ATC170215: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training on the Annual Report 2015/16 of the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa) and the Council on Higher Education (Che), Dated 15 February 2017
REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON HIGHER EDUCATION AND TRAINING ON THE ANNUAL REPORT 2015/16 OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN QUALIFICATIONS AUTHORITY (SAQA) AND THE COUNCIL ON HIGHER EDUCATION (CHE), DATED 15 FEBRUARY 2017
The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, having met with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and Council on Higher Education (CHE) on 26 October 2016, reports as follows:
Section 65 of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), 1999 requires that Ministers table annual reports for departments and public entities for which they are responsible for by 30 September each year. The Annual Report 2015/16 of SAQA and CHE were tabled on 15 September 2016, and it is against this background that the Portfolio Committee invited these entities to present their annual reports.
1. Overview and analysis of SAQA and CHE Annual Report 2015/16
1.1 South African Qualifications Authority
1.1.1 Introduction and mandate
The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is a statutory body established in terms of the South African Qualifications Act, (Act No. 58 of 1995). It continues to exist under the National Qualifications Act (Act No. 67 of 2008). The NQF Act positions SAQA as the oversight body of the NQF and the custodian of its values. SAQA is responsible for coordinating the work of the Quality Councils (Umalusi, Council on Higher Education, and the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations) and other NQF partners.
SAQA’s functions as set out in the National Qualifications Framework Act are:
- To provide advice, oversee NQF implementation and to collaborate with the Quality Councils;
- To develop NQF policies and criteria;
- To maintain a National Learners’ Records Database (NLRD), and to provide an evaluation and advisory service with respect to foreign qualifications;
- Undertake research, collaborate with international counterparts, and drive the communication and advocacy strategy to promote the understanding of the NQF architecture; and
- To perform any function consistent with the NQF Act that the Minister of Higher Education and Training may determine.
1.1.2 Overview and analysis per programme
During the year under review, SAQA had six budget programmes, namely: Programme 1: Administration, 2: Registration and Recognition, 3: National Learners’ Record Database, 4: Foreign Qualifications Evaluation and Advisory Services, 5: Research and 6: International Liaison.
a) Programme 1: Administration
This programme covers the activities of the five sub-programmes, namely:
- Executive Office.
- Finance and Administration.
- Human Resources.
- Information Technology.
- Advocacy, Communication and Support.
During the year under review, this programme had a combined total of 26 targets spread across the five sub-programmes. Of these, 23 targets were achieved as planned and three were not achieved as planned.
(i) Sub-Programme 1: Executive Office is responsible for the overall coordination and organisational performance in response to SAQA’s mandate. This sub-programme had seven targets, which were all achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- Progress was reported to the CEO Committee meetings quarterly on the Monitoring and overseeing of the NQF implementation Framework 2011 – 2015.
- The NQF Implementation Framework for 2015 – 2010 was approved by the CEO and the SAQA Board.
- The Report on the Ministerial Guidelines 2015/16 was produced and sent to the Minister.
- The Draft Policy on Misrepresented Qualifications was developed and handed over to the Minister.
- An input was provided into the Minister’s Draft Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Policy, and the Ministerial guidelines 2015/16 and the Draft Ministerial guidelines 2016/17.
- The Report on the System of Collaboration was approved by the SAQA Board.
- The Report on SAQA’s contribution to the Articulation Action Plan was produced and approved by the SAQA Board.
(ii) Sub-programme 2: Finance and Administration is responsible for effective financial and infrastructural governance and resources to support SAQA’s objectives. There were three targets planned under this programme, and two were achieved and one was not achieved as planned. The targets that were achieved included:
- The entity’s finance policies and procedures were aligned to the PFMA and National Treasury Regulations.
- 12 monthly management accounts and four quarterly reports in line with National Treasury requirements were produced.
SAQA planned to achieve a clean audit. However, this target was not achieved due to non-compliance with legislation in procurement of goods and services.
(iii) Sub-programme 3: Human Resource is responsible for providing strategic and operational human resource support to embrace diversity, environmental sustainability and social justice to contribute towards the delivery of SAQA’s mandate. There were seven planned targets under this sub-programme, and six were achieved and one was not achieved as planned. The targets that were achieved included:
- The submission of the Workplace Skills Plan (WSP) and Annual Training Report by 30 April 2015.
- Online submission of the Employment Equity Report to the Department of Labour by 31 January 2016.
- The development and approval of performance contracts for all staff.
- Completion of all staff assessments.
- Approval of the Learning and Development Plans for each Directorate.
- The staff who qualified received performance bonuses.
The target that was not achieved was the development of the new remuneration system for recognition and reward. The entity cited the delay in the appointment of the service provider as the reason for not achieving this target.
(iv) Sub-programme 4: Information Technology (IT) is responsible for effective ICT governance and IT infrastructure resources to support the achievement of organisational objectives and business processes. There were five targets planned under this sub-programme and were all achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- The development of an Integrated Knowledge Management System and approval of the Knowledge Management Strategy Plan.
- The ICT Enterprise Architecture was approved by the Board.
- The servers were kept online more than 95 percent of the time throughout the year.
- Full compliance with the IT related legislation and the approval of the Enterprise Architecture by the Board.
(v) Sub-programme 5: Advocacy and Communication Support is responsible for informing stakeholders and the public about the NQF, SAQA and related matters. There were three planned targets under this sub-programme, and two were achieved and the other one was not achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- The report on the implementation of Phase One of the NQF Advisory Service Strategy was produced.
- A total of 607 802 individuals used one of SAQA’s digital media platforms during the year, exceeding the target by 157 802 additional people.
The target not achieved was to achieve a 5 percent increase over previous year’s target for Awareness Understanding and Value (AUV) for policy makers and policy implementers.
b) Programme 2: Registration and Recognition
This programme is responsible for registering high quality, nationally relevant and internationally comparable qualifications and part-qualifications that meet national criteria and articulate across sub-frameworks, and to recognise professional bodies and to register professional designations on the NQF. During the year under review there were three targets planned under this programme and all were achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- 100 percent of the qualifications and part-qualifications recommended by the Quality Councils (QCs) for registration on the NQF were processed.
- 100 percent of the applications for the recognition of professional bodies and 100 percent of applications for the registration of professional designations were processed.
- Monitoring of 34.5 percent of the professional bodies that were recognised by 31 March 2014.
c) Programme 3: National Learner’s Records Database
The programme is responsible for maintaining and further developing the National Learner’s Records Database (NLRD) functionality which serves as the key national source of information for human resource and skills development in policy, infrastructure and planning. There were eight planned targets under this programme, and seven were achieved and one was partially achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- A total of 1 078 302 learners were added to the NLRD and 857 702 qualifications achievements were recorded.
- Verification of 72 543 individual qualifications.
- 100 percent of all data received from QCs was successfully loaded.
- 100 percent of all data received from professional bodies that met the criteria was successfully loaded.
- Quarterly tables on information added to the NLRD were produced.
- The 4TH Trends Report was produced.
- Four quarterly reports were produced for each quarter.
- 100 percent of applications for verifications were processed.
The target was not achieved in relation to the production of monthly statistics on misrepresentation.
d) Programme 4: Foreign Qualifications Evaluation and Advisory Services
This programme is responsible for evaluating foreign qualifications against set criteria, including verifications of the authenticity of qualifications and comparison of foreign qualifications with similar qualifications on the South African NQF. During the year under review, this programme had three targets, three were achieved and all were achieved as planned. The targets that were achieved included:
- The Policy for the Evaluation of Foreign Qualifications within the SA NQF was approved by the Board three months ahead of schedule.
- 100 percent of all applications were processed.
- 111 cases of misrepresented foreign qualifications were included in the Report on Misrepresented Qualifications.
e) Programme 5: Research
This programme is responsible for conducting evidence-based research to evaluate the impact of the NQF and track the development and implementation of the NQF. The programme had four planned targets and all were achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- The Research Partnership Monitoring Report was produced and approved.
- A contract was signed with new research partner (Durban University of Technology).
- A Report on NQF Impact Study 2014 was produced.
- The draft concept document on SAQA’s role in Ombuds function was produced.
f) Programme 6: International Liaison
The programme is responsible for liaising with international partners on matters concerning qualifications frameworks and sharing best practices with the NQF family. The programme had seven planned targets and were all achieved as planned. The targets that were achieved included:
- An article on the Addis Convention on the mutual recognition of qualifications was produced.
- The bulletins, which included two articles on international trends were produced.
- The participation in international forums was exceeded by three.
- The revision of the Malaysian Benchmarking report was completed.
- The workshop with NQF family on Addis Convention was hosted.
- The guidelines for good practice on learning that does not lead to a qualification of part qualification was produced.
- The research report on trends related to national standards for teachers and school leaders to Commonwealth Secretariat was produced.
1.1.3 Financial performance
SAQA received an unqualified audit opinion with findings from the Auditor General of South Africa (AGSA). This was the 19th unqualified audit opinion from the AG. During the year under review, the entity had a total revenue of R106.8 million. The total revenue was made up of R54.7 million from a government grant, R9.5 million surplus funds from prior years and R42.5 million revenue from exchange transactions (rendering services, rent, sundry, and interest received on investment). The total expenditure at the end of the financial year amounted to R98.7 million and a net saving of R8.04 million. The personnel expenditure at the end of the financial amounted to R65.09 million from the actual budget of R69.7 million. General expenses expenditure amounted R29.1 million. The entity had effected cost containment measures during the year under review on consulting and projects fees, training and recruitment, print and photocopies and conferences.
Though not identified by the AG, the entity incurred an irregular expenditure of R710 000 during the year under review. This expenditure was as a result of the agreement entered between the entity and the Durban University of Technology as a research partner for research into TVET college-Higher Education Institution articulation. It was reported that an extensive process to appoint DUT was followed. However, the approval process required the final approval for single-source selection to be approved by the Executive Committee, which was not done.
1.2 Council on Higher Education
1.2.1 Introduction and mandate
The South African Council on Higher Education (CHE) is an independent statutory body established in terms of the Higher Education Act No. 101 of 1997, as amended. The mandate of the CHE as the Quality Council for Higher Education is to advise the Minister of Higher Education and Training on all higher education issues, and it is also responsible for quality assurance and promotion through the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC).
In terms of the Higher Education Act, the mandate of the CHE includes the following:
- To provide advice to the Minister of Higher Education and Training on all higher education matters on request and on its own initiative.
- To promote quality and quality assurance in higher education through its permanent sub-committee, the HEQC, including auditing the quality assurance mechanisms of, and accrediting programmes offered by, higher education institutions.
- To monitor the state of higher education and publishing information regarding developments in higher education on a regular basis, including arranging and co-ordinating conferences on higher education issues.
1.2.2 Overview and analysis per programme
During the year under review, the work of the CHE was guided by its four strategic goals, namely:
- Strategic Goal 1: to contribute to informing and influencing the public debate on the policy framework for the transformation of the higher education system and to become a recognised centre for information and policy analysis on higher education.
- Strategic Goal 2: to contribute to the development of qualification standards to ensure the relevance, comparability and currency of qualifications.
- Strategic Goal 3: to promote quality and quality assurance in higher education, including enhancing the quality of higher education.
- Strategic Goal 4: to ensure the efficient and effective provision of corporate services – administrative, financial, technical and professional, to support the discharge of the core mandate of the CHE.
The entity had five budget programmes, namely: Administration, Monitoring and Evaluation, Programme Accreditation, National Standards and Reviews and Institutional Audits.
a) Programme 1: Administration
The strategic objectives of this programme are to; provide advice to the Minister of Higher Education and Training on all higher education matters on request and on the CHE’s own initiative, to ensure the development of human resources management environment that enables staff to develop their full potential, to ensure financial administration and supply chain management is compliant with the requirements of the PFMA, and to ensure effective governance and compliance of ICT statutory requirements.
During the 2015/16 financial year, the programme had seven planned targets, and five were achieved and two were not achieved as planned. The targets that were achieved included:
- 100 percent requests for advice responded to within the timeframe requested.
- Three quality assurance forums for public and private institutions and professional bodies were held.
- Development and implementation of ICT policies.
- 37 employees trained (target was 70 percent, achievement was 88 percent).
- 85 percent of organisational structure filled (target was 80 percent).
The targets not achieved as planned included:
- The number of pieces of advice on the Council’s own initiative on issues identified as relevant flowing from the activities of the CHE.
- 100 percent review, update and development of finance and supply chain policies (3% below the planned target).
b) Programme 2: Monitoring and Evaluation
The strategic objectives of this programme are to; monitor the state of higher education, including publishing information and convening conferences, workshops on development of higher education, to maintain a database of learner achievements in higher education and submit the data to the National Learners Records Database (NLRD) which is maintained by SAQA.
The programme had four planned targets during the year under review and all were achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- Publication and distribution of the Vital Stats 2013 to institutions.
- Completion of the Review of the State of Higher Education 1994 – 2014 and Reflections on Academic Leadership.
- Publication of three research reports (Reflections, South African higher education reviewed: Two decades of democracy and Kagisano 10: Funding).
- 95 percent of private providers information uploaded (target was 80 percent).
c) Programme 3: Programme Accreditation
The strategic objectives of this programme are to develop and manage the Higher Education Sub-Framework (HEQSF) including articulation of qualifications between the three sub-frameworks and to accredit new programmes submitted by public and private higher education institutions and re-accredit existing programmes.
There were six targets planned under this programme and were all achieved. The targets that were achieved included:
- 100 percent of Category B programmes aligned with the HEQSF with an HEQC outcome.
- 88 percent of new accredited programmes with an approved HEQC outcome (target was 20 percent).
- 88 percent of new accredited programmes with an approved HEQC outcome tabled within six months of screening (target was 60 percent).
- 65 percent of re-accredited programmes with an approved HEQC outcome tabled within 18 months of screening.
- 67 site visits conducted to 33 institutions.
- Four training workshops for evaluators discipline groups/report writing.
d) Programme 4: National Standards and Reviews
The strategic objective of this programme is to undertake national reviews of existing programmes in specific subject fields and qualification level offered by public and private higher education institutions.
There were seven targets planned under this programme, of which four were achieved and three were not achieved as planned. The targets that were achieved included:
- Four standards were developed.
- Standards Development Framework was finalised.
- 100 percent institutional improvement plans were received.
- The criteria/minimum standards and review manual for the LLB review was approved by the HEQC.
The targets that were not achieved included:
- The finalisation of the national report on Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programme.
- Site visits by peer panels to evaluate the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) offered by higher education institutions.
- One training workshop for evaluators/chairs of site visit panels (target was 4).
The Council cited that the submission of the self-evaluation reports was postponed due to delays caused by student unrest in 2015 and the submission was postponed to May 2016. It also noted that the finalisation of the National Report on Bachelor of Social Work programme was delayed because the report writer left the country, and the work was reassigned to another author.
e) Programme 5: Institutional audits
The strategic objective of this programme is to audit the quality assurance mechanisms of higher education institutions.
During the year under review, the programme had four planned targets, and three were achieved and one was not achieved as planned. The targets that were achieved included:
- 100 percent monitoring of all progress reports received.
- Synthesis of results from the Quality Enhancement Programme (QEP) Phase 1 focus areas based on the institutional data were submitted.
- Five workshops for institutions to discuss synthesised report of baseline data linked to QEP focus areas were conducted (target was 3).
The target that was not achieved included the submission of the Institutional Reports on the QEP focus area. The Council cited disruptions at universities in 2015 as the reason for not achieving the target.
1.2.3 Financial performance
The Council on Higher Education had a total revenue of 49.5 million during the year under review. The baseline grant from the Department of Higher Education and Training constituted 82 percent of the entity’s total revenue, excluding funds rolled over from previous years. The Department Grant to the CHE amounted to R40.8 million, which was 4.4 percent less than the grant received in the previous year. The total expenditure at the end of the financial year was R54.4 million, which exceeded the revenue. Personnel costs for the year under review amounted to R28.3 million, which accounted for 54 percent of the total expenditure, excluding depreciation and amortisation.
The entity noted that its revenue from exchange transactions was higher than the budget, due to more applications for accreditation being received from private institutions as well as more interest received than anticipated on the invested amount. Similarly, revenue from non-exchange transaction was higher than the budget, due to a merger between the Programme Standards Development and National Reviews, as well as approved surplus from the prior year by National Treasury.
The CHE received an unqualified audit with matters of emphasis on; performance targets not specific and measurable, performance indicators not time bound, performance indicators not verifiable and well defined, and overstatement of commitments.
The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, having assessed the Annual Report 2015/16 of SAQA and the CHE, made the observations:
2.1 South African Qualifications Authority
- The entity was congratulated for its 20 years of implementing the National Qualifications Frameworks (NQF) and for its 19th unqualified audit report. It was further noted that South Africa had one of the best NQF and it took lead in Africa;
- The 92 percent achievement against the planned targets in the year under review was commended;
- The entity was commended for its efficient qualification verification systems to detect misrepresented qualifications;
- It was noted that the policy on Misrepresentation of Qualifications would require amendments to the National Qualifications Framework Act;
- The entity experienced a high staff turnover in the year under review, especially in the professionally qualified and skilled level;
- The entity was commended for raising funds for the digitisation of pre-1992 qualifications project;
- It was noted that the entity had ventured into mandates that were not yet legislated, and this would have financial implications; and
- The regression in the internal controls, which led to the non-compliance with the supply chain management procedures was noted as a concern.
2.2 Council on Higher Education
- The severe financial constraints that the entity was operating under was noted as a serious concern, given its critical role in higher education;
- The increase in the overseas travel was noted as a concern given the financial constraints of the entity;
- The entity was commended for undertaking to conduct another cycle of Institutional Audits to improve the quality of higher education;
- It was noted with concern that the entity did not have employees with disabilities while the Employment Equity Act required all public entities to recruit and employ people with disabilities;
- The entity experienced an increase in the printing costs owing to a high number of publications that had to be printed; and
- There was an increase in the legal costs in the year under review (R3 million) owing to a litigation by a private higher education institution, over a decision by the HEQC in questioning the quality of one of its programmes. The CHE did not have an internal legal service department, and it had to outsource this service.
The South African Qualifications Authority celebrated its 20 years in existence in 2016, and it also presented its 19th unqualified audit opinion from the Auditor-General. The Minister of Higher Education and Training had also appointed the 6th SAQA board at the end of December 2015. It is important to note that SAQA continued to deliver on its mandate in the 2015/16 financial year with a reputation of good governance. Some of SAQA’s highlights for the year under review included; the recognition of 23 622 foreign qualifications, the recognition of 13 new professional bodies, the registration of 36 professional designations, the verification of 72 543 National qualifications and winning the bid to host the Groningen Declaration Network (GDN) meeting. Besides the entity’s achievements, the Committee noted with concern the non-achievement of certain targets and the deficiencies in the internal controls, which were also highlighted in the AG’s report. Nevertheless, the entity’s ability to raise funds to implement unfunded mandates was also commended by the Committee.
The Council on Higher Education presented its 2015/16 Annual Report having operated under conditions of austerity that had impacted on its ability to exercise its mandate efficiently. Nonetheless, the entity continued to work according to principles of generally accepted practices, including compliance with applicable laws. As a result, the entity received an unqualified audit opinion from the AG. The performance information in the year under review demonstrated that the entity took its legislated mandated seriously, and it was able to respond promptly to all requests for advice from the Minister of Higher Education and Training. The unprecedented student protests experienced in the higher education sector in 2015, contributed to non-achievement of some of the entity’s target planned for 2015/16 financial year.
The Committee expressed its support to both entities given the difficult economic conditions of the country, which also impacted on government’s ability to increase subsidies in support of the critical work these institutions undertook in the post-school education and training sector.
The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training recommends that the Minister of Higher Education and Training consider the following:
4.1 South African Qualifications Authority
- The entity needs to aim for a clean audit in the 2016/17 financial year;
- The internal control systems should be strengthened to avert irregular expenditure;
- The NQF Act should be amended to provide for the creation of the Register of Misrepresented Qualifications, and
- Public entities should utilise the services of SAQA in verifying the qualifications of applicants before they are appointed.
4.2 Council on Higher Education
- The entity should explore other possible mechanisms to raise additional funding to supplement the declining baseline grant from the Department;
- The employment of people with disabilities should be prioritised in compliance with the Employment Equity Act;
- The entity should prioritise the digitisation of publications to avert the sharp increase in printing costs; and
- The entity should tighten its accreditation processes to defend decisions taken by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) in protecting students from the sub-standard qualifications provision.
Report to be considered.
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