relation to the authority for SAQA, that this was not so much concerned with governance of the QCs, because they could function in the best way in accordance with the work to be done, but that the framework of governance must be set by some authority. The manner of doing so was not as important as the fact that the framework must be present.

He clarified that the Union said that the main point of departure from the SAQA Act was around programmes, as this Bill seemed to focus on sectors. Programme development should still form the core of the activity of the Quality Councils but at the overall level there had been a shift from programmes towards sectors, and the objectives must be borne in mind to ensure that these and the content of the Bill harmonised.

Mr Roux said that if, for instance, the Engineering sector or the Pharmacy sector wanted to develop a qualification, they  should be using the same unit standards for physics within that qualification rather than attempting to develop their own. Currently unit standards were set for languages and mathematics, but there were more disciplines at play that must be taken into account lest there be a proliferation of qualifications.

Mr Roux welcomed the support for teacher representation, but said that the form of it was important. Teachers at classroom level best knew the needs of the learners and their problems and the basics that must be addressed. Teacher unions did not necessarily have to sit on the Councils but the Councils should know that if structures were established for the development of programmes in the education sector then teacher involvement was essential. Although teachers sitting on the Councils would be the “first prize” consultation would also be acceptable. The consultative approach set out in the Bill must remain, but the Unions believed there must also be visible involvement of the teacher sector.

Prof Mayatula warned that the Committee had not supported the representations as yet.

In relation to the comment that objectives should be contained in a coordinated, but not integrated framework, Mr Roux clarified that the term “integrated” should be removed from the objectives, as in effect  the Bill proposed a coordinated system. He was proposing consistency in the wording.

Higher Education South Africa (HESA) Submission
A joint submission was presented by representatives of Higher Education South Africa - Mr Yunus Ballim, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic, Wits University; Dr Duma Malaza, CEO: HESA; and Mr Hugh Amoore, Registrar, UCT. It was noted that HESA supported the ten level NQF for the classification, registration, publication, registration and articulation of Quality Assured national qualifications. It welcomed the Bill’s proposal for three coordinated sub frameworks and also the distinct nomenclature for qualifications. It also welcomed the provision for the proposal for the registration of professional designations, which would enhance the value of the legislation.

However, HESA had some concerns. It saw one major function of the Bill as being to define the relative roles of the four groups involved in this process. SAQA had the role of coordinating or integrating the qualifications. SAQA’s role was provided for in Clause 14 of the Bill, the three Quality Councils were provided for in Chapter 6, clause 28, and the educational institutions played a part. The roles of those four groups, and of the different players within each group, must be properly defined. The domains of the Quality Councils must be clear, particularly the relative domains of the Quality Council for Occupation and Trades on the one hand and the Quality Council for Higher Education on the other.

The relationship between Quality Councils and Higher Education institutions and between professional bodies must be clearly delineated.  HESA saw the key function of a professional body as definition of the exit competencies for professional licensing in the profession, but did not believe they should be concerned with Quality Assurance and accreditation for academic qualifications. This needed to be made clear. HESA welcomed the registration of professional designations, as it would contribute to public understanding and confidence in those designations, but cautioned against overstepping by professional bodies of the academic qualification roles. For instance, the Health Professions Council of South Africa was a statutory body with professional licensing responsibilities, which had to determine the exit competencies for qualifications and other standards, including professional behaviour. He clarified where the relative accreditations would lie, and HESA believed that the quality assurance and accreditation roles must be strengthened by the Higher Education Quality Council (HEQC).

The role of Quality Councils was well defined in Clause 28of the Bill, but standard settings should be included as an explicit function.

In respect of the Higher Education Quality Framework (HEQF), Mr Amoore said that this had been developed after extensive consultation, but HESA was concerned that although it should be an evolving framework, there was no mechanism in clause 36 for the amendment of the HEQF as promulgated, and recommended that allowance be made for this.

Adv Gaum noted the argument that professional bodies should define exit competencies for professional licensing and should not be involved in Quality Assurance for qualifications. He noted that different professional bodies had differing requirements. He noted that the SAICA had argued that professional qualifications should be registered, but not professional designations, which differed in a number of ways. The international position was that professional qualifications were required to be registered, but not professional designations. He asked for HESA’s comment on the distinction between professional qualifications and professional designations.

Mr Amoore responded that HESA believed it was appropriate for the professional body to specify the professional experience required over and above the academic qualification required before an aspirant professional had to have as one of the prerequisites.  For instance, a professional engineer, in order to get a  Pr Eng status, would require an academic qualification registered with the Council for Higher Education. Whatever the professional body required by way of practical training or professional experience was clearly a matter for it to decide.  HESA’s concern was with the QA and accreditation process of the academic qualification only.

In respect of the registration of designations, he believed there was a distinction between registration of the professional designation, and the right to practise. It was important that the HCQF created clearly understood qualifications. The registration of professional designations would create order. A Chartered Accountant may only use this professional designation provided he or she remained registered with the professional body. Amongst other things, this would require payment of annual fees and adherence to the professional code of conduct. The registration of the designation with SAQA meant there was a clear understanding of what those professional designation meant.

Mr Ballim added that it was important for the Act to recognise that each of those bodies performed separate but complementary functions. The professional body had the right to accredit and acknowledge professional standing. The University’s task was to produce graduates, having accorded to them the types of degrees that would allow them to start their professional training as engineers, doctors, lawyers. The Act was trying to protect the separateness as well as to encourage the complementarities. A current clause in the Bill required QCs to cooperate, but HESA believed that clause 29(1) could be expanded to define the relative domains of the QC.

Mr Ballim added that the Wits submission also included reports and comments on Public Works, and Wits was concerned that the Higher Education Bill should allow for concerns to be expressed around the issues such as the Department of Public Works’ proposal, which would in effect create a Higher Education qualification from another entity, through the establishment of effective Quality Assurance Professional Council.

The Chair asked exactly what was the proposal, pointing out that it would have assisted the Committee to have a written proposal before it.

The deputation asked for time to formulate their proposal.

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
Adv Boyce Mkhize, Registrar, Health Professions Council of South Africa and Adv Tshepo Boikanyo, General Manager, Legal Services, HPCSA, made a submission that they indicated was also supported by four other professional health councils; namely the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa, the Dental Technicians Council, the South African Nursing Council, and the Pharmacists Council. These statutory councils were empowered to set standards in terms of education and training but also to engage in quality assurance processes.

The HPCSA Act was recently amended and in terms of that amendment the Health Professions Council was deemed as a quality assurer in its own domain.

HPCSA supported the spirit of the Bill with the object to integrate processes and structures involved in the setting and maintenance of educational standards as well as Quality Assurance. However, it had concerns that this Bill did not carry forward the spirit contained in the HEQF of 2007 in terms of policies. There would be automatic recognition of the organisations that were statutory bodies, such as the Health Professions Council.

The Bill sought to rationalise structures in QA, but inadvertently created conflict of laws by overlooking the existing statutorily mandated Quality Councils in the professions, including health and engineering sectors.  The Bill thus inadvertently perpetuated the fragmentation of structures in Quality Assurance rather than creating integration. One of the major difficulties was illustrated by the presentation from HESA, because the definition of what constituted a professional body was in itself unclear. This made the purport of clause 29 unclear for the HPCSA. There should be amplification of definitions and a clear distinction between statutory professional bodies and loose associations or coalitions of professionals that did not have a statutory status.

HPCSA recommended that there should be automatic appreciation of Statutory Councils. It should provide for an integrated model which would obligate Statutory Councils and proposed Quality Councils in the Bill to cooperate with each other. Statutory councils and any other structures involved in quality assurance processes should comply with NQF principles. The Bill must make provision for cooperative agreements between the Quality Councils and Statutory Councils, so that these agreements would be legislatively mandated. This would ensure that the spirit of the Bill was carried out, and ensure cooperation rather than fragmentation. 

Adv Mkhize commented on the submission from HESA in relation to professional bodies. He said that there were some legal and practical difficulties still needing to be interrogated, including where the academic qualification ended and the exit outcomes determination began. For instance, the HPCSA was enjoined to look at the substance of the academic medical qualification, because it was that formative theoretical substance that informed the clinical competence that the practitioner would have. The model needed to be thought through. The existing legislation of some of the councils did not make any distinction between the exit outcomes and the overall qualification, which was viewed as an integrated process.

The HPCSA recommended that within the existing NQF legislation there should be some model recognising the respective contribution of the structures; for instance that the CHE be maintained in higher education, the Statutory Councils be recognised in the Bill, but ensure that they were required to enter cooperative arrangements.  It would be happy to engage with the technical drafters to suggest precise formulations

Adv Gaum noted Adv Mkhize had mentioned that the Bill tried to integrate academic qualifications and professional exit outcomes, but asked whether HPCSA was happy with the way the Bill was doing so, or whether there should be a clearer distinction between the academic qualifications and the exit outcomes required by professional bodies.

Adv Mkhize responded that the HPCSA thought that the Bill’s provisions in respect of academic qualifications were sufficient, but that the distinctions were not always clear. This was why it was suggesting that the Bill must look at the respective roles of the structures involved in the maintenance, accreditation and recognition of that qualification. The relevant parties would have to spell out mechanisms on how to do so in practice. The cooperation model should actually be reflected in the Bill so that there was clearly articulated cooperation between CHE and the Quality Council on Higher Education as well as Statutory Councils who were responsible for QA in their profession’s specific qualification domain.

Adv Gaum asked whether the medical profession should be distinguished from some of the other professions, since the medical profession did not require an additional professional qualification or exit outcome.

Adv Mkhize said there would be different processes. In the health sphere there were twelve Professional Boards under the overarching HPCSA, and all professions were registered and licensed on the basis of the academic qualifications, which also became the basis of recognising their competence in certain areas. Therefore determinations were made as to what needed to be covered in the curriculum. In the health sector the licensing and academic requirements were more clearly integrated. 

The Chairperson asked where that was located in the Bill.

Adv Mkhize submitted that there were certain areas that may need further strengthening in the Bill. For instance, automatic recognition of the structures such as the Statutory Councils was not really explicit in the Bill, and he suggested that a new provision should be introduced to cover this issue. The model of cooperation between the existing Statutory Councils and the Quality Councils that were proposed in the Bill should be defined and set up. Clause 29(1) that dealt with professional bodies may need further amplification, depending on how the professional bodies were defined. There needed to be a very clear distinction between professional bodies and professional associations as opposed to statutory organisations such as the HPCSA. He would be happy to make written proposals on the drafting. .
South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) Submission
Prof Shirley Walters, Chairperson, SAQA, presented SAQA’s submission. There were concerns that not all the quality councils would be operational at the time of the proposed implementation, and this could lead to uneven NQF implementation. Any changes must be reflected across all three bills. Two proposed changes were suggested for the NQF Bill. It was noted that the NQF was a single integrated framework and all new structures should have a meaningful role with clear responsibilities assigned. It was suggested that the HEQF be defined in clause 7. In Clause 9 disputes should be clarified as “legal disputes” . IN clause 12 there was a proposal that the sub frameworks be coordinated. In clause 14, SAQA should oversee implementation of the NQF, and technical changes were suggested (see attached presentation). Additions were suggested to clause 14 to strengthen SAQA’s monitoring and research role, its responsibility for policy and criteria and to develop navigational tools. In clause 28 certain words should be deleted to align the clauses on QCs with the changes to SAQA functions, and to clarify roles and responsibilities.  In addition the decision as to the format of data submission should reside with SAQA as the oversight body. 

Members did not raise questions.

The Chairperson noted that the Bill would be tabled in Parliament in the week commencing 18 August.

The meeting was adjourned.

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