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The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training has this morning received an update briefing from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the State Information and Technology Agency (Sita), and uMalusi on the backlogs in certification of college graduates.

The Committee heard that a lot of work has been done collectively to do away with the certificate backlogs. It was revealed that challenges faced in this area included the quality of the data received from colleges and non-alignment between SITA, uMalusi and DHET.

Members expressed satisfaction with the work done and said the Committee’s intervention on the matter was critical. Committee member Ms Julia Killian said this was the reason the country needed a democracy consisting of three arms of the state. “Pressure from the Committee helped and managed to break the walls that seemed to be there, and the tendency to work in silos. It is good to know that they put aside their issues and said let’s work together and get the certificates out,” she said.

She also said there was a need to get the right system in place before changes were effected into the system.

Committee member Mr Van der Westhuizen said the situation has improved but “we need to understand what went wrong”.

“These challenges had been around for a long time and we can’t blame colleges for the quality of the data they send through. The question is what caused the data to deteriorate, if the sector has all these offices to get it right? Once you understand the problem, one can start solving the problem,” he said.

Members also sought clarity on issues such as the DHET’s commitment to release certificates within three months, whether the DHET has control over private colleges, whether rural colleges were disadvantaged, and what amount of money is owed to uMalusi by private colleges.

Committee member Mr Danny Kekana said a certificate is such an important issue to some communities. “It is a big thing in our society, and when someone has been to school and has nothing to show for it they think there is something wrong. A certificate allows one to move from the working class to the middle class and is an indication of advancement,” he said.

The Director-General at the DHET, Mr Gwebs Qonde, said they agreed with the Committee on the importance of this subject matter socially, and said it ought to be understood that the scope of examinations at the colleges is different from that of normal schooling. “We are talking about seven examination cycles in one year and more than 900 subjects. The scope and the dynamics are a little different,” he said.

Mr Qonde said accountability in the value chain of examinations at colleges was receiving the attention it deserves and that much emphasis and resources were placed on it. He said a process has been put in place to ensure accountability at colleges – with emphasis on consequence management.

The department revealed that a task team had been set up with uMalusi and it will deal with the issuing of certificates. The Committee also received the fourth quarter performance that ended in March 2017.

The Chairperson had earlier acknowledged the apology of Minister Blade Nzimande, who has lost his mother.

By Sibongile Maputi

14 June 2017