The USAf Board of Directors has given the nod to a suggestion to convene a Special Board Meeting as soon as possible, to focus specifically on the financial status of the higher education sector, especially as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the second ordinary (virtual) sitting on 23 June, the Board agreed that they would, at this special gathering, look at the factors impacting the long-term sustainability of the higher education sector; scenarios for 2021 and beyond, as well as what the future holds for the sector. Furthermore, it was suggested to explore at that meeting, a stimulus package for the sector as part of re-imagining the future. The meeting would also be attended by Chief Finance Officers of universities.
Recognising that this matter falls within the sphere of influence of the Funding Strategy Group, Professor Tawana Kupe, Chair of the Funding Strategy Group, and Professor Ahmed Bawa, the USAf CEO, were tasked to guide the administration of that workshop. To that end, they would distribute a discussion document ahead of that meeting, for consideration by the rest of the Board.
The date of this meeting has since been set for Friday, 24 July.
A USAf delegation appears before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training
Professor Ahmed Bawa reported that the USAf Executive Committee had been invited to make a presentation to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology on 24 June 2020, on measures implemented by universities to save the 2020 academic year and save lives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Student governance in the sector
The Board also agreed to dedicate a session, in the near future, to a sector-wide discussion over apparent interference by political parties in student governance affairs on university campuses. This interference, manifesting in unsavoury interventions driven by money, was seen as an important factor in the continuing instability on campuses; discredited campus politics and alienation of some students from their own governance affairs – all resulting in diminished interest; growing anxiety and low participation in student representative council elections.
As the Board welcomed the proposal to convene a meeting of relevant stakeholders to take this discussion forward, Professor Ahmed Bawa, the CEO, mentioned that the Deans of Student Affairs were already engaging on the matter and that their representative could be invited to make an input during this meeting.
The Board tasked the Office of the CEO to look into this matter and advise accordingly in due course.
Appointment of two new directors to the Board
At USAf’s Annual General Meeting, which was also held on 23 June, the Chairperson of USAf, Professor Sibongile Muthwa, formerly appointed and welcomed into the fold, two new members of the USAf Board of Directors. They were:
Professor Muthwa said she looked forward to tapping from the expertise of these two new members, in strengthening the collective effort of the Board to advance USAf’s mandate.
Request to universities to admit students in two intakes in 2021
The Board heard that due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in the schooling system, Umalusi had reported on the Department of Basic Education’s plan to push out the National School Certificate (NSC) examinations to November/December – something that would see the NSC results published one week later than usual. This week’s delay would have minimal impact on universities’ admission processes.
In addition, Umalusi had mentioned in engagements with USAf, a possibility that one group of the 2020 school leavers would write their final examinations only in May/June of 2021. It was not clear as yet, what percentage of school leavers this would affect, though.
In light of these developments, Umalusi had tabled a request that universities consider admitting the 2021 intake in two batches, so that one could start in the first semester and the other in semester two starting in July 2021.
The USAf Board agreed, in principle, to consider the idea of two intakes. This would have important financial ramifications. The Board also mentioned that it might not make a blanket, sector-wide decision on this matter. It was decided to invite both Umalusi and the Department of Basic Education to the next meeting of the Board to facilitate a discussion on the start of the 2021 academic year.
New addition to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Committee
The Board approved the recommendation of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Committee to appoint Professor Kwena Masha, the current Registrar at the University of Limpopo, to serve as a member on the Committee. Professor Masha’s term would be effective from 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2023.
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Committee is one of USAf’s six governance committees. Its functions include advising not only the USAf Board but also the Minister of Higher Education and Training on the regulation of minimum requirements for admission into higher education.
The Committee develops and maintains optimal strategies of admissions regulation, and does much more. Other committees that govern the running of the USAf Office affairs, and more, are the Executive Committee, the Audit and Risk Committee; the Finance and Investment Committee; the Human Resources and Remuneration Committee and the Legal Advisory Committee.
Professor Kwena Masha, Registrar at the University of Limpopo, is now a member of USAf’s Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Committee effective 1 January 2020 to 31 December 2023.
The Board commends the USAf Office for another clean external audit report
Ms Faiza Majiet, Chairperson of USAf’s Audit and Risk Committee, presented to the Board, the draft external audit report as submitted by the auditing firm, PwC, and presented to the Audit and Risk Committee on 15 April 2020. USAf had earned itself another clean audit verdict, for which the Office, under the leadership of Professor Ahmed Bawa (and supported by the Director: Finance and Administration), was widely applauded.
Professor Ahmed Bawa added that the favourable audit was a result of everyone at the Office pulling their weight in the way that they discharge their functions and manage their allocated budgets. He said how individuals managed their portfolios determined the quality of audits, year-on-year.
Mr Emert Nkhatu, Director: Finance and Administration, is the face of USAf’s financial management and administration which, alongside other management functions, earned the Board’s commendation for another clean audit.
USAf Office praised for professional prowess
The Office of the CEO, which also functions as the Secretariat of the Board, was highly praised for the accurate and impeccable recording of proceedings and decisions of the Board.
Ms Jana van Wyk, Senior Manager in the Office of the CEO, who is responsible for the Board’s Secretariat services, welcomed this vote of confidence in her.
Ms Jana van Wyk, Senior Manager in the Office of the CEO and Board Secretary, was applauded for impeccable recording of Board proceedings and decisions.
Professor Muthwa commends Board on a successful year
In concluding and adjourning the AGM, Professor Muthwa lauded the USAf Office team, all governance committees and the Board of Directors for a successful year from June 2019 to date. She also expressed special appreciation for the strengths that Vice-Chancellors were bringing to the collective.
KEY UPDATES AND DECISIONS TAKEN AT THE ORDINARY MEETING OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Sector engagements in response to COVID-19
Flowing from the decisions of the Board at the March sitting, to engage various entities and USAf structures on the impact of COVID-19 on the higher education sector, Professor Ahmed Bawa reported on the excellent progress made thus far.
Presenting just a sample of engagements completed since April (e.g. with the Finance Executives Forum, the South African Association of Senior Student Affairs Profession; the Association of South African University Directors of Information Technology; Registrars and the Human Resources Directors’ Forum), the CEO said he was impressed by how willing the various players were to engage, adding that talking issues through made people feel supported in this trying time.
In response, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Chair of the Teaching and Learning Strategy Group and member of USAf’s Executive Committee, extolled the CEO for the milestones he had realised in the time invested in engaging a range of structures and stakeholders.
“The organisation is in good hands,” Dr Mabizela said – to nodding, in agreement, from other members of the Board.
Professor Ahmed Bawa, the USAf CEO, was extolled for
leading USAf engagements effectively.
Strategy group updates
As per a set tradition in Board meetings, all five strategy groups reported on their progress on priority programmes for the year. We have only singled out matters which required Board approvals. While at that, Professor Bawa sounded a caution to the Board, that the strategy groups might scale down on some of the activities earmarked for the year, simply because of the pressure added by the advent of COVID-19, not just on the core functions of universities but also on administrative and all other aspects of university operations. This, the Board noted with appreciation.
Follow up on the Emerging Researchers Study
Proceeding from the Emerging Researchers study of 2017 and the remedial interventions which the National Research Foundation and the Department of Higher Education and Training put in place – subsequently — to fast-track the acquisition of doctoral degrees in the system, the Research and Innovation Strategy Group (RISG) made a recommendation to the USAf Board to undertake a follow-up exercise.
The Board granted its approval.
The study aims to investigate what initiatives universities have undertaken in response to the Emerging Researchers study and identify gaps. Initial discussions have been held to ensure adequate awareness in the institutions, to gather information on interventions that have been implemented and on resources that are available to build capacity in the emerging scholar cohort.
It is envisaged that the study findings will inform the conceptualisation and development of a web-based portal on PhD Supervision and related resources. The study findings will also inform future advocacy points. This study, which got underway in June, is expected to conclude in December 2020.
Admission to university programmes, of students with a good pass in Technical Mathematics
The Board approved a recommendation by the Teaching and Learning Strategy Group, that a learner who has obtained a good pass in Technical Mathematics in the NSC examinations be considered at the discretion of a university, for acceptance into programmes that do not require rigorous mathematical thinking and reasoning and advanced application of mathematics. The TLSG acknowledged that admission requirements of individual universities may vary depending on the nature and demand of their respective programmes.
This recommendation derived from a position paper and proposal of the Community of Practice for the Teaching of Mathematics, which was informed by a discussion with the DBE and Umalusi in March 2020, over the variances between Grade 12 Mathematics and Technical Mathematics, and their implications on admissions to degree programmes.
The Board decision takes immediate effect and, as such, this matter is being brought to the attention of public universities and private higher education providers.
Nomination of an additional member to the WSG
Cognisant of the fact that provision was made in the Terms of Reference of the World of Work Strategy Group, for a membership of 10, the Board approved the nomination by the WSG, of Professor Sibusiso Moyo, DVC: Research, Innovation and Engagement at Durban University of Technology to become an additional member of this group. With the addition of Professor Moyo, the current WSG membership grows to eight.
Professor Sibusiso Moyo, DVC: Research, Innovation and Engagement at the Durban University of Technology, is the new addition to, and eighth member of the World of Work Strategy Group.
As always, the Board meeting was well attended. Members who could not participate nominated proxies to attend on their behalf.
While the meeting of 23 June marked the second of three ordinary annual gatherings of the USAf Board of Directors, this was the sixth assembly of the Board in the first half of 2020 alone. Four other special meetings have been convened as a direct response to the COVID-19. More such meetings are expected to take place in the second half of 2020 as universities grapple with completing the academic programme in exceptionally trying conditions.