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close this bookRoles and Responsibilities, Institutional Landscapes and Curriculum Mindscapes: A Partial View of Teacher Education Policy in South Africa, 1990 - 2000 (CIE, 2002, 40 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMulti-Site Teacher Education Research Project (MUSTER)
View the documentList of Acronyms
View the document1. Introduction
View the document2. A broad contextual framework
View the document3. Origins of the landscape
View the document4. An overview of curriculum changes
View the document5. Curriculum mindscapes
View the document6. The Norms and Standards for Educators
View the document7. Colleges of Education
View the document8. Towards a new teacher education system
View the document9. Some tentative conclusions
View the document10. Questions for the future
View the documentReferences
View the documentAppendix

7. Colleges of Education

I have already described the proliferation of colleges of education under apartheid. In the first half of the 1990s, teacher education was not a central policy concern of the state. Attention and energy were focused on the massive changes presaged in the integration of education and training through an outcomes-based NQF and on the urgent demands of an expensive but dysfunctional schooling system.

The NEPI teacher education report made recommendations in regard to the institutional landscape, arguing that colleges of education should remain, and proposing three models for their continued existence: a collegiate (a regional cluster of colleges), an Institute of Education (a single regional institution) and an education development centre.

The NEPI process led to the ANC Policy Framework for Education and Training and the Implementation Plan for Education and Training both of which had active teacher education groups. Although there is some discussion of curriculum issues in these documents, the possibilities floated are largely bypassed by the labour movement process leading to an outcomes-based NQF that I have described already. The discussions of the structural location of teacher education did not decide on a particular option.

The white paper on education and training (1995) recommended an investigative process that came to be known as the Teacher Audit. In the synthesis report of the audit (Hofmeyr and Hall 1996), the focus is primarily on supply and demand considerations and not on curriculum or structural issues. But it was assumed that colleges of education would become part of the HET sector and therefore become a national competence.

In April 1996, the DoE released the report of the National Commission on Higher Education in which it proposed that colleges of education be incorporated into existing universities and technikons - creating a public higher education system of 30 to 40 multi-campus institutions.

This was followed in July 1997 by Education White Paper 3: A Programme for the Transformation of Higher Education. The White Paper recommended a comprehensive review of the college sector within the broader goals of a single system of higher education regulated through programme-based funding and rigorous quality assurance of providers and programmes.

The Higher Education Act of 1997 enables the Minister of Education to declare the incorporation of a college of education into the national public higher education system either as an autonomous institution or as a subdivision of an existing university or technikon. The Act lays down a crucial requirement that the Minister must fulfil before making a declaration: Clause 5 of section 21 of the Higher Education Act states that "an education institution may only be declared a public higher education institution after the employer has complied with its obligations in terms of the applicable labour law." Once again, the centrality of labour law to teacher education becomes apparent.

In order to effect this process and locate all teacher education within the higher education system as a national competence, a task team was appointed in August 1997. The final report of the task team was presented to HEDCOM and CEM in mid-1998 as A Framework for the Incorporation of Colleges of Education into the Higher Education Sector.

The framework document envisages the possibility that some colleges of education may become autonomous higher education institutions if they can achieve a minimum enrolment of 2,000 Full-time Equivalent students, while others would become part of existing universities and technikons. On the basis of this report, provinces began restructuring their colleges and identifying those colleges of education suitable for incorporation into higher education. It was generally assumed that a process of consolidation of students and staff into approximately 30 multi-campus colleges would create institutions that could meet the criteria to become part of the public higher education system.

Within the college sector, there was a strong belief, presented in a comprehensive manner through the Committee of College of Education Rectors of South Africa (CCERSA), that colleges should become autonomous higher education institutions. Some people believed in a simple fallacy based on a false equation of colleges of education and teacher education: colleges of education are the primary providers of teacher education and teacher education is part of tertiary education, therefore colleges of education are part of tertiary education. Hence, many college educators felt strongly that colleges were already the responsibility of the DoE and not the provinces.

The fallacy is exposed by labour law and when we look at the numbers: only twenty per cent of teacher education students were enrolled with colleges. The expense of colleges, their low enrolments, under-qualified staff (from the perspective of higher education) and lack of management capacity all mitigated against the survival of colleges of education. In addition, the colleges had developed a particular culture and ethos that was strongly embedded in their curricula. Colleges were run like high schools with crammed timetables and a strong emphasis on "practice." College personnel were not expected to produce research. By contrast, university education faculties had become extremely "theory-oriented." It was as though the constitutional divide was reflected by a strong theory-practice institutional divide. As the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, pointed out in a speech to CCERSA on June 1, 2000:

Colleges of education have had a strange institutional existence - stuck somewhere between the schooling system, the provincial department and their colleagues in universities and technikons. This has not always been healthy. I was reminded recently of the Chinese mythology of the Middle Kingdom. China was located between Earth and Heaven. Thus, the Chinese could look down on the barbaric people of earth. I fear sometimes that the college sector believes that colleges are superior to schools but not quite yet in the heaven of Higher Education!

The Minister, then reminded his audience that higher education was certainly no heaven at this point in time. While sympathetic to the college educators, there was, in practice, little that the DoE could do with or for the college personnel while they remained under the control of the provinces. The DoE had to play a "facilitating" role between a wide range of stakeholders. The dispersion of the locus of control for governance in higher education had effectively tied the hands of the DoE. Whereas in the realm of the curriculum of teacher education, the DoE had made considerable progress through its labour relations and professional development approach, in the realm of institutional landscape there was no such point of leverage.

By 2000, it was clear that declining enrolments in university faculties of education, an even more rapid decline in college enrolments due to stringent quotas imposed by provinces from 1997 and the rapid growth of the private sector had changed the face of teacher education dramatically - mostly in ways that had not been intended nor predicted. This led to uncertainty and demoralisation in the public sector and a state of near-anarchy in the private sector. The impact on the morale of college educators was traumatic. For many college educators, exposed to extreme uncertainty and tightening quotas on enrolments, the future looked bleak.

From 1998 to 2000, the public higher education sector as a whole experienced declining enrolments partly as a result of declining matriculation exemption numbers. This, together with weak management and inefficient administration, had placed a number of universities and technikons in a position where their viability was threatened. In order to address this situation, the Department of Education in partnership with the Council on Higher Education engaged in a major planning exercise in regard to the restructuring of higher education. The large number of students enrolled in teacher education (approximately twenty percent of public higher education enrolments) ensured that the restructuring of teacher education was one key component of this broader process of restructuring.

The overall dramatic decline in university students was partly masked by the rapid growth in teacher education students enrolled in public-private partnerships for "up-grading" qualifications. These students were included in the headcount of university and technikon students and generated government subsidy funding. They were taught "at a distance" by a private provider in partnership with a public provider who provided the "recognised and registered qualification" and received government subsidy. In effect the government was both subsidising the private sector and rewarding public universities and technikons for offering courses which in many case had low through-put rates and were of dubious quality. Although aware of the possibility of "abuse" of the subsidy system, there was insufficient capacity in the DoE to gather the necessary evidence and take "remedial" action. During 1999, this capacity began to develop rapidly. By 2000, the DoE was able to attach a rider to subsidy allocations to HEIs informing institutions that subsidy allocations are subject to investigation into prior subsidy claims.

From 1997, the provinces placed increasingly stringent quotas on new enrolments leading to a very rapid decline in college enrolments from a high of 80,000 in 1994 to 15,000 in 2000. Apart from the declining enrolments in colleges, universities and technikons, there were serious concerns about the quality and relevance of many programmes. Against this background, it became clear that it was not feasible for any college of education to be incorporated into higher education as an autonomous institution and that the only viable route was incorporation as a sub-division of an existing university or technikon. It may have been the case that some colleges (possibly 3 or 4) could have become autonomous higher education institutions if given sufficient funding and assistance to develop over a five-year period. But the overall situation had deteriorated so far by 2000, that the kind of funding and assistance required to increase enrolments dramatically and to "develop capacity" of personnel was not sufficient.

In April 2000, the CHE released its first draft of a report on the Shape and Size of the Higher Education system; the final report was presented to the DoE in August 2000. The CHE report confirmed the serious plight of many institutions, particularly Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs), and recommended a single higher education system with institutions differentiated by the level of programme they offered and by the broad streams of their programmes (general-formative/professional-career/technological-scientific). Only a few institutions would offer all levels of programmes.

The two key challenges facing the DoE in the process of incorporating colleges lay in the labour relations provisions and in the difficulties of transferring funding from provincial to national budgets.

Initially, it was thought that the process could use Section 197 of the Labour Relations Act to enact a transfer of employer by transferring the "college" as a "complete entity" or going concern: the staff and students, the programmes and the plant. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that this was not possible. College educators enjoyed far more favourable conditions of service under the provinces than they would with a university or technikon. The expenses of colleges were beyond the normal subsidy and fee income levels within higher education.

The public higher education system has experienced ten years of financial constraints and many other challenges. One result of this has been a decline in the conditions of service of higher education personnel and a strict fiscal austerity in those institutions that remain financially stable. By 2000, only a minority of institutions were financially healthy and there were very few institutions on an enrolment/economic growth path. In addition, overall research capacity was weak.

The vast bulk of activity during the process of incorporation was focussed on labour issues. Apart from rhetorical reference to the importance of teacher education's future, most time was spent on what happens to the conditions of service of college educators. In a stakeholder system, those most capable of making their voices heard are the ones who drive the agenda. The vast majority of college educators were tolerant of the messy process. Obviously unhappy with the uncertainty and anxiety of their present situation, they understood that something had to be done. Their main concern was that it should be done more efficiently and quickly. A small group of rectors from erstwhile "privileged" colleges did resist and, in one instance, threatened litigation. This had the unfortunate consequence of diverting attention away from issues such as equity, redress and Africanisation.

Increasingly the question arose as to what is teacher education - is it the buildings, the staff, the students, the curriculum? This was not an idle question because the process involved real human beings, and large sums of public money, and described a key element in our collective social investment in the future: the training of the teachers of our children.

For the constitution it is the function of teacher education, as part of tertiary education, that is marked out as a national competence. During the period from August 1999 to March 2000, a team from the Department of Education visited each province and met with the relevant provincial directors, colleges, universities and technikons. In February 2000, a national workshop was held with all the provincial steering committees and unions. The crucial challenges facing the process were quickly identified:

- Personnel - what happens to existing college personnel presently employed by the province?

- Students - how to ensure that existing students are not be financially or educationally disadvantaged by the process?

- Curriculum - how to cope with the diversity of curriculums being studied by existing students when they transfer to the new institution?

- Funding - How to increase the Higher Education Budget to cover the costs of the "extra students," the new staff to teach them and infrastructure costs?

- Legal - the process requires a constitutional shift of function from provincial to national competence and there are various legal steps to be completed.

In April of 2000, HEDCOM and CEM agreed to a shift from a Section 197 approach where colleges are transferred as a going concern to a more flexible approach in which the staff could remain in the employ of the provinces while being offered an opportunity to join the staff of a university or technikon. The students, programmes, plant and as many personnel as could reasonably be employed would become part of the university or technikon. Once agreed by these bodies, this then had to be negotiated and agreed upon at the Public Sector Co-ordinating Bargaining Council.

It was agreed by HEDCOM and the CEM that the Department of Education would develop a national framework within which provinces would manage the agreements for incorporation of earmarked colleges in negotiations with the unions and the receiving university or technikon. An external facilitation agency (the Joint Education Trust) was appointed to assist the provinces and institutions and produce reports for the DoE on each incorporation. These reports covered the relevant academic, administrative, legal and financial matters, including the transfer of land and conditions of service. To facilitate this process, the provincial departments established steering committees consisting of the Directors of Teacher Education, Labour Relations and Finance to work closely with the Department of Education.

In each of these processes, large numbers of intricate steps had to be followed carefully. The agreement over personnel, for example, had to be agreed upon in the PSCBC of the public service. This involved a long process of negotiations between the state and unions that finally produced an agreement on December 13th, only two days before the incorporations were formally gazetted by the Minister. This agreement left college-based personnel in the employment of the provinces. Any personnel required by the receiving institution could be seconded for up to two years from the province to the university or technikon. Those not seconded were redeployed to other posts in the schooling system. Funding arrangements required a process of consultation and the development of indicative budgets with each institution. These then had to be submitted to Treasury followed by negotiations with both national and the nine provincial treasuries. Budgets were only finalised in December and were considerably less than originally anticipated.