By Alan Hammond
The four year review of the National Qualifications Framework has finally culminated in the release of a Joint Policy Statement by the Ministers of Labour and Education which will be followed up with amendments to the SA Qualifications Authority (Saqa) Act.
The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was developed in the early days of post-apartheid South Africa to, “deal with the legacies of job reservation and retrogressive and discriminatory training practices in the South African labour force by creating ladders of opportunity or learning and career pathways”, explains the Joint Policy Statement.
The Ministers have re-commited themselves to the objectives of the NQF but have made changes in organizational structure which they believe will improve the efficiency of the framework.
In February this year Education Minister admitted that the unfinished NQF review was an embarrassment to the government. It seems that the departments of Labour and Education were unable to agree on some fundamental issues in the review.
The Joint Statement refers to the disagreement in a carefully worded paragraph. “The design of the NQF and its institutions must be hospitable to a range of different learning cultures and practices. There is a danger that over-emphasis on any one form of learning will devalue another”.
The eight level NQF has now moved to ten levels. With Masters degrees at level 9 and Doctorates at level 10. This is one of the simplest changes but there are other changes which are far more significant.
Standards generation and quality assurance will now fall to three Quality Councils: the Council on Higher Education (CHE), Umalusi and a new body called the Quality Council for Trade and Occupations (QCTO). The QCTO will fall under the Department of Labour (its exact legal standing is still to be finalized) and it is hoped to be operational by April 2009.
The three Quality Councils will be responsible for standards generation in their respective spheres and will also be responsible for accreditation and quality assurance of learning.
The QCTO will, “rationalize the work of the sector ETQA bodies which currently fall under Setas”. This move seems to be in response to the many calls for amendments to the system where training providers had to achieve accreditation from a number of different ETQAs with different policies and procedures.
Under the new system there will be only three bodies responsible for accreditation in the country. The Department of Labour is hoping that the accreditation procedures of the QCTO will be much simpler than current practices.
The most significant aspect to the new arrangement will be that the QCTO will have jurisdiction over all workplace or work-related learning, at all levels of the NQF. This will mean that workplace qualifications can range from level 1 on the NQF to doctorate level.
Speaking at the National Skills Conference, Professor Merlyn Mehl praised the new arrangement as the real birth of a skills revolution. He also questioned whether this was the transformation of the Deparment of Labour into a department of learning!
Previously the CHE exerted their authority over all qualifications from level 5 upwards, causing conflict with Seta ETQAs.
Saqa will continue to be the, “dedicated national oversight body,” for the NQF but will no longer be responsible for standards generation via their National Standards Bodies and will no longer accredit ETQAs.
Saqa, the CHE and Umalusi will report to the Minister of Education, while the QCTO will fall under the Minister of Labour.
Transitional arrangements will be made, particularly in reference to employees who may be impacted by the change in structures.