The Committee met with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) to get an update on progress they were making with the identification and repurposing of unutilised/under-utilised infrastructure in the post-school education and training (PSET) system.
The DHET said it had a mandate to increase infrastructure to ensure that students had access to adequate education, and this was in line with the National Development Plan (NDP). Student accommodation availability raised a large concern, and there was a need to address this, so the Department worked closely with the DPWI to try and find properties that were not currently used, and find a useful way to use them. It acknowledged that there was room for improvement in the work done between the two departments.
The DPWI said they were happy to work with the DHET and hoped to make more progress. They had identified properties where schools had been closed, and were working to refurbish them.
The Committee was critical of the departments' lack of urgency in addressing the major infrastructure challenges in the education sector. Planned monthly meetings were not taken as scheduled because of difficulties in getting the joint task team members together. The Committee was not seeing the progress that they would like to see. Adequate planning was needed by both departments.
The Chairperson said that when the Committee conducted their oversight visit, the issue of infrastructure for teaching and learning had been raised. The Committee believed that the way to deal with this would be to repurpose public infrastructure. There was a need to resuscitate a task team that used to exist between the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI). The aim was to ensure better facilities for the 2024 academic year. There would still be a Committee meeting on the state of readiness for 2024, to which the Committee would expect the DHET to bring the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), because this was an entity that the Committee was worried about. She hoped that there would be constructive feedback from both departments.
Ms Nolwazi Gasa, Deputy Director-General: Planning, Policy and Strategy, DHET, said she would like to congratulate her team. The Department was mandated to increase infrastructure to ensure that students had access to adequate education, which was in line with the National Development Plan (NDP). Student accommodation availability raised a large concern, and there was a need to address this, so the Department worked closely with the DPWI to try and find properties that were not currently used, and find a useful way to use them. There was room for improvement in the work done between the two departments. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges had been identified, which were open to transformation and transfers.
DHET on unused properties suitable for PSET system
National Development Plan
The NDP lays out ambitious targets for the growth of the post-school education and training (PSET) system, and places TVET at its centre. It targets the enrolment of 5.4 million students by 2030, and this assumes an exponential growth from the current 2.3 million students.
Strategic focus areas of the NDP
- Access to quality early child development (ECD).
- Improved quality teaching and learning.
- Capacity of the state to intervene and support quality education.
- Increased accountability for improved learning.
- Human resources (HR) development and management of schools.
- Infrastructure and learning materials to support effective education.
- Continuing Education and Training Act.
- Higher Education Act.
- Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act.
- Government Immovable Asset Management Act.
The following documents have been developed for consultation with DPWI:
- Framework for donating, transferring, converting, and leasing state-owned buildings and land identified for student housing, academic and other educational purposes to PSET institutions.
- Memorandum of agreement.
- Terms of reference
Institutions were faced with the challenge of a shortage of student accommodation. The framework seeks to establish a Joint Task Team (JTT) between the two Departments. The DHET was also engaging with the provincial Department of Education to identify closed schools for possible use by PSET institutions.
Through the JTT, the two departments would jointly engage other government, state departments and entities tiers to unlock unutilised suitable immovable assets for the PSET institutions.
DPWI: Update on repurposing of under-utilised public infrastructure for the post-school education and training (PSET) system
The DPWI reported on progress made by the JTT:
- An inter-departmental memorandum of agreement had been drafted and was under consideration.
- Terms of reference for the JTT had been drafted and were under consideration.
- JTT officials had been appointed from both Departments.
- A schedule of properties had been submitted by DHET.
- Gert Sibande College: A new formal request for the donation concerning the exact proposed development was required.
- Northlink College: The DPWI had received the development plan for expansion to quantify the extent/size of the requirement, and was in the process of engaging the Department of Defence (DOD) accordingly for consideration of a longer-term lease or sub-division of the extent of requirement, as this property was within a military facility.
It was recommended that the Portfolio Committee note:
- Progress made by the joint DHET and DPWI Task Team on coordinating infrastructure needs for the PSET system.
- The update on digitisation and modernisation of the DPWI asset management register.
- Progress on Strategic Infrastructure Project (SIP) 34
For details, see attached documents.
The Chairperson said that when dealing with a matter of this nature, it needed to be obvious what work could be achieved. Work had been done the whole year, and she believed the departments were given enough time to do the work. She asked about the transfer of infrastructure to the Gert Sibande and Northlink TVET colleges, because they had asked for infrastructure. She asked if the colleges had submitted their outstanding documents to the DPWI, and where the matter stood now. She requested an update on the Community Education and Training (CET) colleges, and the buildings DHET had requested. Two new universities were set to be built in Johannesburg, and she wanted the Committee to be provided with the plan on how existing infrastructure could be repurposed to build these universities.
Mr K Pillay (ANC) said he was concerned about the slow implementation of projects. He acknowledged that the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) projects would not be proceeding, and asked what the alternative was. He said four months were left in the financial year, and asked if the Department had acquired the infrastructure to construct the three learning facilities. Which companies had been awarded the tenders to build these facilities, and what procedure had been followed in the application process?
Ms D Sibiya (ANC) said the DHET had highlighted that they were able to identify closed schools which could be used. He asked if this meant that these schools would be ready for use in the 2024 academic year, and how long negotiations to open these schools would take.
Ms J Mananiso (ANC) referred to slide 11 of the DHET presentation, and asked if all these meetings had been taking place monthly and if not, what the reason for that was. She asked if both departments had a central person who was legally informed to help them with their agreements and if not, she suggested that they hire such a person. She said that when presentations were made, specific dates must be mentioned. She raised the concern about how long the DPWI took to complete its projects and tasks.
The Chairperson said that in the previous meeting with the departments, the Committee had been frustrated because it seemed that they did not understand what the Committee was requesting. She asked when the joint task team had been established, because this was unclear. She asked who was reviewing documents for the projects being completed and how long this would be happening, because this would help the Committee understand if there was progress. When had the DHET sent the documents to the DPWI? She said that when the departments communicated and updated the Committee fully, this would inspire confidence among the Committee and society. She was not satisfied that the necessary amount of work had been done within the time given.
Mr Bhekithemba Mlambo, Chief Director: Infrastructure Support, DHET, acknowledged the questions about the Gert Sibande and Northlink colleges, and he asked that the Department be allowed to provide the Committee with a written response on these colleges. Concerning the two new universities in Johannesburg, the Department was indeed considering repurposing buildings to build these universities. In Hammanskraal, it was repurposing the existing police academy and rehabilitating it so that it could house the university.
Responding on the issue of the JTT, he said the Department agreed that this had been approved at an earlier date, but he was unable to provide specific dates as he had joined the team later. He acknowledged that it was important to make sure that the task team worked at a faster pace.
He said that the UJ would like to suspend their request for student accommodation, because they believed they had enough beds for students from both the university and private accommodation. The UKZN had not removed themselves from the programme, but intended to acquire 1 650 beds instead of the original 2 000. The Department agreed that this interfered with their planning. The Durban University of Technology (DUT) had obtained a lease-to-own for 9 000 beds, the University of Cape Town (UCT) had obtained a lease-to-own for 4 000 beds, and the Department was currently considering these two.
The CET programme had not progressed as fast as the Department would have liked. However, the Department was at a point where they had appointed consultants for three sites, and these consultants had started concept designs, which would be submitted by 14 December at the latest. The three sites were in the Northern Cape, the Western Cape and Gauteng.
He said that the closed schools would be assessed to see which ones could be used and which ones needed to be fixed. This analysis should be completed by the end of the academic year.
He said that meetings between the two departments had not happened monthly as targeted, because it had been challenging to have all the team members present in the meetings. He assured the Committee that there was still communication and work done outside of these meetings to ensure that targets were met.
He said the Department used their general legal services to process their documents. They did not have a single person doing it -- they used the whole chief directorate.
Ms Gasa welcomed the questions asked by the Committee, and acknowledged that not enough progress had been made. The two departments could have communicated better with one another to allow for synergy. Student accommodation was taking centre stage. The DHET would give the Committee the right numbers within seven days.
She said it was important to talk about the legalities and contractual consequences that came with the acquisition of property. The DHET and the DPWI should create one presentation to allow for synergy in the future.
The Department's team requested that some of the questions asked by the Members be answered in writing because the answers from the Department would not be complete. Most of the questions had been answered by DHET.
The DPWI required certain information from the DHET for them to move forward with the Gert Sibande project. Regarding the CET colleges, they acknowledged that a number was indicated in March, and he highlighted that that number was a summary. For the Department to do anything meaningful, they needed detailed information and not a summary. The DHET had provided this in August. The Department would act on the information it received, and understood the urgency of creating student accommodation. Terms of reference should be completed by the end of November.
They acknowledged that implementation had been too slow, but assured the Committee that the Department was re-energised, and was ready to do its work. It had a general legal person to deal with these matters, and would align its processes and procedures with the district development model (DDM). There was agreement that the task team needed to be more stable, and it should be more efficient. The Department needed a project execution plan to decide how they would be repurposing the closed schools.
They supported the proposal that the DPWI and the DHET should compile a single presentation, and assured the Committee that this would be done.
The Chairperson commended the honesty of both departments, but said that her confidence had not been inspired. The Committee had been inundated with work, and they felt like they were not seeing the progress that they would like to see, and that the matter was not being approached with the required urgency. Adequate planning was needed by both departments.
She excused the departments, and asked them to reflect on the issues addressed in this meeting, particularly the aspect of working on matters speedily.
The Committee considered the minutes of 1, 3 and 8 November. Apart from minor corrections to the 1 November minutes, they were all approved as is, and adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
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