In the quest to enable universities to perform their core functions of teaching, research and community engagement, Universities South Africa undertakes numerous projects as pre- determined, to respond to specific needs within the university system.

Underneath are a few examples of current key projects.

Rural Campuses Connection Project

The objective of the Rural Campuses Connection Project (RCCP) is to improve broadband connectivity of priority rural university campuses to the South African National Research Network (SANReN). Phase II of this project, still funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) for just over R71 million, commenced in April 2015 for conclusion in March 2019. A mid-term progress report issued on 30 September 2017 showed that RCCP II was progressing well. This view has since been supported by an independent mid-term review conducted in the last quarter of 2017, the report of which was handed over to USAf in February 2018. The Executive Summary of that report may be accessed below.

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Agenda of the Transformation Strategy Group

Although it is difficult to define in precise terms, the agenda of the TSG — due to the multiple meanings and dimensions ascribed to the concept ‘transformation’ — USAf deems it  imperative to periodically review the work of the TSG against the constant changes in and outside of the higher education environment. There are other reasons compelling USAf to review the TSG’s agenda from time to time.

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The Transformation Project at public universities

Public universities have been and still are grappling with the concept of transformation. In 2015, Professors Derrick Swartz and Andre Keet produced a discussion document on the Transformation Barometer to invite more inputs and to guide the process along. The Transformation Barometer is a self-monitoring and reporting tool that enables institutions to set transformation goals and performance indicators for themselves and to systematically reflect on these, thus facilitating ongoing progress towards the set goals.

Following a long period of development and consultation, the Transformation Barometer was presented to, and finally approved by the USAf Board of Directors, at their first sitting for the year in March 2017.

Click here for the Transformation Barometer_A discussion document_July 2015

Click here for the Transformation Barometer Framework_2017

Building a cadre of emerging researchers in the higher education system

Universities SA (USAf) has undertaken a DST funded national research project in collaboration with CREST (University of Stellenbosch) on developing a new cadre of emerging researchers in the university system.

The purpose of this study, which is being undertaken in 25 of the 26 public universities is to:

  • Establish the proportion and demographics of academics at lecturer and senior lecturer who are active researchers;
  • Investigate the environmental context, enablers and impediments to increasing the number of emerging researchers; and
  • Make recommendations to increase the number, diversity and representivity of emerging researchers in the system.

The study is divided into three phases, which include desktop research into national and institutional policy frameworks in this regard, and also into SA’s relevant knowledge databases.   A web-based survey of academics at these universities forms the third leg before analysis and report writing begins.  It is anticipated that findings of this study will inform USAf’s strategy to grow the number of emerging researchers – with the aim of realising the National Development Plan’s vision of 100 doctoral graduates per million of population per year by 2030.  USAf’s Operations and Sector Support division, which is playing a key co-ordinating role in this regard, anticipates to have a draft report by November 2017, and a final report in the first quarter of 2018.

Minimum admission requirements for entry into universities

In response to requests from the Departments of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and Basic Education (DBE) the “designated list” of NSC subjects which forms part of the gazetted minimum requirements for higher education admission is being reviewed and is likely to be abolished. In response to this, and at the request of the DHET, USAf’s Admissions Committee will be involved in a project to determine appropriate minimum requirements for entry into certificate, diploma and degree study in public and private HEIs. The minimum entry requirements will be determined for holders of the National School Certificate (NSC); National Certificate Vocational (NCV), the Amended Senior Certificate (SCa) and National Senior Certificate for Adults (NASCA). The Admissions Committee is the only body within USAf founded in terms of a legal statute to advise 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.

To achieve the goal of this project, the Admissions Committee will interrogate existing empirical evidence demonstrating a) predictors of success at university and b) minimum admission requirements.  Although some evidence resides in published and unpublished studies by several entities including Umalusi in 2013, former Higher Education South Africa (HESA) in 2014 and USAf in 2015, USAf will probably commission further research, particularly as much existing empirical work pre-dates the CAPS changes to the NSC.  The USAf Board accepted the proposal that this study be funded by the Matriculation Board.

As at August, 2017, USAf was preparing to invite proposals from qualifying entities to conduct this inquiry. It is envisaged that studies will get underway early in 2018, yielding findings towards mid-year.

Human Resources Practitioners’ Development – pilot project

Participants at the HR Practitioners’ Development pilot programme in July 2017


In the quest to create highly skilled human resources practitioners, and to ensure that they meet the changing staff development needs of higher education, Universities SA (USAf), in consultation with experts in this field, has conceptualised and tailored a Human Resources Development Programme specifically for practitioners within universities. This training is also seen as an important catalyst for institutional efficiencies and effectiveness expected of the new generation of HR practitioners.

The programme, accredited by the South African Board for People Practices (SABPP), is a combination of self-study, two intense contact weeks, assignments and self-reflection stretched over a six month period. It is being run as a pilot in 2017, with funding support from the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training (ETDP SETA).

The pilot exercise kicked off in July with 33 trainees drawn from 15 institutions. The trainees completed Study School 1 (SS1), which was hosted at the University of the Western Cape from 17 – 22 July.  SS1 offered five modules on Change Management; University Strategy; HR Strategy; HR Service delivery and Personal Development. SS2, to be hosted at the University of Pretoria from 23-28 October 2017, will still cover five modules titled Talent Management, HR Risk Ethics, HR Risk & Governance, HR Analytics & Personal development.

National Benchmark Tests Project  

The National Benchmark Tests Project (NBTP) is a key project of Universities South Africa (USAf) conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED) at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The NBTs are aligned to the National Senior Certificate (NSC) which replaced the replaced the differentiated Senior Certificate with effect from 2008.

The National Benchmark Tests (NBTs) commissioned by Higher Education South Africa (HESA) when the NSC replaced the differentiated Senior Certificate in 2008 with the overarching objectives of:

  • Assessing entry level academic and quantitative literacy and mathematics proficiency of students;
  • Assessing the relationship between higher education entry and school-level exit outcomes;
  • Assisting higher education institutions with the placement of students in appropriate curricular routes; and
  • Assisting with curriculum development, particularly in relation to foundation courses.


The NBT project is supported by a Project Steering committee that is convened by USAf. The mandate of this committee includes providing specialised information and advice to the Board on the strategic direction of the NBTP and the implementation of the project. The members of the Project Steering Committee are:

  • Professor Chrissie Boughey – Rhodes University (Chairperson)
  • Prof Yunus Ballim – Sol Plaatje University,
  • Dr Nothemba Mrwetyana – Central University of Technology,
  • Prof Cheryl Foxcroft – Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
  • Dr Dan Mokoena – Vaal University of Technology, who represents the Admissions Committee
  • Ms Mandiswa Cakwe – DHET
  • Dr Rufus Poliah – DBE


In a recent survey conducted by USAf in 2016 with universities, it is evident that various institutions are using their NBT data for more than just placement, such as to inform first year student support initiatives, curriculum transformation and staff development. The Project Steering Committee convenes annual consultative workshops with a wide range of stakeholders in the sector, to share institutional perspectives, learning and new initiatives regarding the use of the NBTs.

Some of the NBT workshop participants in May 2017


The most recent workshop was held on 29 May 2017, and was well-supported by universities, representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training, UMALUSI, The Department of Basic Education, and the Independent Examinations Board (IEB).  Participating institutions had the opportunity share how the data are being used. Of particular interest were presentations by the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). Wits presented on research being done in the Faculty of Health Sciences to explore the predictive capacity for academic performance in 2011 cohort who completed their course in minimum time. The results showed that the Academic Literacy Test (AL) was a constant predictor of performance across the three years investigated (1st, 2nd and 6th years).  CPUT presented on how data from the NBTs provides the opportunity for academics to identify and address particular difficulties students experience in ‘thinking and doing’ in particular higher education courses.

CHED is actively engaged in research on the NBTs and have published a number of papers.   To obtain a list of their reports and prices thereof, contact:  021 6505462 OR

Lynia Fortuin. Click here to visit the NBT project site.