Annual Report of the Council on Higher Education 2000/2001



The third Annual Report (2000–2001) of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) fulfils several of the CHE’s responsibilities. First, it constitutes the CHE’s report to Parliament on the state of higher education (HE) in South Africa. Second, it represents an attempt to monitor the achievement of the policy goals and objectives of the White Paper 3 of 1997. Third, it seeks to give effect to the CHE’s responsibility to contribute to the general development of HE through reflection on the scope, limitations and possibilities of the unfolding processes of transformation. Finally, it reports on the activities of the CHE and its permanent committee, the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC).



2001 witnessed several watershed events that are likely to have a major impact on the future trajectory and structure of South African HE. In March 2001 the Ministry of Education released the National Plan for Higher Education. Soon after, the Ministry released the discussion document Funding of Public Higher Education: A New Framework. Finally, in May 2001, the HEQC of the CHE was formally launched. These three events and the processes related to them put into place the three major steering mechanisms and instruments for transforming HE: National planning, a new goal- and policy-oriented funding framework and a quality assurance system.



Part One of the Annual Report focuses on the state of HE in South Africa. Section One describes and analyses the three key steering mechanisms and regulatory instruments that were introduced during 2001. Section Two examines the contemporary shape and size of the HE system, including the institutional landscape of HE and student and staff participation in HE. Section Three covers developments with respect to the core functions of HE — learning and teaching, research and community service. It also focuses on the human resource development goals and strategies of government, which must condition learning and teaching. Section Four deals with the governance and financing of HE. The final section, Challenges, synthesises key developments and identifies and discusses some of the key challenges facing South African HE.



In reading Part One on the state of HE, it is important to regard the first Annual Report (1998–1999) of the CHE as a reference point. There are areas of HE where there has been little substantive change from the conditions and trends that are described and analysed in the 1998–1999 report. In such cases, where there has been little or no change, this is simply noted and the information is not repeated. Instead, the report concentrates on updating, where possible, the data, description and analysis contained in the 1998–1999 report, on discussing new developments, and on expanding this Annual Report in the direction of description and analysis of new issues. These include the emerging approach to skills development and its implications for HE, the rolling out of the New African Initiative (NAI) and the preparedness of HE for the HIV/Aids pandemic.



Part Two provides an account of the CHE’S activities during the period November 2000 to October 2001.



In the first Annual Report (1998–1999), the CHE expressed strong concern about the difficulties of providing a comprehensive account, with up-to-date statistics, on the contemporary state of HE. It noted that HE information systems were sorely inadequate, and that there was also a weak institutional culture of HE research. Regrettably, in general, this continues to be the case. Reliable statistics in a number of key areas, including student enrolments, remain elusive, even for the 2000 academic year. The utility of the Higher Education Management Information System (HEMIS), which is vital for review, planning and steering of the HE system, remains to be proven. Provisional South African Post-secondary Education (SAPSE) data had to be utilised, which can only provide indicative trends. There are heartening signs of greater attention being given to institutional-level research, but this tends either not to be widely disseminated, perhaps for strategic competitive reasons, or else is by nature very specific and not easily incorporated into a macro-account of the HE system. Still, overall, more is being written on South African HE, and a challenge for the CHE is to draw on this effectively for the purpose of its Annual Report. Numerous reports on different aspects of HE were commissioned to assist in the writing of Part One on the state of South African higher education. The contents of these have been woven into the report.



The CHE itself has been exploring ways to build an effective system of HE monitoring, evaluation and review to ensure that there will be adequate measurement of progress around key policy goals, and ongoing and more in-depth review of select policy areas and issues. Developments in this regard are reported in Part Two of this report. Through its own initiatives and through the work of and co-operation with various other HE agencies, more comprehensive reports on the state of HE will hopefully become possible in the future.



Finally, the key steering mechanisms and policy instruments are yet to resolve major issues of uncertainty (for example, in the case of national planning, the reconfiguration of the system and the establishment of a new institutional landscape), or are still in the process of development (new funding and quality assurance framework and regime). The HE system remains in considerable flux and institutions inevitably continue to operate in an environment of uncertainty. In this context, it is much too early to draw definitive conclusions on a number of policy areas, issues and processes.