Following the presentation of:
- USAf’s detailed Business Continuity Plan;
- Revised Risks Register; and
- USAf’s Financial Report for the period ending 31 May 2019,
The Board commended the USAf Office for a detailed, well written Business Continuity Plan.
Mr Emert Nkhatu, USAf’s Director: Finance and Administration, was commended for a meticulously written and well-presented Financial Report.
Other policy decisions required in the short to medium term
Fee Regulatory Framework
The USAf Board expressed continuing concern that the Fee Regulatory Framework, which had been on government’s agenda since 2016 and was supposed to be published by June 2019, had still not been made public. A decision was made to put this matter on the agenda of a standing DHET-USAf Task Team on the Fee Regulatory Framework which was set for 18 July.
Tuition fees guidelines for 2020
The Board said it would advocate for a holding position regarding tuition fees for 2020, to enable universities to plan and allocate informed budgets for 2020.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) policies
The USAf Board unanimously agreed that universities needed policy stability, and that much of the unrest experienced within campuses during 2019 had revolved around NSFAS issues. It was acknowledged that Universities were not affected the same way by NSFAS decisions and processes, and that therefore a one-size-fits-all approach to the management of NSFAS issues was not working.
The Board of Directors resolved that the issues identified (regarding NSFAS) around DHET’s Circular 6 (which was later withdrawn) be crystallised and presented to the DHET for consideration and for firm decision-making on how these would be prevented or dealt with in 2020. The USAf Chair said they must aim to have a clear picture by September 2019, of what awaited the sector in 2020.
The Board found that student accommodation had also been at the centre of unrest at numerous institutions in 2019. It was agreed that solutions to student accommodation should respond to region-specific needs and peculiarities. The Directors recognised that accommodation issues differed between rurally-based institutions and those located within the urban metropoles. Noting that rural campuses lacked basic accommodation infrastructure whereas their urban counterparts had an abundance of accommodation supply – but which was largely unaffordable to students from the lower economic backgrounds, the Directors recommended a two-tiered approach that would:
- Prioritise rurally-based institutions with funds for infrastructure development; and
- Engage private property owners in the cities to accommodate poor students who commute daily from city outskirts to access university education.
Infrastructure development is a much bigger need for rurally-based universities. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Limpopo.
A discussion with the DHET was needed in terms of a possible policy change with regard to the allocation of infrastructure grants.
Decisions on other matters
Students’ march to the NSFAS office in Cape Town, 20 June
- the march organised by student representative councils of the University of Cape Town, the University of the Western Cape and the University of the Free State to the NSFAS offices in Cape Town on 20 June, in protest against the NSFAS policy on student allowances and the way the organisation was handling student appeals; and also
- that the South African Union of Students (SAUS) had requested the support of vice-chancellors in this march,
The Board decided that the USAf Office would issue a formal letter to SAUS:
- acknowledging awareness of the persisting problems within NSFAS;
- recognising the notable improvements over some of NSFAS’s administrative processes in 2019 but also
- pointing out the issues still needing attention.
The letter would further explain that USAf was continuing to engage NSFAS and that USAf looked forward to the DHET making policy changes from the 2018/19 learnings, in time for the start of the 2020 academic year.
The Open Access Project
The Board was notified of a workshop planned for DVCs: Research, research directors and managers, library directors and academics, to draft a roadmap for South Africa’s transition to Open Access. The workshop, co-organised by the South African National Library and Information Consortium (SANLiC) and USAf, was scheduled for 27 June in Cape Town. Prof Ahmed Bawa added that South Africa’s key players on the Open Access project would get to meet the co-chair of the University of California Publisher Negotiations Task Force and a representative from Germany, who would share their own roadmaps and the milestones they had already realised towards Open Access.
It was decided that when the Open Access negotiations wound down and produced agreements, the USAf CEO would notify all VCs explaining in detail the final conclusions, implications to universities and what the next course of action(s) should be.
Meanwhile, vice-chancellors’ attention was drawn to an intention of the New York public library to open up free access to their book holdings to SA’s public university system. Mr Tony Marx, the Chief Librarian there, was coming down to SA in October to formalise this arrangement. In due course all VCs would receive an invitation to meet with the Chief Librarian.
Universities to appear at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry
The USAf Chief Executive Officer reported that following letters received by the universities, he had asked for a meeting with the secretariat of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture to seek further clarity. It turned out that numerous vice-chancellors had received formal communication from the Commission which required them to present enormous sets of data including annual reports from the 10-year period between 2008 and 2018 as well as records of payments made by institutions for all transactions of that period. Universities were given until 28 June to comply with this directive. Following considerable debate on this matter, and also recognising that institutions had to appear as individual entities in this regard, the Board acknowledged that given the broadened mandate of the Zondo Commission, it was understandable that the latter was now investigating all entities that received public funding and were accountable to the state in that regard.
Public universities have been invited to present spending data from 2008 to 2018.
A decision was made to:
- comply with the Commission to the best of their ability but to point out the mammoth task that it was for universities to present detailed 10-year data.
- seek an opportunity for the relevant investigating officer of the secretariat of the Commission to meet with a group of CFOs at the earliest convenience to ensure that there was clarity on what was required.
Decisions made regarding strategy groups
Funding Strategy Group (FSG)
The FSG Chair tabled to the Board, the Group’s concerns over the still outstanding Fees Regulatory Framework; the NSFAS Circular 6; outstanding guidelines for tuition fees for 2020 and matters pertaining to student accommodation (refer to the section titled Other policy decisions required in the short to medium term).
Research and Innovation Strategy Group (RISG)
This Committee flagged for the Board’s attention, concerns arising from the proposed funding instrument of the NRF for post-graduate students, starting in 2021. These concerns had emerged from a meeting of the DVCs: Research Forum and were communicated to the RISG at its meeting of 13 May 2019 (refer to the section titled The USAf Board lauds with reservations, NRF’s new bursary scheme and DHET’s future professors initiative).
Teaching and Learning Strategy Group (TLSG)
The Board approved the TLSG’s proposal to host a one-day symposium to discuss the reports on students’ experience of university education, that USAf published in collaboration with the University of the Free State’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, based on the South African Survey of Student Engagement (SASSE) data that are of interest to the higher education sector. Universities would be invited to send three representatives (i.e. Faculty Deans and DVCs Academic) to the symposium envisaged to take place in mid-August 2019.
Against the backdrop of a workshop envisaged between the TLSG and the ETDP SETA (to explore partnerships within the post-school education and training sector for professionalising teaching by early childhood development practitioners, technical and vocational education and training college lecturers and university lecturers) the Board agreed on a need to take stock of all initiatives to address professionalisation in the sector, to consolidate them and engage not only their funders but also to seek partnerships and collaboration for optimum impact to the sector. The possibility of the ETDP SETA funding Honours studies in a range of disciplines will also be explored.
Transformation Strategy Group (TSG)
The Board approved the TSG proposal to designate the month of August 2019 for the Common Campaign days in 2019. The theme for this year is Active Citizenship, Rights, Freedom and Responsibilities.
World of Work Strategy Group
The Board also approved the proposed membership of this strategy group, presented as follows:
- Professor Henk de Jager, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Central University of Technology as Chairperson
- Professor Tshilidzi Marwala – UJ
- Professor Derrick Swartz – Nelson Mandela University
- Dr Colin Thakur – DUT (also a member of the Ministerial Team on 4IR)
- Dr Henri Jacobs – CUT (also Chair of the SATN Work Integrated Learning Committee)
- Dr Engela van Staden – UFS (as initiator of the EDHE programme from her DHET days)
- Professor Ahmed Bawa
The inaugural meeting of this group was set for 17 July 2019.
The Board lauds with some reservations, NRF’s new bursary scheme and DHET’s Future Professors Programme
On 20 June, 2019, Dr Molapo Qhobela, Chief Executive Officer at the National Research Foundation and Professor Jonathan Jansen, Distinguished Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University, attended the USAf Board of Directors’ Ordinary Meeting by special invitation to present two new initiatives.
Read on …
- NRF Policy for Postgraduate Student Funding: Enhancing Equity of Postgraduate Student Access, Success and Throughput.
- DHET introduces a Future Professors Programme to accelerate movement of senior researchers to professorships.