Committee Legacy Report

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

20 March 2024
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation held a hybrid meeting to brief stakeholders on the Committee's work in the sixth Parliament.

The Committee remained concerned with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), asserting that it remained a mystery how NSFAS spent its budgets. Its 2021/22 and 2022/23 budgets were still outstanding. This was a great concern, because the Committee did not fully understand what the budgets for these financial years had achieved. A Member suggested the Committee could not leave its term in office without addressing this matter, and should apply for a special intervention before the end of the parliamentary term.

The Committee outlined the various achievements that it had accomplished, and indicated the various challenges that it had faced in executing its oversight responsibilities.

The Department similarly made inputs highlighting its achievements, such as the expansion of access to the higher learning sector, the improvement and building of infrastructure, and the continuous support of various schemes to fund undergraduates, postgraduates, young lecturers and aspiring professors. It also highlighted the excellent work that it had done during the pandemic.

Many stakeholders from the sector called for a closer working relationship between the post-school education and training (PSET) sector and the university sector, more autonomy and funding for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, more support for skills development in the PSET sector, and more collaboration by higher education with industry and the corporate sector. A stakeholder stressed that the university and PSET sectors should not be seen as two separate sectors, but rather as two conjoining sectors that complemented each other.

Some Members noted the strained working relationship between the Committee and Universities South Africa (USAf), and hoped the seventh Parliament would seek to improve the situation. Corruption and misconduct were mentioned by several Members, who observed that there were former Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) board and executive members who jumped ship before the conclusion of investigations into their alleged misconduct, and then reappeared at some other job application forums. The Committee made it clear that those people would be pursued and brought to account. The prevalence of gender-based violence at institutions of higher learning was also raised.

The operation of the university council structures was criticised. There was disagreement on how university councils could pay some assessors to investigate the misconduct of council members. They called for the appointment of independent bodies to investigate such matters. Although the Committee recognised universities’ institutional autonomy, those institutions must also be bound by the Higher Education Act, and all their council members should execute their fiduciary duties accordingly.

A Member highlighted that the incoming Committee needed to prioritise working on amending several pieces of legislation affecting the education sector.

Meeting report

The meeting was convened at the Tygerburg campus of Northlink College. The Committee’s agenda of the day was to consider the Committee’s legacy report for the sixth parliamentary term.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) welcomed everyone in attendance, which included representatives of Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, community education and training (CET) colleges, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), the National Skills Fund (NSF), the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS), universities, and other higher education stakeholders.

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) was led by its Director-General, Dr Nkosinathi Sishi.

Mr Adrian Strydom, Deputy Chair, Northlink College Council, welcomed the Committee to the college. In his short opening remark, he touched on the skills exodus and the need for South Africa to retain skills and increase its skills output.

Committee’s legacy report

The Committee Chairperson presented the Committee’s legacy report, highlighted the number of young black and women Members of Parliament (MPs), and appreciated the opportunity that the post-1994 government had given them to represent the people of South Africa. She acknowledged the work that these vibrant young people had done for this Committee.

With those opening remarks, she presented the Committee’s legacy report.

Details of the legacy report can be referred to in the attached document.

At the end of the presentation, she expressed her gratitude for the cooperative work of the DG, Dr Sishi, throughout this term. The departmental officials had attended more Committee meetings than some of the Committee Members. She also thanked the Committee’s administrative team for assisting the Committee’s work, and Parliament’s research team and the Content Advisor for their support throughout the sixth term.

Ms Mananiso asked Members to observe a moment of silence for the two Members whom the Committee had lost during the sixth term.

She emphasised the importance of education, training and learning for work. She appreciated the sector’s recognition of being cognisant of demographics and gender. She highlighted that the Committee had focused on forging inter-sectoral interrelations, striving to find a common agenda to work together.

Nevertheless, she pointed out the impact of corruption on the higher education sector. She pleaded with the broader stakeholder populace to do what was right and adhere to the tenets of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), the Constitution and the regulations and policies that provide guidance on procurement and tenders.

Award recipients share experiences

Since the Committee was on an oversight visit to the Northlink TVET college, the Chairperson invited several recipients of awards to share their experiences.

She said that those recipients were just the tip of an iceberg of the work which the Sixth Parliament had done. She acknowledged that it would be even better if the Committee’s work could lead to a bigger volume of impact.

She noticed that women were fairly represented among those recipients. She remarked that if one trains women, one builds a nation.

The Chairperson appreciated all the inputs.

Nevertheless, she highlighted the challenge of NSFAS to make timeous payments, and reminded NSFAS that there were still students who were being left behind. She also indicated that service providers must incorporate more young black women into the fray so that there would be a more feasible transformation outcome in the economic structure in terms of gender.

Director-General's comments

Dr Sishi pointed out that one of the weaknesses in the system was the tendency to work in silos. Because of that, the impact of work became less clear. This session was therefore all the more important, because it offered all stakeholders a chance to self-reflect on what had happened.

He congratulated the Committee on its excellent work. He commented that this was the first time that the Committee had had this sort of meeting in his 37 years of public service. In addition to the mundane requirements of Parliament, this Committee tried to get to the crux of the issues, encouraging stakeholders to engage on issues of infrastructure, transformation, certification backlogs, etc. The issues from this meeting would be incorporated into its legacy report for a better transition into the Seventh Administration.

The Department’s responsibility was to provide leadership, drive progress, strengthen the resilience and capacity of the system, and serve learners and students.

He highlighted the importance of promoting women in the higher education sector on the day before Human Rights Day, and in the month of International Women’s Day.

The DHET’s vision prioritised the development of a skilled and capable workforce, and the skills base of the country. It was committed to helping more young people who were still not being covered by the services of this Department.

The pandemic and the July riots presented a huge challenge to the higher education sector. The post-school education and training (PSET) sector was not spared this.

Dr Sishi acknowledged the vital role that was played by Higher Health, particularly in the programme of 'Saving the Academic Year.' Through this project, it trained more than 17 000 staff members and more than 5 000 student volunteers on COVID-19 protocols.

SETAs have also been affected by the pandemic.

He highlighted that the PSET system had improved over the years. It now had 342 institutions comprising 26 public higher education institutions and 124 private higher education institutions, of which 50 were TVET colleges, and nine were community colleges.

In 2019/20, the country’s spending on education in relation to government’s spending had been 22.7%, which was 7.2% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). This figure far exceeded the benchmark that had been set by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which recommends allocating between 15 to 20 percent of public spending on education, or 6% of GDP.

The Department continued in its effort to expand access to post-school education and training. In 2019, over 2.1 million students were enrolled in universities and TVET colleges, etc. A large share -- close to 60% -- were enrolled at universities. He indicated that the country should independently assess the needs of each of the higher learning sectors, such as universities and colleges. In 2021, about 1.3 million students had enrolled in public and private higher institutions. Since the majority of enrolment takes place in public institutions, the allocation of resources must take that into account. In 2024, all public universities had filled their spaces, and others had exceeded their set targets to accommodate more students.

Students’ funding has grown drastically over the years since 1991. NSFAS disbursements had increased from R21.4 million to almost R48 billion to fund working-class children seeking to further their education. Between 2019 and 2022, NSFAS disbursed R123 billion, benefiting nearly three million students.

The Department had introduced a comprehensive student funding model, an intervention to assist all categories of students, including those who NSFAS did not fund. The funding model would be implemented in phases, with the first phase commencing in 2024. An initial capital fund totalling R3.8 billion had been committed.

Dr Sishi announced that two universities were planned to be built. The feasibility studies had been finalised and the construction would commence soon.

The Department had invested R3 billion in maintaining and repairing institutions through its capital infrastructure grant, particularly focusing on TVET colleges' infrastructure. This was the work where the Department had collaborated with the SETAs.

There were two post-professional programmes in TVET lecturing qualifications. One was the postgraduate diploma for TVET, which the University of the Western Cape offered, and the other was the Postgraduate in Management (PGDip) offered by the University of Pretoria. Over 500 TVET college lecturers have since improved their qualifications.

He highlighted the Department’s report on digital transformation readiness.

Through the DHET’s staff development programme, 772 lecturers had been recruited and appointed at universities on a permanent basis. R183 million has been spent since 2018. 324 academics were currently pursuing their PhDs, and 196 were female academics.

The future professors’ programme had seen an amount of R135 million being invested, which had led to 171 senior lecturers being introduced into structured programmes to develop their skills towards professorship.

He concluded by expressing his appreciation for the Chairperson’s leadership and the Committee’s contribution.

Inputs from stakeholders

The Chairperson invited six stakeholders from the sector to provide input. Each stakeholder was given 90 seconds to make their inputs to the Committee.

The first stakeholder was the principal of Northlink College. She appreciated the stellar work which the Chairperson and the Committee had done under her leadership. She expressed her gratitude that Parliament has visited the institution.

She highlighted two issues. Firstly, she urged the seventh Parliament to pay more attention to ensuring adequate funding for TVET colleges. Secondly, she highlighted that TVET colleges battled in terms of capacity building at the leadership level. It struggled to attract leaders of a particular nature, and would need more support.

The second stakeholder was Mr David Mahlobo, Secretariat of the College Council. He appreciated this interaction experience with the Chairperson. He urged the seventh Parliament to consider letting the sector proceed with the technology and experience that the sector had gained in online teaching since COVID-19. TVET colleges currently do not have sufficient capacity to accommodate everyone, so the focus should be on optimising technology to expand access to more people.

The third stakeholder was Mr Louis van Huyssteen, from the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related SETA (MerSETA). He recognised the work of two Deputy Directors-General (DDGs). He encouraged them to continue working with the industrial sector to identify challenges and focus the industry’s minds on the transition to occupational qualifications. He encouraged the Committee to include the National Artisan Development Support Centre in its legacy report. To achieve the 30 000 artisans per year, while the country currently only achieves half of that number, there was a need to recognise the existing delivery methods, with the SETA as the quality assurance authority, and to embrace an occupational qualification framework.

The fourth stakeholder offered a compliment to the Chairperson.

The fifth stakeholder appreciated the work of the Committee and the Chairperson’s leadership. She emphasised the Committee’s application of accountability and transparency in the pursuit of the scientific agenda.

She emphasised the importance of strengthening the link between the education sector to the industry and the corporate sector. She asked government to avoid the bifurcation of the TVET and university systems. They should be seen as a conjoining and compatible sector that complement each other. She appreciated the Committee’s focus on promoting gender, race and persons with disabilities.

The last stakeholder was Ms Nozipho January-Bardill, Chairperson Council Nelson Mandela University, who posted the following message in the Zoom chat. 

Honourable Chair, Portfolio Committee members and administrative staff,

Thank you for creating the opportunity to represent Nelson Mandela University in attending the online launch of this important and valuable report.

I recently had the pleasure to interview young students in occupational programmes and share your recognition of what has been achieved and your commitment to continue working to support the PSET system to improve.

At our university we are committed to also working at creating better pathways for TVET students into university programmes.

Inputs from Members

Mr K Pillay (ANC) thanked the Chairperson for the exceptional report she presented. He was proud to have been part of this Committee which had made such a huge impact on society.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) highlighted the Committee’s strained relationship with Universities South Africa (USAf), because universities did not like to be told what to do. He hoped the Committee would forge a better relationship with the university sector in the seventh Parliament.

When the Committee commenced its duty in 2019, the National Research Foundation (NSF) was in a dire situation, riddled with mismanagement and scandals. He commended the NSF for making improvements, although it could make a greater impact on society.

Regarding the SETAs, he noted that there were board and executive members who had been accused of wrongdoing and had been charged. Some of them had resigned before disciplinary processes could be concluded, and had then reappeared somewhere else. He sent a clear message to those people that the Committee was resolute in dealing with them, and said that SETA should not be used as a looting space. Statistics South Africa routinely told South Africa of the country’s high unemployment rate, and the Auditor-General (AG) had flagged the combined reserves of SETA amounting to R12 billion. It did not make sense that there were so many unemployed young people and there was R12 billion in reserve at SETA.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) recognised the importance of this legacy report in ensuring the Committee’s baton to the next Parliament.

He commented on the Council for Higher Education. The Committee had observed that a cooling-off period should be inserted for any Council member whose term came to an end or who resigned from the Council before being added to the panel of assessors due to the University of South Africa (UNISA) situation. There was a conflict of interest when a senior executive whose terms ended or resigned and were then added to the assessors. The Higher Education Act states that the Council appoints a panel of assessors. This situation had to be changed. The Higher Education Act needed to be amended in that respect.

He acknowledged the importance of institutional autonomy for universities. He recommended inserting a clause that in instances where a council was conflicted on any matter, there had to be an intervention by an independent body as arbiter for the appointment of panels, judges or investigators. Because of this loophole, the councils of universities were able to become delinquent and not perform their fiduciary duties. Persons who were being charged could not investigate themselves.

He indicated that the appointment process of councils had to be clarified because it had become a ground for jostling for power, which would negatively affect academic programmes.

He disagreed with the public perception that the Committee was not doing anything to change the situation of the PSET sector. Public representatives did not have the power to implement policies -- it was the stakeholders themselves that had the power to implement policies, since they were accounting officers. He recalled the Committee’s experience that university officials would refuse to adjust their diaries once they got a call from Parliament. The Committee had to go as far as to subpoena some stakeholders to call them to account. He said that the disrespect that Parliament received emanated from the perception that it was a leftover arm of the state. It was never accorded the same respect as that extended to the executive, the judiciary, Ministers and the President.

He emphasised that it was not the Committee’s responsibility that some of those entities were not performing, since the Committee only voted for budgets -- it did not administer the budgets.

Mr M Shikwambana (EFF) highlighted the prevalence and overlooked status of gender-based violence (GBV) in the higher learning environment. Sometimes, lecturers and professors in positions of authority abuse their students. He gave and example where the University of Cape Town (UCT) had tried to silence a victim by paying the student after being sexually assaulted by a professor.

Comprehensive student funding was essential for the skills needed in South Africa. He highlighted the need for free education for all in the country. He reiterated his party's position, which was to nationalise all lucrative private resources such as the mines, banks, etc, so that funds would become available to fund education.

He noted the dire student accommodation situation. Students had to sleep outside due to a lack of student accommodation and the delay in payments from NSFAS to service providers.

He found it hurtful that many children could not get into colleges because of the delayed release of matric results. He suggested the higher education sector should work with the basic education sector to ensure a seamless transition for learners.

He reiterated that NSFAS was a problem, as it refused to listen to the Committee and undermined it.

Ms C King (DA) urged the seventh Parliament to start working on the outstanding legislation immediately after they commenced duties.

She suggested the Committee should compile a draft report on the types of higher institutions.

She recommended that there must be a better relationship between USAf and the DHET, and said this point needed to be included in the legacy report.

She highlighted the issues outlined by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), which had provided Members with a better understanding of the issues that were going on at NSFAS. She suggested that the seventh Parliament invite advocacy groups to brief the Committee on the issues facing the higher education sector to figure out a way forward.

Lastly, she concluded that with the capacity challenges at higher education institutions, it would be important to include the need for strengthening private higher education institutions in the report, which could fill the gap that public institutions were leaving, since the minority groupings were not much absorbed into public institutions.

Ms Mananiso agreed with her colleagues that NSFAS was a problem. She appreciated the participation of the education sector during the sixth term. She was optimistic that there were good and ethical public servants.

She agreed that government needed to look at social support for the sanitary pad programme, as it was crucial for female learners.

The Chairperson noted all Members’ inputs. She was, however, uncertain of the Committee’s ability to work with private universities, as it was already struggling to hold public universities to account. However, Ms King’s input was noted and emanated from the situation that the demand exceeded the available resource.

Legacy report adopted

The adoption of the legacy report was moved by Ms Mananiso, and seconded by Mr Letsie. The legacy report was adopted.

Based on the Committee's oversight visits, the Chairperson did not think that infrastructure was an issue at South African universities.

She reiterated the Committee’s commitment to making education free for the poor and "missing middle" population, and expressed the Committee’s wish to see gender transformation in the sector. She requested that the SETAs and NSFAS do more for society.

Instead of placing institutions under administration, she asked the seventh administration to give alternative solutions to challenges.  

The meeting was adjourned.


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