ATC201016: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology on Its Oversight Visit to Gauteng, Dated 13 October 2020

Higher Education, Science and Technology

REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON HIGHER EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ON ITS OVERSIGHT VISIT TO GAUTENG, DATED 13 OCTOBER 2020

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology having conducted an oversight visit to Gauteng on 03 – 07 February 2020, reports as follows.

1. DELEGATION LIST

1.1 Members of the Committee

Mr MP Mapulane: Chairperson (ANC), Mr WT Letsie (ANC), Ms JS Mananiso (ANC), Ms NT Mkhatshwa (ANC), Ms DP Sibiya (ANC), Mr BS Yabo (ANC), Mr B Nodada (DA), Mr P Keetse (EFF), Mr SL Ngcobo (IFP), Dr W Boshoff: (FFP) and Mr L Ntshayisa (AIC)*.

 

1.2. Support staff

Mr A Kabingesi: Committee Secretary, Ms S Isaacs: Committee Secretary, Ms M Modiba: Content Advisor, Dr R Osborne-Mullins: Content Advisor, Dr A Arendse: Researcher and Mr T Bottoman: Committee Assistant.

2. INTRODUCTION

In pursuance of its constitutional oversight obligation, the Committee undertook an oversight visit to Gauteng where it met with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Universities South Africa (USAf), the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the State Information Technology Agency (SITA), the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and the Vaal University of Technology (VUT).

The objectives of the oversight visit were to assess:

  • The 2020 registration/enrolment process at institutions of higher learning;
  • The state of readiness of the institutions to implement the 2020 academic programmes;
  • Progress with disbursement of the NSFAS funding to eligible students and rules and guidelines for 2020;
  • Governance and management;
  • Research and innovation;
  • CSIR development facilities and technologies;
  • SITA’s role in the certification value chain and plans to eradicate the certification backlog; and
  • Undertake site visits to infrastructure projects, student accommodation and registration facilities.

In addition to the afore-mentioned objectives of the oversight visit, the Committee also met with the relevant stakeholders from each institution which included the student representative council, labour unions and council. The discussions revolved around the contribution made by the stakeholders to the stability of the institution. The stakeholders were also granted an opportunity to elaborate on the challenges experienced by the students and workers respectively.

3. SUMMARY OF THE PRESENTATIONS

3.1. Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)

3.1.1. 2020 Registration period at public universities

The Department was represented by the Director-General (DG), Mr G Qonde and other senior management officials. The Minister had submitted an apology due to other commitments. The presentation was made by Ms T Lewin: Chief Director University Education. In her presentation, Ms Lewin started off with a brief background on preparations for the 2020 academic year. She said that the preparations for the 2020 academic year had been positive with a successful applications process and funding decisions being made available to student’s prior registration. The Department also met with the students, registrars and with the NSFAS in December 2019 and at the beginning of January 2020. Despite these meetings, the South African Union of Students (SAUS) called for a national shutdown of universities, however, registration proceeded smoothly at most institutions. Ms Lewin gave a status report of registration at each institution and also reflected on those that experienced disruptions.

In respect of the NSFAS and student funding policy matters, government allocated R34.5 billion to the NSFAS to support students from poor and working class families at universities and TVET colleges, and 2020 is the third year of implementation of the fully-subsidised funding for students. In 2019, over 375 000 students benefitted from the NSFAS fundingat universities. In terms of policy, the Department is responsible for policy determination and the NSFAS is responsible for assessing financial in the PSET system, and the Department is working towards a more effective accreditation scheme to protect students from exploitation.

3.1.2. Readiness for the 2020 academic year at TVET colleges

Ms A Singh: Chief Director TVET presented on behalf of the TVET branch. She began the presentation by giving an outline of the enrolment planning and targets for the TVET sector. In terms of new entrants, the sector planned to enroll 226 685 students and the focus in 2020 was on changing the historical practice of walk-ins and first come – first served registration. The regional offices monitored the registrations which commenced smoothly from 13 January 2020 until 31 January 2020.

Ms Singh reflected on the changes towards online applications in the TVET sector, where nine colleges participated in the pilot project. In total, 50 563 applications were received by colleges and16 297 offers were made to successful students. With respect to student financial aid, the Department’s annual performance plan (APP) targets 562 006 state funded student enrolments with R6.5 billion allocated for the NSFAS towards TVET colleges and standardize allowance types in the sector would remain in 2020. In 2020, colleges would no longer capture the NSFAS application forms since an agreement had been signed with Metrofile to fulfill this task.

Ms Singh concluded the presentation by outlining the career guidance initiatives of the Department for the sector, efforts to improve the student admissions process and teaching andlearning preparation.

3.1.3. Universities South Africa (USAf)

Dr L Meyer represented USAf in the absence of Prof Bawa: Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who earlier apologized for his absence at the meeting. In her presentation, Dr Meyer began by reflecting on the instability experienced at four universities during the 2020 registration period. She expressed concerns in respect of the violence and arson attacks by students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Despite the violent attacks at few institutions, the registration process went well at most institutions.

With respect to student debt, Dr Meyer said the student debt in higher education amounted to R9 billion and this figurewas not quantified in terms of different categories of students that are owing. The cost of debt amounted to R900 million per annum, an amount that should be directed towards infrastructure development or growing the academic system. Dr Meyer proposed for a national discussion on the matter and also indicated that the new DHET bursaries aimed at poor and working class families was an excellent idea. However, there is no system in place aimed to support families in the missing middle.

3.1.4 National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)

The delegation from the NSFAS was led by Dr R Carolissen: Administrator who was accompanied by officials that provide support to universities. The Administrator began the presentation by reflecting on the close-out of the 2019 academic year. For 2019, 378 584 (99 percent) University students received their allowances and 343 754 (100 percent) in the TVET sector, and the total amount paid amounted to R26 billion. Dr Carolissen pointed out that the NSFAS experienced an increase in the number of applications, with over 560 000 in total and the majority of the applicants were from KwaZulu-Natal and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) partnership provided national footprint to assist walk-in students.

Dr Carolissen said the majority of the NSFAS applicants were Africans with 526 395 applications, followed by Coloureds with 24 680 applications, Whites 5 807 and Indians 5 078. NSFAS allocated upfront payments amounting to R5 billion in total for universities and TVET colleges respectively. In respect of the 2020 appeals process, the formal appeals were opened on 20 January 2020 with the closing date of 28 February 2020.

Dr Carolissen emphasized the point that NSFAS funded students with historic debts are allowed to register. The NSFAS had also paid R302 million as at 03 February 2020 and an updated report would be released once all claims and processes are done.

 

 

3.2 Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)

3.2.1. Summary of the presentations

The Committee visit to the CSIR was primarily to orientate Members around the programmes and projects of the CSIR and also to visit some of the research and innovation projects which have economic impact and also contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of all South Africans. The Committee was welcomed by the CSIR’s Chairperson of the Board, Prof Majozi, followed by a comprehensive organisational overview by the Chief Executive Officer, Dr Dlamini.

They briefed the Committee on their mandate, vision, mission, values and highlighted their strategic objectives and key focus areas. They further outlined their organisational, operational and funding structure as well as their partnerships with other public research institutions, private sector co-operation and international collaboration.

They outlinedtheirresearch, development and innovation (RDI) in the areas of bio-manufacturing, next generation health, manufacturing, defence and security, next generation enterprises and institutions, and agriculture.

The CSIR shared with the Committee their challenges, of which the major one is that of inadequate funding. The CSIR ensures that the annual grant received from Parliament through the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), which accounts for some 30 percentof its total income, is invested in knowledge generation, scientific infrastructure and enhancing skills. Additional income is generated from contract research for the public and private sectors, locally and abroad, as well as from royalties, licenses and dividends from intellectual property management and commercial companies created by the CSIR.

In this context, they highlighted the limited growth in national research and development (R&D) investment, the cuts in the Parliamentary grant and the impact of government regulations on contracting with state-owned entities, which they explained as limiting the uptake of the CSIR’s technologies by government.

They reported that in the previous financial year, R382 million in income could not be realised due to delays in procurement. Other challenges relate to ageing infrastructure and the lack of investment required to maintain and improve testing and research infrastructure. Also highlighted was the difficulty in attracting and retainingresearchers, technicians and engineers with high-end skills.   

3.2.2. Site visits

(i) Umbiflow low-cost Doppler ultrasound device

 

With nearly 20 000 stillbirths documented in South Africa each year, a low-cost, locally developed innovative device has shown potential to reduce by 40 percent the perinatal mortality in developing countries. The Umbiflow low-cost Doppler ultrasound device can detect foetuses considered to be below the growth curve at the primary point of care, referred to as “small for gestational age” (SGA), thereby greatly reducing the cases of mothers being referred for further medical interventions. Doppler ultrasound equipment is a tool used worldwide to determine foetus health and the Umbiflow intends to increase its impact. Using ultrasound waves, it measures blood flow in the umbilical cord of unborn babies to determine if a foetus is SGA or sick. This usually occurs if the placenta is not providing enough blood flow to maintain the foetus on the standard growth curve.

 

In the public healthcare system, women usually only undergo blood flow measurement using ultrasound technology if a pregnancy is considered high risk, and then only through a referral to a secondary health care provider or specialist. At the primary health care level, foetuses are assessed regularly for SGA status using a tape measure measurement of the fundal height, measured from the pubic bone to the top of the uterus.

 

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), CSIR, and the DSI funded the development of the device. It is also the result of a successful collaboration between the Gauteng, Western Cape, and National departments of health. In a study conducted by the SAMRC and the University of Pretoria’s Maternal and Infant Health Care Strategies Unit in Mamelodi, Pretoria, it was revealed that the device reduced the perinatal mortality rate in the study group by over 50 percent when compared to the control group. Unlike conventional, more expensive Doppler ultrasound equipment, the device does not require a specialist to operate it and interpret the results. Nursing sisters, midwives and general practitioners in mobile, rural and low-resource primary health care settings can easily use it, thereby greatly reducing the cases of mothers being referred to secondary care level. Doppler ultrasound units are beyond the reach of the majority of primary care facilities in the country, as only specialists can operate them. With a large rural or semi-rural population and large numbers of people living at low-income levels in South Africa, the device has the potential to make a significant impact on the healthcare system. The SAMRC and CSIR are seeking a commercialisation partner for the Umbiflow device.

 

(ii) Vaccine Production Plant Expression Systems

Vaccines can be produced in tobacco plants, similar to the way in which the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp is generated. The technique, known as biopharming, harnesses the production lines of billions of tiny cellular factories contained within tobacco leaves to produce non-plant proteins on demand.

The CSIR has established a biopharming platform, which takes South African research with good potential for commercialisation and moves it towards commercial application. The platform works on a number of projects in human health, veterinary health, and industrial biotechnology, that are at various stages of development.

Projects like the elephant immuno-contraceptive are a good way to test the biopharming platform because veterinary health products are not subject to the stringent regulations imposed on drugs and vaccines for human health. For the same reason, the CSIR is also putting its efforts into industrial biotechnology, specifically proteins used widely for research and diagnostics.

Nevertheless, researchers are working on several human-specific projects at the biopharming platform. Projects include a rabies vaccine that uses a similar approach, and developing the methods needed to produce a rapid-response influenza vaccine in case of a flu pandemic.

(iii) Bioactive Packaging for Grape Industry

Botrytis cinerea is a common cause for post-harvest decay in table grapes throughout the world. In the South African table grape industry, this fungal disease has been responsible for major economic losses in fruit export markets. Botrytis infection often takes place in the vineyard but typically manifests later, after harvesting and often during cold storage. It is industry norm to store table grapes at -0.5°C before it is moved to local and export markets. Cold storage is used to maintain fruit quality and limit the development of storage diseases.

Cold storage can successfully slow down the development of Botrytis cinerea, but it is not enough to combat the disease. Instead, cold storage is used in combination with sulphur dioxide (SO²) fumigation. It is common practice to use SO² absorber sheets inside table grape packaging. Although this method controls post-harvest fungal decay effectively, the chemical can potentially cause damage to the grapes. Furthermore, the standards set for maximum residue limits are continuously changing and the South African fresh fruit export industry is under increasing international pressure to limit the use of chemicals.

 

A consortium consisting of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), the CSIR, and funded by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) has co-developed and patented a bioactive packaging (biocontrol sheet) that can control post-harvest fungus from growing on the grapes. The sheet is made of a mixture of essential oils embedded in a plastic sheet. The sheet is low cost and can be made into a biodegradable form.

 

(iv) Diabetes-Detecting Chip

The CSIR has developed a diabetes-detecting chip to monitor blood sugar levels by analysing breath. This nanotechnology breathalyser aims to supplement, and eventually replace, the current invasive "finger prick" glucometer for monitoring diabetes. Currently, patients who are diagnosed with diabetes in South Africa have to prick their fingers three times a day to check their blood sugar levels. The new device allows a patient to blow into the device to receive their blood glucose results instead of using needles to draw blood. In 2015, the DSI partnered with the CSIR to establish a local production facility for nanotechnology materials. The Nanomaterials Industrial Development Facility, which houses the infrastructure for scale-up, processing and testing of nanotechnology products, is where the prototype was fully developed.

 

(v) Bio-manufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC)

The bio-manufacturing technologies competence area contributes to the unit’s focus on taking bio-based products, technologies and processes from discovery to commercial implementation in support of the emerging national bio-economy. The group develops protein expression systems to produce antibodies, reagent proteins or animal vaccines at low-cost using readily scalable technologies. In addition, the bio-manufacturing technologies platform also focuses on leading the implementation and driving the sustainability of the Bio-manufacturing Industry Development Centre (BIDC) programme, which also supports the unit’s spin-out companies and small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) to develop products and getting market acceptance in the bioprocessing and agro-processing industries. Furthermore, through the BIDC, CSIR Biosciences translates its technologies to support the technological competitiveness of existing corporates.

 

(vi) 3D Printing – Additive Manufacturing

The CSIR and Aerosud Innovation Centre, an aeronautical engineering and manufacturing company, have developed an advanced 3D printer for metal components as part of project Aeroswift. This programme was initiated in 2011 after shortcomings with commercially available metal additive manufacturing technology were identified. The Aeroswift project, funded by the DSI, has since produced three titanium parts, namely a pilot’s throttle lever and a condition lever grip for the South African developed AHRLAC (Advanced, High Performance, Reconnaissance, Light, Aircraft) aircraft and a fuel tank pylon bracket for a commercial aircraft. The CSIR, with its commitment to scientific innovation for industrial development, supports the Aeroswift project because of its strong potential to provide South Africa with a competitive edge in additive manufacturing.

 

The Aeroswift project resulted in a metal-additive manufacturing system which uses a laser to melt titanium powder to produce metal parts for the commercial aerospace manufacturing sector. The system has the ability to produce geometrically complex parts according to a customer’s specification, minimising material wastage while processing difficult-to-machine materials. The system can also be used to produce parts for the power generation, automotive tooling, defence and manufacturing sectors.

 

Additionally, the 3D printing machine allows for the printing of components up to 2 m long, 600 mm wide and 600 mm high. It also uses a hot and inert processing environment to ensure strict compliance to aerospace manufacturing standards. The Aeroswift team has developed new technologies to upscale the additive process to go significantly faster and significantly larger than other systems. During proof-of-concept trials, the machine achieved production speeds of up to 10 times faster than currently available commercial laser melting machines. Furthermore, its production chamber’s volume measures about four times than that of the biggest commercial machines currently available. Compared to conventional manufacturing technologies which often rely on the removal of material through a machining process to produce a final component, additive manufacturing relies on various energy-depositing technologies to fuse powdered or wire-based materials into 3-D functional near-net-shape parts.

 

In the South African landscape, where the government aims to grow and diversify the economy, the Aeroswift project has the potential to advance economic development and improve market competitiveness by unlocking the growing additive manufacturing industry. In addition, this project is central to South Africa’s national titanium beneficiation strategy, which aims to transform the country from an exporter of raw materials to an exporter of semi-finished or finished goods, which can be sold at a premium. The envisaged use of the 3D printer system is in factorieswhere titanium metal parts are being produced for the world market.

 

3.3 State Information Technology Agency (SITA)

3.3.1. Site Visits

(i) SITA Beta Building

The SITA Beta Building is situated in Pretoria and it is mainly a printing facility which is responsible for the print of matric certificates, TVET college certificates and diplomas, salary payslips for government departments, identity documents (IDs), statements of utility bills for municipalities, and deeds registers with labels and published deeds and other related services. The facility hosts digital printers that are capable of printing one million images per day and italso does printing work forof all government departments, national and provincial, including the local government on request. It is one of the South African government’s national key points due to the printing of identity documents(IDs) and has high level security. The facility is governed by the National Key Points Act, 1980 (Act No. 108 of 1980). All the employees of the facility were vetted through the State Security Agency (SSA). The Committee was taken to the section where the Department of Higher Education and Training certificates (N1 - N3 and N4 - N6) were being printed.The certificate papers are supplied by the DHET and it is also responsible for the security features built into the certificates. Similarly, the security features of the identity documents and the paperare the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs. The Committee was shown different certificates for different qualifications.The facilitycan print 80 000 certificates for annual examinations in three to four hours. The DHET collects the printed certificates on a daily basis and it is also responsible for distribution to the colleges. The data is provided by the DHET through the SITA mainframe and there are audit trails for every job performed on the mainframe to ensure that there is no tampering with the data.

(ii) SITA Data Centre

The SITA Data Centre is situated in Centurion and houses the servers which host data that is for exclusive access by government departments. The Centre is very secured and only accessible to limited accredited staff personnel that are assigned to maintain it. The Committee heard that all the data that was stored on the servers is backed up and there were generators that supported the centre in case of load shedding to mitigate against the possibilities of interruptions. The data that is stored by the servers is critical for certification and resulting purposes. The data is normally submitted to Umalusi for quality assurance before the certificates can be printed.

(iii) Network Corporation Centre

The Network Corporation Centre provides support to government departments with respect to their websites’ functionality, security and related services. The Centre has different large screens that are continuously monitored by qualified technicians who work on a 24 hours and seven days a week shift. The Committee heard that centre deals with 600 incidences per day, however, due to load shedding, there had been a high number of incidences up to 6 000 per day. The Centre boast efficient systems that are continuously updated.

(iv) SITA DHET Support Team

The SITA DHET support team consists of 20 software developers that are dedicated to the DHET examination support and related services. The services offered by the team relate to software programming and functionality, functional application, technical support, systems analysis and execution of business rules. The data that is received from the DHET examination unit is captured into the SITA system for consolidation purposes. The SITA then submits the consolidated data to Umalusi for quality assurance before the printing of certificates can be undertaken. In terms of policy, the DHET is supposed to issue certificates to eligible candidates within three months after the examination. However, the Committee heard that there were problems with regard to the consolidation of data due to old systems that were inefficient. Some of the data in the system are misaligned and difficult to consolidate, and this affects the certification process and contributes significantly to the certification backlog.

3.3.2. Summary of the management presentation

The delegation from the SITA was led by the recently appointed Executive Caretaker, Mr L Keyise who was accompanied by senior management of the entity. Mr Keyise submitted an apology to the Committee due to other pre-scheduled work commitments that he had to attend to in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). He delegated Mr V John: Head of Department (HOD) Administration to make the presentation on his behalf.

Mr John began the presentation by reflecting on the SITA’s mandate which is to improve service delivery to the public through the provision of information technology, information systems and related services. He explained in detail the role of the SITA in the certification value chain, which consists of hosting examination system, supporting execution of exam cycle process, providing functional application support services and printing of the certificates.

With respect to the progress and status of certification backlog for the National Certificate Vocational NC(V), there were 444 outstanding certificates as at 15 January 2020 (first issue subject or full certificate) from 2007 November to 2019 March examination cycles and 7 878 outstanding certificates as at 17 December 2019 (for full certificates) from 2008 November and 2019 March examination cycles.  In relation to the National Accredited Tertiary Education Diploma (NATED) certification backlog, the situation was worse, given that as at 15 January 2020, there were 19 780 outstanding certificates for engineering studies from November 1992 to April 2019 examination cycles and 29 524 certificates for NATED business studies also from November 1992 to June 2019. For the General Education and Training Certificate (GETC), there were 66 072 outstanding certificates as at 15 January 2020, from November 2002 to November 2018.

Mr John concluded by pointing out that the SITA has done a high level analysis of the identified outstanding candidate records, and grouped these records into categories and prepared a plan to address the backlog. The SITA also understood that the outstanding certificates have a severe adverse impact on deserving candidates.

3.4 Tshwane University of Technology (TUT)

3.4.1. Site Visits

3.4.1.1.TUT Garankuwa Campus

The Committee undertook a special site visit to the Garankuwa Campus which is located 54 kilometres away from the main campus in Pretoria. The purpose of the visit was mainly to check the incomplete infrastructure projects at this campus. The Garankuwa Campus had two incomplete projects, namely, the Auditorium and Specialised Lecture Halls. The Committee heard that the main reasons for delayed completion of the projects could be largely attributed to contractors experiencing cash flow challenges and community disruptions during construction work. The University indicated that a service provider had been appointed to finalise the outstanding work with the Auditorium and it would be completed before the end of 2020.

The Committee heard that a company linked to Group 5 experienced serious cash flow challenges, as a result, abandoned the completion of the Specialised Lecture Halls which are meant to address the shortage of space for academic projects. The University indicated that it was busy with procurement processes for the appointment of a new service provider and the facility would be completed in an 18-month period.

The Committee also checked a student residence that was completed in 2016, and heard that there was poor workmanship in the bathrooms of the residence, and a new service provider had been appointed to repair the damages, and work would be completed in March 2020.

3.4.1.2. TUT Main Campus

(i) Student Administration Block

The Committee visited the graduation desk at the Student Administration Block, where they saw students who have completed their studies in 2019 were enquiring and confirming their graduation status. The Committee also visited the “Stoep Area” where student services such as printing of academic records, proof of registration, financial enquiries and student accommodation were rendered.

 

 (ii) Polonaise Female Student Residence

The Polonaise Student Residence offers accommodation that is conducive for teaching and learning requirements. The residence is five star graded and offers daily cleaning, laundry rooms, 24-hours security and other related services. The residence has seven floors and accommodates 277 female students who are expected to pay R2 600 for a double room and R2 700 for a single room per month. The residence has 44 single rooms and they are only allocated to senior students who perform above 65 percent. The placement of students in the residence is done according to their programmes, and each floor is dedicated to students that are registered for a particular course. Each floor has a residence committee representative and also offers mentorship programmes to students for academic support purposes. The residence does not accommodate students with disabilities as it did not have rooms at the ground floor. The Committee observed that the residence was clean and well maintained and the residence leaders were committed to offering students a good living and learning experience.

(iii)Bus Terminal

The Campus has a bus terminal which provides students with transport services to commute to different campuses and residences. It was reported that some of the residences are far from the Campus and the buses are used to ensure that students access both the Campus and the residences. The Campus is also closer to the Metrorail station and some students and staff use the trains to commute to and from the Campus.

(iv)Disability Unit

The Committee was informed that the University recognises the rights of all students and staff and takes pride in making education accessible to students with disabilities. In realising this, the University commits itself to have a culture of human rights, which enables students with disabilities to equally access and participate in the dynamic teaching and learning environment. The Disability Unit works closely with other faculties/departments within the University to provide the necessary support to students with disabilities.

The Disability Laboratory offers assistive technological services such as, screenings, specialised software aligned to a student’s academic needs, conversion of study material into accessible formats, facilitation of tests and examinations for students with disabilities. The Committee was shown how students use JAWS, which is a computer screen reader for Microsoft Windows that allows blind and visually impaired students to read the screen either with a text to speech output or by a refreshable Braille display. The Committee heard that the Braille technology was being phased out since its complicated and not user friendly, andstudents were advised to use the JAWS systems. The computers are fitted with Acrobat HD Reader, which has a special camera that allows the visually impaired students to zoom the text in and out. The computer screen had a black background which made it easy for students with dyslexia to use the system. There is also an induction loop system which is meant for hearing impaired students. This system uses an electrical magnetic waves to only amplify the speaker’s voice and eliminate other background voices. The Committee was informed that the assistive devices used by students with disabilities are very expensive and can cost up to R40 000.

3.4.2. TUT Council and Management presentation

Dr L van Staden led the management team of the University and delegated various managers to present on a wide range of issues covered in the presentation. He indicated that the presentation was prepared in response to the Committee’s focus areas for the oversight visit. Council was led by Ms L Nare: Deputy Chairperson who indicated that the Chairperson, Dr Masuku had resigned from his position. There were other council members present at the meeting. 

Dr M Mushaathoni began the presentation by referring to the registration statistics as at 30 January 2020. In this respect, a total of 8 841 of registered students were first-time entering (FTEN’s) students and the target for FTEN’s was 14 170 all inclusive. The registration was progressing well at the University with no disruptions, and engagements with student leaders to identify challenges were ongoing. He proceeded to reflect on the composition of the council and its term of office. He noted the resignation of the Chairperson of the Council, Dr Masuku and other vacant positions of the Ministerial appointees on council. Dr Mushaathoni also gave an update with respect to Ms V Motloutsi’s removal from the council. In this respect, he noted that Ms Motloutsi was a co-opted member of council and on 12 April 2019, her appointment was terminated, and she appealed the decision, however, council reaffirmed its resolution of 12 April 2019.

Prof van Staden reflected on the composition of senior management hierarchy and acknowledged that there were vacant positions at senior management level of the institution. He also reflected on allegations in respect of the appointment of Mr Mahlalela as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Acting DVC Operations without the requisite qualifications, and outlined his work experience that include 15 years of outstanding financial management track record. He reported that the University had verified Mr Mahlalela’ s qualifications with the Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE).

With respect to the financial position of the University, TUT moved to a surplus position in 2018 after three consecutive years of deficits and the institution has been receiving unqualified audit reports since 2005. The council’s approved budget for 2019 amounted to R25 billion and the University’s total assets exceeds its liabilities. In respect tothe NSFAS disbursements, NSFAS funded 37 126 students in 2019 at a cost of R2 billion. For 2020, the University registered 22 829 returning students and 5 827 FETN’s NSFAS students totaling 28 656. As at 31 January 2020, there were 88 540 eligible NSFAS students on the University’s database. With respect to student debt, the majority of outstanding debt relates to missing-middle students and the net student debt outstanding as at 31 December 2019, amounted to R740 million.

In relation to the status of the academic project, three faculties achieved an 80 percent success rate,i.e. Faculty of the Arts & Design, Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Science. The University has a number of initiatives to improve student success rate, which include: classroom technology and staff capacity development; establishment of virtual classrooms and learning management system (myTUTor) support. The University graduates more than 15 000 students per year.

Mr Mahlalela: Acting DVC Operations gave an update on incomplete infrastructure projects. He indicated that the infrastructure projects of the University are funded through the DHET infrastructure efficiency grant and TUT internal funding. Only four out of the 14 projects have their completion delayed, namely Ga-Rankuwa Auditorium and Specialised Lecture rooms, Soshanguve training facility and student residence. These projects have been handed over for construction and the rest of other projects were progressing well with proper management and oversight. The main reasons for delayed completion projects could be attributed to: abandonment of projects by contractors due to cash flow challenges, delays due to disruptions by the communities demanding to be sub-contracted in the projects and delays in municipal approvals.

3.4.3. Tshwane University of Technology Enterprise Holdings (TUTEH) presentation

Mr N Motsatse: CEO began the presentation by outlining the rationale for the establishment of TUTEH by the University. He remarked the fundamental reason for the establishment of the entity as being the generation of third stream income through a variety of business operations. The current business operations of TUTEH focused on the Tshwane Institute for Continuing Education (TICE) and TUTEH properties. TICE solicits, coordinates and manages short learning programmes, through an exclusive mandate and for the benefit of TUT. TUTEH properties focus leased and accredited residences.

Mr Motsatse responded to the specifically expressed inquiries by the Committee, which related to: process inthe appointment of senior staff; procurement of services; sourcing of student accommodation and TUTEH business model. The appointment of staff is undertaken in line with the institution’s recruitment policy and procurement of goods and services is also undertaken in line with the approved policy for procurement. The TUTEH business model is based on three dimensional model, namely, start-up, holdings company and network orchestration.

3.4.4. Institutional Forum (IF) presentation

Dr N Tshamano: Former IF Deputy Chairperson welcomed the opportunity to make a presentation on behalf of the IF. He remarked that the newly constituted IF only held one meeting session, and the new executive was not familiar with the roles and responsibilities of the IF. Thus, the University management electedDr Tshamano to make a presentation on behalf of the newly constituted IF.

The Committee expressed serious concerns about the decision by the University management to appoint the former Chairperson of the IF to make a presentation on behalf of the newly constituted IF structure. As a result, the Committee rejected the presentation since it did not reflect the views of the newly appointed IF, and cautioned management with regard to abuse of its power and interference in the University’s legally constituted structures.

3.4.5.National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) presentation

Mr J Mphurpi: Deputy Secretary began the presentation by reflecting on the background that led to the establishment of NUMSA TUT branch. He remarked that some of the workers were ill-treated by NEHAWU TUT and were called by names, and this, prompted workers to establish an alternative union that would represent their views without being subjected to abuse and name shaming.

With respect to the presentation, Mr Mphurpi gave context to the governance challenges faced by the institution. The IF of the University did not have a chairperson for five months; the SRC leaders used students to further their selfish vendettas; the disability unit was too small and not properly placed under a suitable directorate.

With respect to human resource issues, Mr Mphurpi said that the HR policies of the institution have changed every time and now and often and there was inadequate participation of unions in the interview panel. The lack of adherence to legislative requirements and poor handling of disciplinary cases by the institution remained a concern. Moreover, there was a lack of transparency in certain recruitment processes and employees were not given a fair chance to apply for positions at TUTEH.

Mr Mphurpi referred to the union’s concerns about management and highlighted the following: poor communication with stakeholders; delays with the organizational review and decentralization of key institutional functions. Mr Mphurpi concluded with key recommendations which included but not limited to: filling of vacant posts by management; urgent election of the chairperson of IF; the need for transparency in the recruitment processes; review of university policies and insourcing of security personnel as a matter of urgency.

3.4.6. National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) presentation

Mr J Moeketsi: Secretary led the delegation from NTEU and also presented on their behalf. He expressed shock over the news that the Chairperson of TUT Council, Dr B Masuku resigned from his position, and that the management had not communicated the news. He proceeded to raise issues in respect of the University management, which included but not limited to: irregular appointments and extension of contracts for senior managers; appointment of a consultant earning ahuge salary and other similar appointments.

Mr Moeketsi expressed the union’s concern over the management of infrastructure projects by the University, and made reference to incomplete projects at Ga-Rankuwa and Soshanguve Campuses, and lack of consequence management thereof. Mr Moeketsi proceeded to raise a range of issues concerning the establishment of TUTEH. The concerns in respect of TUTEH related to: its inability to make profit; poor structuring of its service level agreement with the University; staff earning exorbitant and inappropriate salaries and other similar issues.

Mr Moeketsi registered the union’s concerns with respect to: inconsistency in the implementation of disciplinary action; inconsistency in the application of policies; appointment of senior management staff without the requisite qualifications; inconsistency in the application of organizational rights; ineffective internal grievance process of the University; staff abuse by students; inconsistencies in the recognition of NTEU.

The union recommended that: an investigation into issues of maladministration and corruption be undertaken; council and TUTEH be investigated; lifestyle audit of TUTEH staff be undertaken and investigation into the relationship between management, the council and NUMSA.

3.4.7. National Education and Health Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) presentation

The Branch Secretary began the presentation by giving a background about the union’s representation within the University. He remarked that the union had the largest membership at TUT with 1 478 out of the 3 393 employees and six branches in Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.  With respect to governance, the union complained about the lack of representation of organized labour in council and this led to animosity between management and labour. In this regard, the union called for the amendment of the institutional statue to afford unions representation in the council. The union registered its concern about TUTEH and its operations and called for reconfiguration of the entity in such a way to not have a conflict with the operations of the University.

The union expressed its concern on a number of issues which included: the delays with the appointment of senior managers on a permanent basis; the envisaged centralization of NSFAS which might lead to job losses within the institution; non-compliance by the University with the occupational health and safety regulations; overpopulation of part-time lecturers; purging of union shop stewards; tender/supply chain irregularities and conflict of interest. In conclusion, the union recommended that: Parliament extends the scope of its investigation on TUTEH; unions be represented in the council and review of the business model of TUTEH.

3.4.8. National Education and Health Allied Workers Union (Garankuwa Branch) presentation

Mr J Chiloane: Branch Secretary of NEHAWU Garankuwa Branch remarked that the presentation made by NEHAWU of the institution did not reflect the proper position of all the branches of the unions, and the union held a meeting before the oversight visit of the Committee, wherein a wide range of issues were discussed. Nonetheless, a number of issues that had been agreed at the meeting were removed from the presentation made by NEHAWU, and the presentation of the Ga-Rankuwa Branch of NEHAWU was legitimate and reflected the overall view of the workers from the institution.

The Committee was perplexed at the manifestation of internal divisions within NEHAWU for the second time in a row. On 27 November 2019 in Parliament, the presentation from NEHAWU was rejected by the Committee due to internal squabbles that divided the union on issues affecting the University. Nonetheless, the Committee allowed the NEHAWU Ga-Rankuwa Branch to make the presentation and also pleaded with the union to diffuse its internal factional battles which were not in the interest of the workers.

The presentation by Mr Chiloane reflected the same sentiments raised by his NEHAWU counterpart. The issues raised related to inadequate working conditions of workers; large number of staff employed on contracts; concerns with the business model of TUTEH, vacant positions at senior management level and related matters.

3.4.9. Student Representative Council presentation

The SRC was led by Mr A Malefane: President who welcomed the oversight visit of the Committee to the institution. He remarked that a number of issues that affect students had been raised by the union representatives and the SRC would submit its detailed report to the Committee concerning other issues that affect students. Nonetheless, Mr Malefane listed the following as critical challenges of students: inadequate spaces for new university entrants; shortage of student accommodation to meet the growing demand; inadequate funding available to assist postgraduate students; growing student debts and inadequate scarce and critical skills programme offered by the University.

 

 

 

 

3.5. Vaal University of Technology

3.5.1. Site Visits

(i) Student Administration Building

The Committee visited the Administration Building where students register and make enquiries with respect to their academic programmes and other related services. There were queues of newly enrolled and returning students, and the majority of them had challenges with respect to the NSFAS. The Committee engaged with students, the NSFAS staff and the University management. The Committee heard that the NSFAS started paying allowances from Wednesday, 5 February 2020. It was reported thatapproximately 770 students did not get their allowances and this was largely attributed to outstanding documents required for payments to be processed. Some informed members that they were blocked and they came to be unblocked so that they can register and some complained about the late disbursement of allowances and payment of tuition fees by the NSFAS.

The Committee heard that the registration of students commenced smoothly, and the University did not allow walk-ins during the 2020 registration period. The University’s online registration system was utilised by students to a large extent and it assisted to minimise disruptions during the registration period. The University also signed a memorandum of agreement with the SRC in respect of the registration of returning students including international students. The agreement stipulated conditions for senior students who have not honoured their outstanding debt repayment agreements. Moreover, students that signed the Acknowledgement of Debt (AoD) form were allowed to register for the 2020 academic year.

(ii) Credit Management Office

The Office is responsible for collection of student debt and provides services to students who are self-funded and mostly the “missing middle”. The majority of students who visited the Office had outstanding debt and could not register and were negotiating the payment plans. The Office receives a mandate annually on how to collect student debt. The mandate comes from an agreement between management and student leadership on the percentage of the debt that students should pay prior registration. The Committee was informed that the Management Committee met every day to attend to financial exclusion appeals and other student related issues.

(iii) Student Residences

  • Meropa Residence

The Committee was taken to a block of student residence which was burnt during the peak of the #fees-must-fall movement in 2016. The Committee was informed that the site was handed over to the contractor in December 2019 for refurbishment. There were two buildings, including the residence office, which were demolished because their structural damage could not allow for refurbishment. The Committee observed that the residence block was badly damaged and did not meet the occupational health and safety requirements to accommodate students. The University indicated that work was underway to refurbish the residence, including opening another entrance to comply with the occupational health and safety requirements and the estimated costs of the project amounts to R6 million. The University hoped that the refurbishment work would be completed by the end of February 2020.

  • Malemaville Residence

The construction of the residence was completed in 2015 and handed over to the University in 2016. The residence houses only male students and it also accommodates students with disabilities. The Committee could not see a room for students with disabilities because there were no keys. The ground floor had a kitchenette and a laundry. Some kitchen cabinetry did not have doors and drawers. The Committee was informed that students were not taking care of cabinets. Students were not allowed to cook in their rooms and only allowed to bring in their rooms a fridge and microwave. Nevertheless, infrastructure was in good shape, however, there were challenges in respect of keeping the rooms clean and up to standard. It appeared that the University did not roll out the residences’ cleaning and maintenance programme during the holiday period, hence some of the rooms were not ready for occupation whilst registration was near completion.

  • Boiketlong Residence

The residences were some of the old residences and were named “mine houses” as their construction was funded by the mines. The residences accommodate 520 male students. They were recently refurbished and the kitchenette was fitted with modern appliances. Though they were rated zero-star residence, the rooms, bathrooms and the kitchenettes were clean.

  • Leseding Residence

The residence houses female students, but it was vacant at the time of the oversight. This was due to renovations that were taking place, mainly plumbing. The University handed over the residence to the contractors on 4 December 2019 and it has been handed over to the University in tranches. The Committee was informed that the first contractor who was awarded the tender to do the repair work did a shoddy work and the University had to procure another service provider to redo the work. The costs of the repair work amounted to R30 million.

3.5.2. Management presentation

Prof I Rensburg: Administrator delegated the senior management team from the University to make the management presentation to the Committee. With respect to progress on registration and enrolment, Dr T Mokoena: Registrar indicated that the University experienced registration and enrolment of students with minimal disruptions, and this was largely attributed to the University introducing an online registration system and eliminating the walk-ins. The total number of applications received by the University for 2020 was 37 071 and the total admissions was 5 998. The target for FTEN’s was 4 509 and the actual number of FTEN’s was 3 298. The Committee was informed that the University was in contact with the Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) to address the shortfall in FTENs. Dr Mokoena also reported that the University was struggling to meet enrolment targets in masters and doctoral programmes. However, registration for postgraduateis open until end of March 2020. Some of the registration challenges experienced included: approved students not taking up their offers; historical debt; academic exclusions; late approval of the Advanced Diplomas and outstanding visas for international students. In respect to the NSFAS, the University received R391 million as an upfront payment from the NSFAS for 2018 and 2019 respectively. The actual amount owed by the NSFAS to the University amounted to R66 million for previous years and R45 million for 2020 registration fees for the NSFAS funded students, as they registered without paying upfront fees.

In relation to progress with the investigations of irregularities, an outline was given on the number of cases that were ongoing, however, there have not been convictions made in respect to individuals involved in irregularities. The Administrator indicated that some of the cases would be referred to the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) for further investigation.

The remainder of the presentation focused on: financial position of the University (total assets of R2.2 billion and reserves amounting to R1 billion based on 2018 figures, student debt amounting to R280 million and total income of R1.6 billion for the period ending 31 December 2019); student housing and infrastructure development; mitigating measures for gender-based violence; promoting the safety of students and staff; student success and drop-out rates; and research and innovation.

3.5.3. Administrator’s Report

Prof I Rensburg: Administrator reflected on his first quarter report submitted to the Minister which covers the period from the Administrator’s appointment on 15 April 2019 until 30 November 2019. The report provides a summary of the Administrator’s initial findings. The most critical initial findings of the Administrator found that: the institution was patently factionalized with absent leaders; there was confusion of management committees with overlapping mandates; there was pervasive upward management; little or no culture of accountability; no performance management culture nor system or performance agreements; there was a pervasiveness of acting positions; the institutional paralysis has significant knock-on costs; there was a debilitating backlog of decisions and resultant action; student residences were in an atrocious state and significant NSFAS payment of R221 million outstanding from 2018.

The Administrator proceeded to outline the critical risks facing the University which included: internal audit plan not being approved and incomplete financial statements of 2018; lack of coherent academic programme; delays in completion of infrastructure projects; delays with insourcing of support staff and the lack of comprehensive IT strategy.The Administrator concluded by reiterating his commitment to turn-around the institution and assured the Committee that he would work tirelessly to bring stability within the institution.

3.5.4. National Education and Health Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) presentation

Mr Radebe: Branch Chairperson welcomed the opportunity offered by the Committee for the union to express its views on critical issues affecting the institution. He began the presentation by referring to the challenges in respect of the institution’s student residences. In this respect, the University spent more than R140 million on external residences owned by service providers and the buildings were very old dating back to 1966.

With respect to registration for the 2020 academic year, Mr Radebe expressed challenges concerning the University’s online registration system and the delays by the NSFAS to respond to students’ appeals. The process of unblocking unfunded students was cumbersome and there was not funding for postgraduates.

In respect to workers conditions of employment, Mr Radebe outlined the following concerns: 40 percent of  the staff complement were on contract and some were on contract for more than eight years; equal pay for equal work has not been fully implemented; no staff retention strategy; no promotion policy for support and administrative staff; no recruitment within the institution; general discontent amongst staff concerning the human resource directorate and lack of recognition of prior learning (RPL) by the institution.

Mr Radebe expressed the union’s concerns with respect to the imbalance between the operational budget versus the salary budget of the institution. In this regard, he noted that a large amount of the University’s budget is earmarked for operations as opposed to salaries, and the union requested for additional funding from Treasury to improve the financial position of the institution. Mr Radebe concluded by registering the union’s concern with respect to the awarding of tenders to companies outside the Sedibeng region. He called for the swift insourcing of all the institutions’ outsourced services and welcomed the appointment of the Administrator at the institution.

3.5.5. National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) presentation

The union indicated that mistrust of the University’s leadership and lack of transparency remained a serious concern. The union specifically cited: lack of accountability; transparency; damaging levels of corruption and job insecurity among staff. The mismanagement of finance was also highlighted as a major concern coupled with freezing of posts and management failure to include salary increments in its annual budget.

3.5.6. Student Representative Council (SRC) presentation

The SRC representatives did not prepare a formal presentation for the meeting and the President and Secretary-General had been placed on suspension. Nonetheless, the representatives present at the meeting thanked the Committee for visiting the institution given its status quo. The SRC acknowledged that the registration process at the University went smoothly as compared to the previous years where there were violent protests at the institution. However, students were concerned about the delays by the NSFAS to respond to appeals which hindered students from registering and the historic debt that affects mostly the missing middle students.

The SRC indicated that it signed an agreement with management in respect of the registration of returning students, including international students. The agreement stipulated the different categories of minimum payment required before students could register, and this contributed significantly to the smooth registration process for 2020. The SRC expressed concerns in respect of postgraduate funding, which was inadequate.

4. OBSERVATIONS

4.1. Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)

4.1.1.    The burning of infrastructure by students during protests was condemned by the Committee. The Committee reiterated that students must pursue their demands in a democratic manner and there is no validation for destroying property despite their level of anger. Members also emphasized the importance for university and TVET management to proactively and consistently engage with student leadership and students at large as a mechanism to curb potential protest action and other disruptions to the academic programme.

4.1.2.    The Committee expressed a concern with respect to the quality of teaching and learning in the TVET sector. The modernisation of the sector has been lagging behind as compared to universities, and this s the student success and throughput rates in the TVET sector.

4.1.3.    The Department has not invested sufficient resources to make TVET colleges attractive and the pace with respect to modernisation of the sector has been slow. TVETs should be the institutions of choice to absorb the large numbers of young people who want to acquire skills to access the labour market.

4.1.4.    The Committee expressed concerns with respect to the omission of the registration progress in the Community Education and Training (CET) sector from the presentations by the Department since this sector has an important role in the PSET system.

4.1.5.    It is concerning that some universities were compelling the NSFAS funded students to pay upfront fees before they can register, which is in contrast with the Minister’s statement and commitments made with the sector. Compounding the situation is the attitude of some Vice-Chancellors (VCs) who ignore the directive from the DHET and this contributes significantly to student unrest.

4.1.6.    The Committee expressed concerns with respect to the effectiveness of the CACH system to assist students who have not been placed in PSET institutions. The Department indicated that the registration processes for 2020 was not complete, and the placement rate of students in the CACH database to PSET institutions in 2018 was 24 percent and 4 percent in 2019 respectively.

4.1.7.    The missing middle students with historic debt were not allowed to register at some universities, despite the registration exemption announced by the Minister. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these students were unable to afford to pay upfront fees, including outstanding debts needed by universities before they could register and this sparks student protests, as it was the case with the University of KwaZulu Natal.

4.1.8.    The Committee expressed concerns about the R9 billion student historic debt in higher education and the impact of the debt on the financial sustainability of universities, including TVET colleges. The Department indicated that R952 million had been allocated to the NSFAS to cover the NSFAS funded students with historic debts, and half of it had been utilised. Moreover, there is no additional funding from government to cover debts of students that are not funded by the NSFAS. With respect to the TVET sector, historic debt can be attributed to over-enrolment and underfunding in general as well as some students that are unable to pay off their outstanding fees. Nevertheless, colleges do allow students with historic debt to register.

4.1.9.    The Committee reiterated its concern with respect to the student allowances for TVET students, which are lower as compared to their university counterparts, although they reside in similar student accommodation facilities.

4.1.10.  The Committee expressed a concern about the privately leased accommodation in the TVET sector, which are not safe and conducive for learning. TVET college students are forced to reside in back rooms due to limited infrastructure in the sector. The Department indicated that the norms and standards for student housing for the PSET sector prioritiesthe safety and security of students in general, however, rural based institutions have difficulty in finding accommodation that meets the criterion in the norms and standards for student housing.

4.1.11.  The NATED syllabus is outdated and students are unable to cope with the advancements in industry after completing their qualifications. The placement of students in industry for work integrated learning remains a concern also due to the outdated curriculum. Some of the courses are oversaturated resulting in students having difficulties in getting workplace learning.

4.1.12.  The Committee expressed a concern regarding the underutilisation of public infrastructure for teaching and learning, as well as for training and skills development purposes. In this regard, the Committee was of the view that there is a need for better engagements with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to assist TVET and CET colleges to acquire these buildings to augment their infrastructure shortages.

4.1.13.  The withholding of academic records for students with historic debts by universities remains a concern. The Committee repeated its call for better mechanisms to manage student debt so that students are allowed to access their certificates for employment purposes.

4.1.14. A concern was expressed with respect to the allegations that some universities push students to off-campus accommodation at the expense of their own accommodation to generate extra income.

4.1.15.The Committee expressed concerns regarding the functionality of the Coltech system that is being utilised by TVET college for their ICT solutions. The Department indicated that Coltech was developed for the TVET sector, and some colleges utilise it and others use different IT software.However, the way colleges contract with Coltech is a problem since they donot get the kind of back up services that they require and colleges are held hostage on their own data.

4.1.16.  The Committee expressed concerns with respect to the omission of the registration progress in the Community Education and Training (CET) sector from the presentations by the Department since this sector has an important role in the PSET system.

4.1.17.  The resistance from public officials at various PSET institutions to assist Members of Parliament (MP) with information needed for their oversight duties was noted as a serious concern.

4.1.18. Members raised concerns on the lack of comprehensiveness of the report by USAf regarding the state of readiness of the university programme academic year.

4.2. National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)

4.2.1.    The delays in the finalisation of the outstanding appeals process from 2019 was noted as a concern and the non-funding of students that have failed few subjects. The Administrator indicated that 3000 out of the 4000 appeals lodged had been resolved and the outstanding appeals would be finalised before the end of February 2020.

4.2.2.    The inequitable allocation of student allowances provided to students at TVET colleges and universities was noted as an ongoing concern. The Administrator indicated that the allowances to students were disbursed in line with the DHET Bursary Guidelines, and the NSFAS has not control over policy directives from the Department.

4.2.3.    The delays with the payments of allowances and assistive devices for students with disabilities remained a concern. These students were unable to partake in teaching and learning activities without their assistive devices, and their fair chance of success is compromised.

4.2.4.    The delays with the payment of outstanding allowances due to students, especially in the TVET sector remained a concern. The Administrator acknowledged that there were 31 colleges that still administered the NSFAS funding and the process to convert them to the NSFAS wallet system was ongoing. In addition, the NSFAS pays allowances to students that have signed their loan agreement forms / schedule of particulars (LAFSOPs).

4.2.5.    The Committee expressed concerns with respect to the difficulties that were experienced in integration of student enrolment data between the NSFAS and the PSET institutions. This contributed to the irregular payments to students/institutions and challenges with reconciliation of payments made to students. The Administrator acknowledged that the current IT systems of the NSFAS are not fit for purpose, and work is underway to rectify this problem.

4.3 Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)

4.3.1.    The Committee enquired about the impact of CSIR’s work on unemployment and poverty alleviation. This was explained as being direct and indirect, the CSIR itself, was an employer, they develop technologies for industries who employ people and also their investment in human capital development. They work with small and medium enterprises and provide free intellectual property (IP) for work done in townships.

4.3.2.    The Committee asked to what extent their research expertise was used to advise ESKOM on sustainable power generation; the CSIR have provided input on solutions to the country’s energy challenges and assisted ESKOM with technology development, an example of which was the Koeberg water storage facility. 

4.3.3.    The Committee enquired about the economic viability in the establishment of a state owned pharmaceutical company, to which the Director-general (DG) for the DSI, Dr Phil Mjwara, responded that the Committee should consider having a detailed brief by the DSI on the matter.

4.3.4.    The Committee viewed the CSIR as an entity whose innovations can contribute to service delivery challenges at various levels and across sectors. It particularly highlighted effective data capturing systems in the health sector, the digitising of records, the biometrics system to be developed and used in other areas; specific reference was made with regard to collaboration with the NSFAS to assist with its inadequacies of their IT system, and also with the SITA in the backlog in the production of TVET sector certificates. Dr Mjwara undertook to have discussion with the NSFAS. Discussions about the biometrics in the area of health are also underway. The DSI and DHET have established working groups to identify challenges in the DHET and where assistance by DSI could be of value.

4.3.5.    The Committee raised their concerns around skills retention in the organisation and advised that future reporting should include the gender breakdown of staff, as well as the numbers of disabled staff. The CEO noted the comment on the diversity reporting. He explained that people exit the CSIR for better career and remuneration opportunities.

4.3.6.    The Committee asked about the CSIR’s partnership and collaboration with other government departments. The DG explained that the uptake of their innovations and technologies could be assisted if the Committee would consider working in a collaborative way at Parliamentary level to engage its counterparts around the innovations that could positively impact service delivery.

4.3.7.    The Committee was concerned about the limiting legislative and policy environment pertaining to the participation of public research entities in the public procurement process.

4.3.8     The Committee enquired how Parliament, through its committees, could assist the CSIR in availing its RDI expertise and infrastructure to all levels of government.

 

4.4 State Information Technology Agency (SITA)

4.4.1.    The Committee enquired about the involvement of each party in the certification lifecycle. The SITA indicated that the Department is responsible for the training and certification of students. Umalusi provides quality assurance of the data that is submitted by the SITA for certification purpose. The SITA hosts the examination system in the data centre, and also supports the execution of exam cycle process, and functional support services and printing of certificates.

4.4.2.    The Committee expressed serious concern about the delays within the Department to rollout the new examination system developed by Resolve IT. The new exam system was acquired in 2015, and a number of tests have been undertaken to check its capability and functionality. The Committee heard that the new system will do away with the capturing of marks manually, which will also eliminate the over reliance on user competence. The Department indicated that it was at 90 percent with respect to the development of the system. The new IT system will have clean data and is expected to go live in the new financial year of 2020/21.

4.2.3.    The Committee expressed its grave concern about the increase in the certification backlog for the NC(V) and NATED certificates which dates back as far as 1992. The Committee added that the plan put in place by the SITA to eradicate the backlog is not smart, and the SITA should work on plan towards achieving a zero backlog.

4.2.4.    The Committee expressed concerns about the possibilities that the SITA might be phased out of the certification lifecycle due to the appointment of a new service provider (Resolve IT) to manage the examination system for TVET colleges. The SITA allayed the fears of members by indicating that the data in the new IT system will be in control by SITA, and the service provider will have access to the system. The existing examination data would be migrated onto the new IT system.  SITA would also be still printing certificates, and maintenance and development of the system will be done by the service provider.

4.2.5.    The Committee was of the view that the inadequate investment in the modernisation of the SITA legacy systems could be attributed for the certification backlog which dates back to 1992. Compounding the situation is the inability of the SITA to identify the root causes of candidate records not being certified and lack of a clear timeline to resolve the problem

4.2.6.    The SITA was reminded about the adverse impact of the outstanding certificates have on deserving candidates whilst it was blaming its dysfunctional systems.

4.5. Tshwane University of Technology

4.5.1.    The allegations regarding the appointment of the Deputy Vice Chancellor (DVC) Operations without the requisite qualifications was clarified by management in the presentation, however, the Committee was of the view that the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) should be given an opportunity to verify the qualifications in question and provide a report.

4.5.2.    The proposals by the University to develop a bus terminal and sport facilities at the Garankuwa Campus was welcomed by the Committee. The Committee also acknowledged the good work undertaken by management to improve the overall reputation and the image of the institution.

4.5.3.    The Committee noted the concerns raised by the University stakeholders with respect to the business model of TUTEH and the irregularities in the appointment of staff and procurement processes.

4.5.4.    The high vacancy rate at senior management level of the University was noted as a serious concern and the alleged victimization of labour representatives with dissenting views against the management.

4.5.5.    The Committee reiterated its concern about the manner in which the University managed the dismissal of Ms Motloutsi from the council. Moreover, the Committee’s recommendation for her reinstatement was not implemented by the Council.

4.5.6.    The Committee was gravely concerned about the labour union (NEHAWU) which was divided and did not speak with one voice in representing the workers.

4.5.7.    The Committee was concerned about the management’s decision to appoint the former Chairperson of the IF to make a presentation on behalf of the newly instituted IF.

4.5.8.    The committee was concerned about the delays by management and council to sort out their issues collectively.

4.5.9.    The Committee expressed concerns about the poor workmanship at the some of the residences at Garankuwa Campus and the lack consequence management applied against contractors that have abandoned the projects.

4.5.10.  The Committee raised concerns about the militarisation of the campus and outsourcing of the security services, as well as the institutional social cohesion/connectedness. The University indicated that the insourcing of security services will be phased in due to funding constraints.

4.6. Vaal University of Technology

4.6.1.    The Committee expressed serious concerns with respect to the Administrator’s findings that the University is patently factionalized and a place where irregular and illegal demands are placed upon incumbent officials inclusive of appointments and procurement. Compounding the situation is that there had been three previous Administrators at the institution, and most of these Administrators could not finish their terms due to entrenched culture of factionalism and anarchy. The Committee pointed out that the problems at the institution were not just at leadership level, but also employees who did not have the interest of the University at heart, contributed to the instability of the institution.

4.6.2.    The delays by the NSFAS to respond to students’ appeals was noted as a concern. The Administrator indicated that there were contact staff dealing with VUT issues on a daily basis, and students need to understand the rules and guidelines of the NSFAS given the misunderstand about courses that are not funded.

4.6.3.    The Committee was concerned that the historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs) continuously experience challenges with respect to poor governance and management.

4.6.4.    The Committee expressed serious concerns about the poor infrastructure maintenance plan of the University, in particular, the student residences.

4.6.5.    The Committee inquired about the delays with regard to the accreditation of leased buildings. The University in its written reply indicated that the changes on the NSFAS allowances disbursement compels it to do accreditation of all the private accommodation providers that were housing students without the universities’ approval as students were paying directly to the service provider.

4.6.6.    The Committee inquired about the University’s plan to acquire university-owned student accommodation. The University in its written reply indicated that it intends to mitigate the imbalance of the demand and supply of student accommodation by either constructing new building within the designated University space or through acquiring building closer to the University precinct.

4.6.7.    The Committee expressed serious concerns with respect to abandoned infrastructure projects and poor workmanship that was carried out in some of the University’s buildings. Compounding the situation is the lack of consequence management against service providers that were allocated funds to improve the University’s infrastructure, however, abandoned some of the projects halfway. The University in its written reply provided a breakdown of the costs of some of the abandoned projects. The Engineering Building initial costs amounted to R15 million as per the award in September 2014, and the project was terminated at 10 percent completion. The initial cost for Teacher Education Building was R35 million as per award in October 2014, and the project was terminated at 10 percent completion. Thus, the University incurred a loss of R8 million for the termination of the construction work on the two buildings respectively.

4.6.8.    The Committee expressed concerns with respect to the safety and security of students within the University’s precinct due to poor lighting in corridors and dysfunctional surveillance cameras. The University acknowledged in its written reply that the surveillance cameras were problematic and plans were underway to install high quality cameras within the University precincts. The University will also install high vision LED lights with movement display to improve lighting.

4.6.9.    The Committee commended the work in progress undertaken by the Administrator. The Administrator indicated that the report from the Independent Assessor recommended for the need to take all cases of implicated employees to the Special Investigative Unit (SIU), and an audit lifestyle of senior managers would be undertaken. The Administrator undertook to implement the residence turnaround plan and improve communication with the stakeholders.  He also indicated that the two-years period given to him is sufficient to get to the rock bottom of the issues in the institutions.

 

5. RECOMMENDATIONS

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology having undertaken an oversight visit to Gauteng, recommends that the Minister consider the following:

5.1. DHET

5.1.1.    The overall student historic debt in higher education is estimated at R9 billion. The Department in collaboration with universities should develop a detailed plan to deal with the growing student historic debt, which hinders students (in particular missing middle) from registering and also perpetuates financial exclusions. There is a need to quantify the R9 billion historic debt to determine the different categories of students with outstanding debts.

5.1.2.    The Department in collaboration with universities should convene engagements with the private accommodation providers to discuss the minimum norms and standards for student housing in the PSET system.  Moreover, continuous monitoring of privately leased accommodation should be prioritised to blacklist opportunistic private accommodation providers that offer accommodation which is not conducive for students.

5.1.3.    The Department should invest additional resources for the modernisation of the TVET sector to make it more attractive and responsive to the needs of industry.

5.1.4.    The importance of stakeholders’ interaction within the PSET system is critical and the implementation of the resolutions of such interactions should be implemented.

5.1.5.    Universities should implement the Ministerial directives in respect of registration of the missing middle students, and the Department should take action against the institutions that deviate from implementing such directives.

5.1.6.    The Department should expedite the review of the TVET college bursary scheme guidelines to correct the anomaly of TVET student allowances which are below as compared to the university sector.

5.1.7.    The collaborations between TVET colleges, industry and SETAs should be improved to assist with the accreditation and certification of students enrolled in the college’s centres of specialization for artisanal skills.

5.1.8.    The Department should expedite the review of the TVET sector curricula so that it can match with what is required by industry to improve the absorption of TVET sector graduates into workplaces.

5.1.9.    The Department should convene an engagement with the Department of Human Settlements for the development of infrastructure or social housing that will be conducive for students’ living conditions, especially in underdeveloped areas. Moreover, the safety and security of students should be improved at PSET institutions and Police should play an active role in monitoring the students’ surroundings.

5.1.10.  There is a need for better engagements with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to assist TVET colleges to expand their infrastructure, and for unutilised public buildings to be transferred to these colleges for further development.

5.1.11.  Research should be undertaken to determine the causal factors for the low number of male students applying to PSET institutions.

5.1.12.  The implementation of the new examination system for the TVET sector should be expedited to improve the turnaround time in the issuance of certificates to eligible candidates.

5.2. NSFAS

5.2.1.    The NSFAS should expedite the rollout of the wallet system in the TVET sector so that funds and allowances can be paid directly into student’s accounts. This will also reduce irregularities associated with the disbursement of the NSFAS funds by colleges.

5.2.2.    The NSFAS should expedite the finalization of outstanding appeals and outstanding payments from the previous academic years. The NSFAS should be in a position to reconcile all payments made to students as a matter of urgency.

5.2.3.    The filling of senior vacant positions at the NSFAS should be expedited to bring stability within the entity post-administration period.

5.3. CSIR

5.3.1     The Committee resolved to convene a joint meeting with the Standing Committee on Finance together with the National Treasury, DSI, and CSIRto consider the prescripts of the procurement regulations and how these impact the ability of the public research institutions to avail their expertise to government.

5.3.2     The Committee resolved to, with the Standing Committee on Appropriations, engage the National Treasury around securing additional funds for the CSIR.

5.4. SITA

5.4.1.    The SITA should come up with a detailed action plan to eradicate the certification backlog to zero.

5.4.2.    The Department should consider working with the CSIR to obtain additional capacity for the SITA to manage the data system for resulting and certification.

5.5. TUT

5.5.1.    Management and the council should take steps to create a conducive environment to work with all the University stakeholders within the roles and responsibilities of each, underpinned by transparency and mutual respect.

5.5.2.    The filling of vacant senior management positions should be expedited to provide stable leadership for the stability of the institution. The University should also expedite the finalization of the outstanding disciplinary hearing cases against the suspended employees.

5.5.3.    The University should submit the estimated costs of the infrastructure projects that were abandoned, and the projected costs for resumption of the construction work. Consequence management should be applied against the contractors that abandoned incomplete infrastructure projects and the University should recover any financial losses thereof.

5.5.4.    The labour union (NEHAWU) should speedily resolve its internal squabbles so that it can speak with one voice on issues affecting the workers.

5.5.5.    The existence of TUTEH should be properly defined and its business model be reviewed. The university community should be kept abreast in respect of the developments and operations in this enterprise.

5.5.6.    The unions should have a balanced narrative on the operations of the University and also propose possible solutions to move the university forward as opposed to criticism.

5.5.7.    The University should verify the qualifications of Mr Mahlalela, the Acting DVC Operations with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and a report to the Committee.

5.6. VUT

5.6.1.    The University should submit a detailed report with respect to the costs associated with the incomplete infrastructure projects, and the action taken against service providers responsible for poor workmanship.

5.6.2.    The Administrator should develop a comprehensive infrastructure maintenance programme for the University, and continuously monitor its implementation.

5.6.3.    The Administrator should develop a multi-stakeholder’ forum where all the University stakeholders will be given an opportunity to express their grievances. Communication between the management and the University stakeholders should be improved.

5.6.4.    The University employees should take responsibility with respect to the instability of the institution and the entrenched culture of factions should be diffused as a matter of urgency and those who do not have the interest of the University at heart should be afforded an opportunity to step aside

5.6.5.    Consequence management should be implemented against the University officials who are implicated in the Independent Assessor’s Report.

Report to be considered.

 

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