Annual Reports 2017/2018

Parliamentary Committee: Higher Education and Training

10 October 2018
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)

The Council on Higher Education (CHE) said the year had seen the higher education landscape regain some degree of normality following the turmoil of the 2016 academic year. A giant step had been taken towards addressing the imperative of social justice by declaring that students from poor and working-class families would be funded on a phased-in full cost basis by the State. However, the implementation challenges of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), especially in the area of accommodation and meal disbursements, remained a major concern.

The year had started with a shortfall of R12.5 million in the CHE’s operational budget which meant that some activities and projects outlined in the annual performance plan (APP) had had to be curtailed or cancelled. The funds to offset the shortfall had been made available only three months before the end of the financial year, which had been too late to execute in full the planned activities and projects. The articulation policy published by the DHET in 2017 had increased the mandate of the CHE substantially without a concomitant increase in funding. There had been three long and drawn-out court cases flowing from negative consequences for providers of poor quality programmes. They had challenged the decisions – without success. In two instances, cost orders had been awarded against a provider and a pressure group. The CHE continued to find it difficult to attract and retain appropriately skilled professionals in a very competitive market in the higher education sector. Staff retention was becoming an increasing problem.

Members asked if there were any escalated legal costs and how the CHE was going to deal with them; expressed worry about the situation at Walter Sisulu University and the University of Zululand; and said that because its financial targets had not been met, they were concerned that the CHE might start to decay.

The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) said the culture of corporate governance and accountability was firmly embedded within the organisation and there was a zero tolerance for corruption. The theme of the report was to build a solid foundation. The NQF Act evaluation that looked at methods of efficiency and application had been successful and aimed to provide the highest quality of education. SAQA had been working with partners in order to increase its international footprint.

Members asked for comments from the SAQA with regard to the internationalisation of qualifications, and how South Africa could achieve more global recognition for its qualifications.

The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) said its performance environment included a simplification of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF); a review of the Occupational Qualifications Sub-Framework (OQSF) to give effect to national policy imperatives; the development of prioritised qualifications and part qualifications; and a reduction in the number of historically registered qualifications. The Council was asked how it planned on ensuring that local qualifications and skilled workers were equipped to be competitive on a global scale.

Meeting Report

Council on Higher Education (CHE): Annual Report

The CHE director said the year saw the higher education landscape regain some degree of normality following the turmoil of the 2016 academic year. A giant step was taken towards addressing the imperative of social justice by declaring that students from poor and working-class families would be funded on a phased-in full cost by the state. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS’s) implementation challenges, especially on accommodation and meal disbursements, remained a major concern. The year started with a shortfall of R12.5 million in the operational budget, which meant that some activities and projects outlined in the annual performance plan (APP) had to be curtailed or cancelled.

The funds to off-set the short-fall were made available only three months before the end of the financial year, which was too late to execute in full the planned activities and projects. The Articulation Policy published by the DHET in 2017 increased the mandate of the CHE substantially, without a concomitant increase in funding. There were three long and drawn-out court cases flowing from negative consequences for providers of poor quality programmes. They had challenged the decisions – without success. In two instances, cost orders were awarded against a provider and a pressure group

The CHE continued to find it difficult to attract and retain appropriately skilled professionals in a very competitive market in the higher education sector. Staff retention was becoming an increasing problem.

Performance highlights

Prof Narend Baijnath, Chief Executive Officer, CHE, said the performance environment consisted of four operational components referred to as programmes. Each programme focused on activities and projects that seek to advance the realisation of a particular strategic goal. Each programme has a number of sub-programmes, each of which is responsible for delivery of a suite of strategic objectives

Programme 1 (Institutional Quality Assurance) advances strategic goal 1 — the CHE is a credible, efficient quality assurer in higher education, with processes developed and implemented to inform, assure and promote quality.

The 3 sub-programmes are:

  • Assessment of higher education institutions (HEIs) quality assurance (QA) systems (institutional audits);
  • Accreditation
  • Quality enhancement

Programme 2 (Qualifications Management and Programme Reviews) advances strategic goal 2 — the CHE is a well established quality council promoting the goals of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) in the context of the Post-School Education and Training (PSET) sector.

The three sub-programmes are:

  • Management of the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework (HEQSF)
  • Development of qualification standards
  • National reviews

Programme 3 (Research, Monitoring and Advice) advances strategic goal 3 — the CHE is a recognised centre for information, policy analysis and advice on higher education that informs and influences the public dialogues for the transformation of the higher education system

Legal fees constituted the single largest expenditure item within the goods and services category in 2017/18 financial year. Legal fees paid amounted to R5 823 701, which was 3.2% higher than the corresponding amount for the previous year. Several institutions, particularly in the private sector, continued to go the legal route to challenge the quality assurance decisions taken by the HEQC that were not in their favour. It is expected that this trend will continue because the HEQC is obliged to execute its legislative mandate without compromise, fear or favour; and it is therefore bound to continue making decisions that might not find favour with institutions, who would then use the courts to challenge these decisions. Source: Council on Higher Education Annual Report 2017/2018

It was comprised of three sub-programmes:

  • Research
  • Monitoring
  • Advice

Programme 4 (Administration and Support) advances strategic goal 4 — the CHE strives to be an effective, sustainable and dynamic organisation with systems, processes and capacity/resources that enable it to discharge its mission and legal mandate optimally

It was comprised of five sub-programmes:

  • Information communication and technology
  • Human resource management
  • Finance and supply chain management
  • The Office of the Chief Executive Officer
  • Quality assurance and promotion coordination.

Financial Performance

Mr Thulaganyo Mothusi, Chief Financial Officer, CHE, provided an analysis of the statement of the financial performance for the year ended 31 March 2018.

The revenue for the fiscal year 2017/2018 was higher by R20 234 293, compared to the previous fiscal year. This was as a result of a slightly higher budget allocation on the government grant and also a conditional grant for conducting the UniZulu special audit.

The expenditure for the fiscal year 2017/2018 was higher by R69 004, compared to the previous fiscal year.  This was due to more spending on employee-related costs, and repairs and maintenance.

A surplus of R11 202 485 was realised, attributable to the covering of the budget shortfall late in the third quarter, as indicated.

The Auditor General South Africa (AGSA) had given the Council a clean audit for 2017/2018, and and unqualified audit for 2016/2017. The audited financial statements for 2017/2018 were free from material misstatements.

No remedial action was required because all the audit findings had been corrected and agreed with AGSA before the end of the audit in July 2018.

Discussion

Ms J Kilian (ANC) said it was always good to see good reports. She wanted to know if there were any escalated legal costs, and how the CHE was going to deal with them. She also wanted to know about the media reports regarding the Walter Sisulu University. Since the CHE had a mandate to advise the Minister, she wanted to know what they advised the Minister on. She wanted clarity on why targets were not met.

Dr B Bozzoli (DA) said that she was disappointed that financial targets had not been met, and she was worried that the CHE might start to decay. The Committee had brought up the CHE’s budget issue last year, and she wanted to know if it took the concerns of the Committee seriously. She asked for copies of the reports done on the Walter Sisulu University and UniZulu, as she was worried about those two universities. Finally, she wanted to know about the situation regarding Bachelor of Laws (LLB) accreditation.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) shared the same sentiments as her colleagues.

Mr A van der Westerhuizen (DA) asked about the long term financial plans of the CHE. He asked if there was a backlog in the accreditation of programmes, and how the CHE planned on dealing with this.

Mr R Mavunda (ANC) questioned the CHE about the targets which were not achieved.

The Chairperson said that the financing aspect of the CHE was something that would be brought up every year because of its importance. She said that it was time to do an international comparison in order to see which system of application by the CHE, and institutions like it, was the most efficient and most beneficial to the broader public.

CHE response

Prof Baijnath said that copies of the reports had been submitted. The process of accreditation of LLB programmes was a very thorough and credible process, and this would reflect in the reports. He said those institutions which were affected were required to make improvements, and this would be monitored by the CHE.

Regarding the targets which were not met, they could be achieved after the CHE did their crisis management.

Mr Mothusi referred to the financial concerns raised by the Committee. There was an awareness regarding the CHE budget issue, and the DHET was working with the CHE in order to get more funding. This process was taking time and was still going on.

The Chairperson said that all the questions had not been answered, and she hoped they would be addressed at the next meeting in order for the Committee to assist the CHE.

South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA): Annual Report

SAQA said the culture of corporate governance and accountability was firmly embedded within SAQA and there was zero tolerance for corruption. The theme of the report was to build a solid foundation. The NQF Act evaluation that was conducted was successful. It had looked at methods of efficiency and application in order to provide the highest quality of education.

The key contributions made in the last year included improvements made to the implementation plan, and contributions and amendments to existing polices. They had also been working with partners in order to increase their international footprint.

In terms of qualifications, approximately 1.5 million new learner achievements and 385 000 new registrations had been recorded. From the time that SAQA received qualifications, most of them were registered with three to four months.

With regard to outstanding debtors, SAQA freezes the accounts of their debtors until they have settled their debt. This had been a very efficient method of debt collection.

SAQA makes every effort to reduce their carbon footprint. They do this in different ways. One of these ways is the implementation of LED lights. They also have a recycling project.

Discussion

Mr Van der Westerhuizen wanted to know how many individuals had benefited from the recognition of qualifications. He also asked for comments from SAQA with regard to the internationalisation of qualifications, and how South Africa could get its qualifications more globally recognised.

Ms Mchunu said she was impressed with the energy-saving initiatives. She asked the DHET if they spoke with SAQA before sending students abroad, and what plans they had to prevent students from going abroad and coming back home with qualifications which did not apply locally.

Ms Kilian (ANC) inquired about the same points as Ms Mchunu. She said that she was impressed with the approach taken by SAQA and their attitude towards saving money and reducing their carbon footprint.

Response

Dr Shirley Lloyd; Director: NQF Directorate, DHET, said that they were satisfied from a qualitative point of view with the achievements of SAQA. They were monitoring the annual integration reports. Currently the NQF system was experiencing a few challenges, and they had urged SAQA to express their concerns with these challenges so that the DHET could help them.

Mr Joe Samuels: Chief Executive Officer (CEO): SAQA, said that students who wished to go abroad may contact SAQA directly through email to get all the information they needed insofar as SAQA and recognition was concerned, and these students would receive responses fairly quickly.

Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO): Annual report

The Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) said its key components for quality assurance are:

  • Effective management of processes, information, resources and systems
  • Development of occupational and part qualifications
  • Valid accreditation — Special Dispensation Pardons (SDPs) and ACs — and monitoring compliance
  • Use of effective internal verification systems
  • Effective quality assurance of the External Integrated Summative Assessment by the QCTO
  • Successful validation of QCTO qualifications.

The performance environment included:

  • Simplification of the NQF
  • Review of the OQSF to give effect to national policy imperatives
  • Development of prioritised qualifications and part qualifications
  • Reducing the number of historically registered qualifications
  • Deactivation of dormant unit standard-based qualifications.
  • Replacement of unit standard-based qualifications with occupational qualifications.
  • Realignment of unit standard-based qualifications to occupational qualifications.
  • Realignment of skills development programmes

All skills sevelopment providers are to be accredited by a single quality assurance body. The crux of the vision is for the QCTO to perform ALL functions associated with qualifications management and quality assurance. The ideal situation would be to achieve the above by 2020. The process is a phased-in approach, where the QCTO works in conjunction with the sector education and training authorities (SETAs) to enable the QCTO to assume the functions previously delegated to Development Quality Partners (DQPs) and Assessment Quality Partners (AQPs). The close relationship would require SETAS to support the efforts with funding and/or the provision of resources.

Reasons for under expenditure were that the QCTO business case towards Vision 2020 was not approved by the DHET, which had resulted in planned expenditure such as recruitment of staff, tools of trade and general expenses not being spent, and some projects such as the purchase of pool vehicles and video conference facilities could not be completed during the year, but were commissioned.

Discussion

Mr Van der Westerhuizen said that having strong providers was important in order to achieve what this country needed in terms of skills development. He therefore asked the QCTO what they thought their roles were in developing skills. He also asked them how they planned on ensuring that South African qualifications and its skilled workers were equipped to be competitive on a global scale.

Mrs J Kilian said that it was important to be kept up to date with any obstacles the DGET may face so that they could be addressed. There was a need to expedite the process of recognising new qualifications and assisting with the growth in recognition of college education.

QCTO response

Mr Vijayen Naidoo, CEO: QCTO, said that they had been making progress in terms of the international recognition of qualifications, and they were satisfied with the progress they had made thus far. However, they were constantly making efforts to improve in all aspects. With the focus on the correct training and co operation from local institutes of higher education, South African qualifications could be recognised globally.

The meeting was adjourned.

This information originally appeared on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group and was correct at the time of publication. Please click here to access the original article.

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