The Director-General of the Department of Education briefed the Committee on interventions in the Further Education and Training Colleges, with particular emphasis on infrastructural development, student enrolment in the scarce skills programs, the FET college bursary scheme and the re-skilling of lecturers for the delivery of the new programs. The colleges were established by the Further Education and Training Colleges Act No 16 of 2006. In 2006, an amount of R1.9 billion was made available for the re-capitalisation of FET colleges over a period of three years. An amount of R600 million over three years was made available for student bursaries during the same period. The number of students enrolled at the colleges increased from 25073 in 2007 to 120000 in 2009. 5750 lecturers attended additional training programs between 2006 and 2008.
Members asked questions about the employment of lecturers by the college councils, the number of lecturers enrolling for further training, the improvement in the facilities of colleges resulting from the re-capitalisation program, the internet connectivity of rural colleges, the framework for the assessment of colleges, student support services, provincial expenditure and unutilised funds, the measurement of the success of lecturer training, the needs of local communities, the role played by FET colleges in addressing the scarce skills gap, the need to increase student enrollment figures, the sub-committee responsible for college monitoring and evaluation, the marketing of colleges and the FET sector, admission to universities by FET graduates, maximum bursary allocations, the inability of students to afford the registration fees charged by colleges, the evidence required to support the results of the means test applied for applicants for bursaries and the rolling over of unutilised funds at the end of the financial year.
Briefing by Department of Education
Mr D Hindle (Director-General, Department of Education) introduced the delegates from the Department of Education (DOE): Dr B Mahlobo (Chief Director) and Mr D Ngobeni (Director) and presented an outline of the briefing to the Committee (see attached documents).
An assessment of the FET college sector in 2005 identified a need to develop the infrastructure of the 50 merged colleges. The assessment identified the role of the colleges within the socio-economic context and the challenges faced by the FET sector at the time. An amount of R1.9 billion was made available over a three-year period for the purpose of developing the infrastructure, programs and support at 216 college sites. A breakdown of the amounts allocated to each province was provided. A summary of the achievements for the period 2006/07 to 2008/09 and the remaining challenges faced by the sector were listed.
The second focus area was the contribution made by FET colleges in the development of scarce skills. National Certificate (Vocational) programs (NC(V) were developed for this purpose and the number of students enrolled increased from 25073 in 2007 to an estimated 120230 in 2009.
The Further Education and Training College Act no. 16 of 2006 allowed FET colleges to generate revenue through the charging of college fees. Approximately 80% of program costs were covered by Government funding and 20% by college fees. A table detailing the costs and college fees related to the various programs was included. A total amount of R600 million over the period 2007 to 2009 was allocated for the FET Colleges Financial Aid Scheme to provide bursaries to impoverished students. The bursaries were administered through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and covered the registration fees, tuition fees, the cost of books, any applicable academic levies and the travel and accommodation costs of students. Details of the maximum bursary allocations, the conditions for awarding bursaries and the role of the colleges in the bursary scheme were provided. A breakdown of the amounts allocated to each province during 2007 and 2008 for bursaries and the challenges concerning bursaries were included.
The fourth focus area concerned the training of lecturers to deliver the NC(V) programs. Training in teaching and assessment skills, curriculum content, mathematics and mathematical literacy was provided to 5750 lecturers during the period 2006 to 2008.
The Chairperson recalled that, at the time the FET Colleges Act was promulgated in 2006, the teachers at the colleges were concerned over becoming employees of the college councils instead of being employed by the Government.
Mr Hindle agreed that there was a degree of anxiety amongst teachers and the labour unions at the time. The main concern was that the teachers did not have the required skills to teach at the colleges. However, the DOE agreed to redeploy teachers who did not wish to stay at the colleges. He reported that there had since been a complete reversal of the situation and the colleges now attracted staff of good quality.
Dr Mahlobo added that there was an erroneous perception that teachers at FET colleges enjoyed less status than those at other institutions, which can be addressed by restructuring the remuneration packages of FET college personnel. He said that the lecturing staff complement at the colleges currently exceeded 10000.
The Chairperson noted that only 1861 lecturers attended teaching and assessment training in 2006, 1608 attended curriculum content training in 2007 and 2061 underwent curriculum content training in 2008.
Dr Mahlobo replied that the data provided on the training provided for 5750 lecturers was for training programs coordinated by the DOE and did not reflect other training courses completed by lecturers.
Mr Hindle appealed to the Members of the Committee to visit FET colleges to observe the improvement in the facilities and caliber of the teaching for themselves.
Mr B Mosala (ANC) confirmed that he had visited some colleges in the past and requested the assurance of the DOE that the workshops and equipment at the colleges had been upgraded and brought up to date.
Dr Mahlobo gave the assurance that there was a vast improvement in the facilities at the colleges. He pointed out that technology continued to change and the provincial Departments needed to ensure that funding was made available for the ongoing maintenance and upgrading of equipment and facilities at FET colleges.
Mr Hindle remarked that it was critical that the provinces continued to maintain and upgrade the colleges to avoid another re-capitalisation program in future.
The Chairperson noted that not all college sites had internet connections and direct access to the head office of the college.
Mr Hindle pointed out that the required equipment and programs were expensive to install and maintain and colleges can not afford to install connections in every village. A balance between the issues of quality and access had to be achieved and the question was whether or not it was appropriate and financially feasible to provide internet connections versus accommodating the students at the larger colleges.
Mr R Ntuli (ANC) said that the Committee needed a clear understanding of the issues involved in order to conduct meaningful oversight visits to colleges. He suggested that Members were provided with assessment reports and information on issues and matters that required following up.
Mr Hindle agreed to develop a framework that would assist the Committee to assess the standard of any FET college visited by the Members.
Mr Mosala requested clarity on what was meant by “student support services”.
Dr Mahlobo explained that the support services offered included student counseling, career advice, academic support where the student experienced difficulty with the subject matter, student health and wellness, the appropriate program selection for a particular qualification, bursary applications and administration and the management of study centres.
Mr Hindle said that the requirement for the student support services will be included in the proposed assessment tool.
Mr Ntuli queried the amounts allocated to and the expenditure reported by the different provinces.
Mr Hindle advised that the allocation of funds was closely monitored by the Department. He said that in some cases, funds were allocated but not yet spent and suggested that the matter was deferred until the end of the current financial year, i.e. the end of March 2009.
Mr Mosala asked how the success of the lecturer training program was measured.
Dr Mahlobo explained that the training of lecturers was a means to an end and its success can ultimately only be measured in student performance. The success of a training program was not immediately visible in the short term.
Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) asked if the data provided included all the FET colleges in the country.
Dr Mahlobo confirmed that the data was compiled from the information provided by all the provinces.
The Chairperson noted that the FET Act made provision for colleges to offer courses other than the NC(V) programs. He asked if the programs addressed the needs of the communities as envisaged.
Dr Mahlobo replied that the colleges offered a wide range of programs in addition to the NC(V) program, artisan training and scarce skill development programs. The Department encouraged colleges to develop alternative sources of funding to become financially self-sufficient.
Mr Hindle added that colleges had found that short courses could be money-spinners and the temptation was to concentrate on the short-courses rather than on the NC(V) programs. The DOE require that at least 70% of programs offered was for NC(V) but the remaining 30% was at the discretion of the college. The Department recommended that the programs offered served the needs of the community.
The Chairperson suggested that the colleges took advantage of the market for furniture by finishing off the frames of school desks.
Mr Mosala asked how the programs offered at satellite campuses were selected.
Mr Hindle explained that the needs of the local community were an important consideration but the colleges were national assets rather than local assets and must serve the national requirement for skills. The colleges were the mechanism that allowed students to move from small rural economies into the mainstream economy. A balance between the needs of the local economy and the national requirement for skills needs to be achieved. The capacity of the college to deliver was another consideration. The Department was guided by the colleges themselves on the selection of the programs offered but took into account whether or not the college was able to successfully deliver the programs concerned. Further details of the programs offered at satellite campuses can be provided to the Committee.
The Chairperson asked if the Department could provide the plans for increasing student numbers at the colleges.
Dr Mahlobo agreed to provide the Committee with the plan that had been developed.
Mr Hindle added that the plan covered the issue of increasing enrollment numbers to the targeted 800000 students but was dependent on adequate funding being made available.
Mr Ntuli requested further details of the HEDCOM sub-committee for FET colleges that was established. He asked if the sub-committee’s responsibilities extended beyond issues of evaluation, assessment and monitoring activities.
Mr Hindle explained that the sub-committee members were the provincial officials responsible for FET colleges in their respective provinces. The committee was involved in determining the frameworks for the assessment and monitoring of FET colleges and dealt with matters related to the funding allocated to FET colleges in the provincial budgets. The committee ensured that the colleges adhered to the national plan for FET colleges and would be involved in reporting and monitoring activities. The Department played a co-ordination and support role.
The Chairperson asked how FET colleges were marketed.
Dr Mahlobo explained that the agreement was that the Department marketed the sector at a national level through the print media, radio and television. The colleges were brands in their own right and were required to allocate a portion of available funds to a marketing budget to promote the college and to liaise with the schools in the area. Some colleges marketed themselves successfully and were flooded with applications from prospective students. Different marketing strategies applied at the national and at the college level. Marketing material was printed and distributed at schools.
The Chairperson asked if a qualification from an FET college allowed a student to enter a university to further his studies.
Dr Mahlobo confirmed that a level 4 certificate allowed a student to enter for a level 5 qualification at a university. He pointed out that each university had its own admission requirements and a student’s level of achievement was taken into account as well.
Ms Mashongoane remarked that not all villages in rural areas had television reception. She suggested that the colleges used schools, municipalities and traditional leadership structures for promotion purposes.
Mr Hindle remarked that the name “FET college” was not widely understood at an international level and it may become necessary to consider re-branding the colleges in the future.
Mr Ntuli was concerned that the relatively low student number was an indication that the demand for scarce skills was not being addressed.
Mr Hindle replied that the current total of 120000 students was merely a step towards the target of 800000. He stated that the number of students was limited by the available space and funds and cautioned against promising what can not be delivered. Expansion of the number of students had to be carefully managed and the achievement of the targeted figure was dependent on the necessary funds being made available.
Dr Mahlobo explained that the figure of 120000 students referred to the students enrolled in the NC(V) programs. The old N4, N5 and N6 programs were in the process of being phased out and an estimated 400000 students were enrolled for those programs. As the old N4, N5 and N6 programs were phased out, additional funds became available to enroll more NC(V) students.
Ms Mashongoane expressed concern over the acceptability of the N4, N5 and N6 qualifications.
Dr Mahlobo agreed that the N4, N5 and N6 qualifications were considered to be poor in technical terms and many universities refused entry to N4, N5 and N6 graduates. The NC(V) programs addressed the skills requirements of the relevant professions and provided better progression opportunities to students.
Mr Hindle added that the N-level qualifications were relatively narrow but were sufficient for students who were content to remain at the artisan level. The NC(V) programs developed additional skills in language, communication and mathematics and were more suitable to provide students with the skills to progress further in their careers.
The Chairperson remarked on the need to be pro-active in increasing the number of students in the programs designed to address the scarce skills gap. Students needed to be made aware of the opportunities for further study in order to develop their careers.
The Chairperson requested further explanation of the maximum bursary allocations.
Mr Hindle explained that the bursary covered registration fees, tuition fees, books, a travel allowance and an accommodation allowance. The total bursary allocated amounted to approximately R20000. The principle of the bursary was that finance and fees should not be a barrier to students wishing to attend a FET college. He added that teacher training bursaries also covered the full costs of training.
The Chairperson noted that students were required to pay a registration fee at the college and that proof of registration was a pre-requisite for applying for the bursary. Although the registration fee was included in the bursary, many impoverished students could not afford to pay the registration fee up front.
Mr Hindle agreed that the issue was a concern that had to be resolved. The matter was under discussion with the colleges.
Mr Mosala said that information about the colleges and bursaries need to be available at constituency offices as Members received many enquiries from students at their offices.
The Chairperson pointed out that Members of the Committee had access to a hotline number to contact the Department directly.
Mr Hindle said that the hotline service number 0800 20 29 33 was available to all members of the public and encouraged the Committee to make the number known to everyone.
Dr Mahlobo added that the Department’s contact details were included in the brochures on FET colleges as well.
Ms Mashangoane requested clarity on the evidence required to support the means test applied before bursaries were allocated.
Dr Mahlobo explained that documentation to substantiate the economic status of the parents or guardians of a student applying for a bursary was required. Applicants were classified according to financial status, with the most needy being given preference.
The Chairperson said that a report from a social worker would suffice.
Ms Mashangoane wanted to know how long it would take to obtain a report from a social worker as the social workers were under strain from the demands of dealing with child support grants.
Mr Hindle said that affidavits from a priest or local community member were also acceptable. He said that many people had pay slips reflecting low levels of income as well.
Mr Ntuli asked if affidavits from local councilors were acceptable.
The Chairperson pointed out that the councilors were commissioners of oaths.
Ms Mashangoane asked if the provinces would forfeit any unutilised funds at the end of the financial year.
The Chairperson replied that unutilised funds were rolled over to the following year.
Mr Hindle pointed out that the roll-over of any unutilised funds was not guaranteed and an application must be made to the National Treasury. He confirmed that the Department will apply for any unutilised funds to be transferred to the following financial year.
The Chairperson requested that the Department replied to any unanswered questions from Members in due course. Mr Hindle agreed to respond in writing.
The meeting was adjourned.
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