Consideration of Amendments to National Qualifications Framework Bill & General &Further Education & Training Quality Assurance Amendrment Bill, hearings on 2007/08 Annual Reports of National Student Financial Aid Scheme, South African Council of Educator

Basic Education

17 November 2008
Chairperson: Prof S Mayatula (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Chief Director: Legal Services, Department of Education presented technical amendments to the National Qualifications Framework Bill and the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Amendment Bill.  The amendments to both Bills were agreed to by the Committee and the Bills were approved (with amendments).

The Chief Executive Officer of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme briefed the Committee on the organisation’s 2007/08 annual report.  The Scheme provided financial assistance to impoverished students to further their studies at tertiary institutions and Further Education and Training facilities.  The Scheme administered funds totaling R1.8 billion and was the agency to channel funding from the Department of Education to FET colleges.  A total of 113000 students were assisted during the year under review.  A total of R479 million was recovered from student loans.  R258 million was made available for training and bursaries in scarce skills subjects.  The Scheme received an unqualified audit report from the Auditor-General.

Members’ questions pertained to the disparity in awards granted for studies at FET colleges and at universities, the awareness amongst students of NSFAS services, the relatively low percentage of awards to women students in commerce and science, the high drop-out rate and the need to amend the NSFAS Act to allow further access to SARS databases.

The Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the Council on Higher Education briefed the Committee on the Council’s 2007/08 annual report.  The Council conducted research, played a monitoring and evaluation role and provided advice to the Minister of Education on matters pertaining to higher education.  Total revenue amounted to R32.4 million, of which R29.4 million was in the form of Government grants from the Department of Education.

Members asked questions about the extensive use made of external consultants, the availability of task team reports, the disparity between previously disadvantaged institutions and other universities and the effects of the merging of institutions.

The Chairperson of the South African Council of Educators presented an outline of the current issues being dealt with by the Council: the recognition of teachers, the adverse conditions under which teachers worked and which were not conducive to quality of teaching, the threat to the safety of educators and the dress code for teachers.  The issues scheduled for discussion at the next Council meeting included a zero-tolerance policy on sexual relations between teachers and learners, the status of the implementation of the teacher development system, an opinion on the outcomes-based education system and the re-introduction of teacher training colleges.  The Chief Executive Officer briefed the Committee on the Council’s 2007/08 annual report.  The major objectives of the Council involved the registration of teachers, the professional development of teachers and the professional ethics of teachers.  A surplus of R9 million was applied to the purchase of premises for the Council.  The Council expressed concern over the delay in receiving funds from the Department of Education for the Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) project.

Members’ questions pertained to the SACE magazine distributed to teachers, the meaning of “teachers in good standing” applied in the registration of teachers, the efficacy of alternative discipline in schools, the enforcement of the legal requirement for the registration of teachers and the action taken to ensure that provincial Departments of Education submitted misconduct reports to SACE.

Meeting report

Consideration of amendments to the National Qualifications Framework Bill [B33-2008]
Adv Eben Boshoff (Chief Director: Legal Services, Department of Education) took the Committee through the amendments to the Bill.  The amendments were of a technical nature to correct errors in spelling and in cross-references, unfortunately discovered only after the Bill was published.

The Committee agreed to the amendments to clauses 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 27, 29, 30 and 31 and approved the Bill (with amendments).

Consideration of amendments to the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Amendment Bill [B35-2008]
Adv Boshoff took the Committee through the amendments to clause 7 of the Bill.  The amendments corrected two cross-references contained in the clause.

The Committee agreed to the amendments to clause 7 and approved the Bill (with amendments).

Briefing by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)
Mr Pragasen Naicker (Chief Executive Officer, NSFAS) briefed the Committee on the organisation’s annual report for the 2007/08 financial year (see attached document).  NSFAS provided financial aid to financially needy students.

The Scheme administered funds totaling R1.8 billion in 2007/08, including R100 million allocated by the Department of Education for student bursaries at Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.  93% of awards were made to black students.  113000 students were assisted in the 2007 academic year.  Student loans totaling R479 million were repaid to NSFAS during the year under review.  The percentage of doubtful debt was 23.2%.  The provision for doubtful debt was contingent on the loan recovery rate and the mortality rate.  The effects of HIV/AIDS on the mortality rate of students could not be determined.

The amount of funding available for scarce skills was increased substantially to R258 million.  An amount of R33 million of general education funding allocations was not utilised.  The reasons for non-utilisation of funding and the measures taken to address the issue were included.

The Scheme received an unqualified audit report from the Auditor-General but was required to compile a fraud prevention plan encompassing all the fraud prevention measures already in place.  The increase in funds for administration resulted in pressure on the organisation’s systems and a new IT platform was under development.

Discussion
Mr R Van den Heever (ANC) congratulated NSFAS on the unqualified audit report by the Auditor-General.  He requested clarity on the relevance of HIV/AIDS on student mortality rates.

Mr R Ntuli (ANC) commented on the disparity of funding made available for studies at universities and at FET colleges.  FET’s received only 10% of the amount of funding granted to universities.  He said that the high drop-out rate resulted in students being unprepared for studying at universities.  He felt that the FET’s and teacher training colleges needed to be strengthened in order to meet the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGISA) targets and the economic needs of the country.

Mr B Mosala (ANC) was concerned that prospective students were unaware of the financial assistance provided by NSFAS.  He requested that NSFAS intensified its strategy to increase the number of awards granted to impoverished students.

Ms A Ndlazi (ANC) remarked that many students were unable to afford the registration fees charged by tertiary institutions.  She asked if NSFAS was able to assist poor students in this regard.

The Chairperson explained that an understanding was reached in 2005 between the Department of Education and tertiary institutions to address the issue of payment of registration fees by impoverished students.  He noted that only 8% of commerce and 1% of science student applicants were women and asked for further clarity on the low percentages.  He requested clarity on the comment made in the annual report of the need to review the NSFAS Act in order to gain access to the South African Revenue Service (SARS) databases.

In reply to Mr Van den Heever’s question, Mr Naicker said that HIV/AIDS was only one of the factors impacting on mortality rates.  The Chairperson commented that the reference to HIV/AIDS in the presentation implied that the HIV status of students could be a factor in the granting of loans.  Mr Naicker conceded that the issue should not have been included in the presentation.

Mr Naicker said that the high drop-out rate was a national problem.  NSFAS needed to address the issue by getting involved at school level.  Students became aware of NSFAS only when they were registering at tertiary institutions.  Information about NSFAS and the demand for scarce skills needed to be available when students made their subject choices.  NSFAS was engaged in extending the outreach to schools and non-governmental organisations (NGO’s).  NFSAS planned to increase its outreach to rural communities and made this objective a strategic driver.

On the issue of female students, Mr Naicker said that donors demanded the same skills and competency levels as the private sector.  The challenge for NSFAS was to identify potential at an earlier stage.  Experience indicated that mentoring of students and school level resulted in higher success rates at tertiary level and NSFAS initiated research into ways that the organisation can assist in this regard.

Mr Naicker explained that changes to the NSFAS Act were required to allow more access to SARS records in order to recover loans made to former students.  The matter required further discussion with SARS and other stakeholders.  NSFAS was also attempting to access former students working in the informal sector to repay student loans.

In response to Mr Ntuli’s question about the disparity in funding for studies at FET’s, Mr Naicker explained that there was a perception amongst students that training at a FET college represented failure.  Such perceptions needed to be corrected as vocational training was equally important and more opportunities existed for trained technicians than professionals.  The Department of Education had special units dedicated to FET’s.  NSFAS audited expenditure at FET’s but also informed the Department of any incidents of negative perceptions.

The Chairperson commented that only R66 million of the R100 million of funding made available for bursaries at FET’s were utilised.

Mr Phillip Benade (Chief Financial Officer, Department of Education) agreed that FET’s were not well-funded in the past.  However, a three-year capitalisation program was undertaken to refurbish and equip FET facilities.  The capitalisation program would be concluded at the end of 2008.  The intake at FET colleges needed to be increased substantially.  The challenge for the Department was to ensure that sufficient funds were made available to FET’s and to subsidise impoverished students.  NSFAS was the agency responsible for the flow of funds from the Department to the FET’s.  The Department was involved in negotiations with National Treasury to increase the available funding in the future.  Although the re-capitalisation program was completed, the flow of funds to FET’s would continue through the provincial authorities.

The Chairperson advised that further questions from the Committee will be forwarded to NSFAS for reply in due course.

Briefing by the Council on Higher Education (CHE)
Dr Cheryl de la Rey (Chief Executive Officer, CHE) introduced the delegates from CHE and summarised the Council’s areas of responsibility (see attached document).

Dr Lis Lange (Executive Director, CHE) briefed the Committee on the issues on which the Council was advising the Minister of Education, the monitoring and evaluation activities of CHE, the work done by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) and the co-ordination with other stakeholders.

Dr Jan Beukes (Chief Financial Officer, CHE) gave an overview of the Council’s sources of income.  The bulk of the revenue was in the form of Government grants.  Donor funding from Finland would be depleted by the end of 2008.  The remainder of the income received was in respect of fees from private institutions and interest on cash reserves.  Staff costs and fees paid to external consultants accounted for the bulk of expenditure.  The staff profile by race and gender was illustrated with graphs to indicate progress made in improving staff demographics.  The determination of fixed and variable costs allowed CHE to establish a benchmark against which the Council can assess its effectiveness.

Dr De la Rey concluded the presentation with the high level issues faced by the Council over the next few years.  The issues were included in a business plan that will be presented to the Committee at a later date.

Discussion
Mr Van den Heever commented on the relatively high expenditure on external consultants.  He recognised the need for consultants but wanted to know if there was a strategy in place to minimize the reliance on external consultants by building internal capacity.

The Chairperson asked if the investigation conducted by the task team had been concluded and if the report would be made available to the Committee.

Mr Ntuli commented on the continuing disparities between the previously disadvantaged institutions and others, particularly with regard to salaries, the size of the institutions and their limited research capacity.  He wanted to know how realistic the plans were to develop the previously disadvantaged institutions situated in the rural areas, to build capacity and to retain skills that were being lost to the private sector and other countries.

Mr Mosala requested comment on the successes and failures resulting from the merging of institutions.

Dr De la Rey reported that CHE was attending to the issue of external consultants and agreed on the need to develop internal capacity.  She said that CHE was developing plans to attract senior staff that could mentor interns, doctorate and post-doctorate fellows and junior graduates.  In addition, the Council planned for greater internal mobility and expected a decrease in the use made of external consultants in future.

De De la Rey said that copies of the task team report were delivered.  The Council was drafting advice to the Minister, which was scheduled for discussion at the next Council meeting.  She said that the essence of the report was the need for an accountability framework to be put in place but the final decision to implement the recommendations was the prerogative of the Minister.

Responding to Mr Ntuli’s question on institutional equity, Dr De la Rey said that a group comprising the five chancellors of the universities of technology was tasked with assessing the programs on offer, the curricula and the research offerings of the institutions.  Research strategy focused on product and social development and performance indicators were in the process of being developed.  In addition, CHE was in discussion with the vice-chancellors of the rural institutions to implement development strategies that would allow those institutions to benefit from the advantages of their rural situation.  She mentioned that several highly-acclaimed institutions in the United States of America were situated in rural areas.

Dr De la Rey said that audits were done at some of the merged institutions.  Similar institutions were merged but each case needed to be assessed individually as different factors were applicable.

Dr Lange provided further details of the merged institutions.  She reported that audits were completed at certain universities of technology, comprehensive universities and traditional institutions.  The results indicated that the first two to three years focused on operational issues, which impacted fairly heavily on the human experience of the staff involved.  Once the new systems were put in place and additional funding became available, more thought went into developing a new institutional identity.  The audits revealed increased levels of energy and optimism over the new possibilities that became available to the merged institution and although some challenges still needed to be resolved, the general impression was favourable.  She felt that it was too early to tell whether the merged institutions would deliver a better standard of education than before.  The additional funding available was expected to make improvements possible.  The Department and CHE continued to monitor the institutions.

The Chairperson commented on the format of the CHE Annual Report, which differed from the approved format.  He asked why the donor funding was ending at the end of the year.

Dr Lange explained that the donor funding resulted from a bi-lateral agreement between South Africa and Finland.  The funds were earmarked for a specific quality assurance project, which had been completed.  The project was evaluated and both countries were pleased with the outcome.  CHE continued to source donor funding for particular projects.

Dr De la Rey advised that the post of organisational secretary was created to ensure that the annual report would be compiled in accordance with the prescribed template in future.

Briefing by the South African Council of Educators (SACE)
Ms Anthea Cereseto (Chairperson, SACE) introduced the delegation from SACE and presented an overview of the current issues faced by the Council.  SACE was gratified by Government’s emphasis on education and supported the drive for quality education.  SACE recently held a press conference and regretted that the media omitted to report on all the decisions made by the Council concerning the recognition of teachers, the adverse conditions under which teachers worked and which were not conducive to quality of teaching, the threat to the safety of educators and the dress code for teachers (which received most of the press attention).  SACE supported the initiatives in KwaZulu Natal to improve the safety of teachers.  Four issues would be discussed at the next Council meeting, i.e. a zero-tolerance policy on sexual relations between teachers and learners, the status of the implementation of the teacher development system, an opinion on the outcomes-based education system and the re-introduction of teacher training colleges.  In 2008, SACE took its annual provincial road show to KwaZulu Natal.  A number of schools were visited to introduce SACE and explain its mandate.  It was found that many teachers considered SACE to be responsible for solving all their problems but many concerns raised fell beyond the mandate of the Council.  SACE intended to include the issues raised by teachers in its advice to the Minister.

Mr Rej Brijraj (Chief Executive Officer, SACE) presented the Council’s annual report to the Committee (see attached document).  Details of SACE’s strategic goals and objectives concerning the registration of teachers, the professional development of teachers and the professional ethics of the teaching profession were provided.  Administrative efficiency was improved and the previous problem of the lack of access to SACE was improved with a new telephone system.  The collection of levies and the registration of teachers were listed as ongoing challenges.

Mr Cliff Mndwambi (Finance Manager, SACE) commented on the annual financial statements for the 2007/08 financial year.  The Council’s expenditure was within budget and an unqualified audit report was received by the Auditor-General.  A surplus of R9 million was declared but was applied to the purchase of office premises.  Assets increased by R12.1 million as a result of the purchase of the building.  The Auditor-General did comment on the inadequacy of the register of educators and SACE was in the process of appointing a service provider to implement a new system for the registration of educators and the accrual of membership fees.  SACE was developing a policy to ensure that its performance against goals was properly measured.  The funds received from the Department of Education for the Continuing Professional Teacher Development (CPTD) project was unpredictable and of major concern to SACE.

Discussion
Mr Ntuli commented on the importance of the SACE magazine distributed to teachers but had not seen a copy.  Although he did not advocate corporate punishment in schools, he was aware that teachers claimed that the alternative methods of discipline were ineffective.  He expressed concern over teachers who were not registered and suggested that cases where schools lacked the capacity to ensure that all teachers employed were registered, were referred to the Department of Education for action.

Mr Mosala requested clarity on what was meant by only registering teachers considered to be of good standing.  He noted that most of the foreign applicants for registration as teachers were from Zimbabwe.

The Chairperson remarked that it was a legal requirement that all teachers employed by schools were registered.  The enforcement of the legal requirement was the responsibility of the Department of Education.  He was concerned over the late receipt of funds from the Department for the CPTD project.  The gaps highlighted by the reports on misconduct needed to be closed.  He suggested that the important issues listed by the Chairperson were included in the annual report as well.  He requested that the Committee was included in invitations to road shows and teacher days in future.

Ms Cereseto thanked the Committee for highlighting the issues requiring following up by the Department.  She apologised to the Committee for the omission in inviting the Members to the road shows and teacher days.  She gave the assurance that SACE took the points made by the Members to heart.

Mr Brijraj undertook to circulate copies of the magazine and other literature produced to the Members of the Committee in future.  He said that the issue of alternative discipline was not easy and an ethos of caring needed to become established in schools.  He said that it was a fallacy that teaching was only about teaching and the CPTD project intended to correct the perception by giving recognition to teachers that extended their impact on learners.  He felt that a culture of caring in schools will improve the matter of discipline and safety in schools.

Mr Brijraj explained that SACE only registered teachers if they are found to be in good standing.  There had been cases where teachers were employed but the teacher had a criminal conviction or had been struck off the roll.  Registration certificates were not always returned under such circumstances and schools needed to ascertain the validity of certificates and the standing of teachers before they were employed.  He said that the Departments of Education were vigilant when employing new teachers but many teachers who had been employed for a lengthy period had not completed formal applications for registrations.  Payment of the monthly registration fee did not constitute registration.

Mr Brijraj pointed out that the Employment of Educators Act required SACE to be informed of cases where serious disciplinary action had been taken against teachers.  Not all provinces complied with the requirement.

The Chairperson reiterated that all teachers must be registered in terms of the statutory requirements.

Mr Mosala was concerned by the lack of co-operation from provincial Departments regarding misconduct reports and asked if the matter was taken up with the Department of Education.

Mr Brijraj replied that SACE had written to the Department.  Meetings were scheduled but subsequently postponed.  The matter was discussed with the Director-General, who undertook to raise the issue with the Heads of Department concerned.  He said that the channel of communication with provincial Departments was a problem for SACE as it was not always clear who was the official responsible for dealing with SACE matters.

The Chairperson thanked the attendees for the presentations.

The meeting was adjourned.

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