Higher Education

It used to be a joke: how do you know if someone studied at Stellenbosch University? Because they tell you.

Well there are universities and there are universities, and it is the same the world over. Some are – in American parlance – ‘Ivy League’ and some are not. But the idea is that the qualifications, the degrees and diplomas, bestowed upon those who graduate, will have a uniformity entitling – or at least enabling – one to pursue career opportunities where such qualifications are necessary. This is why there is SAQA – the South African Qualifications Authority. Established under the National Qualifications Framework Act 2008, it is associated with other similar authorities internationally, and they talk to each other about standards, revised learning programmes, and so on.

The Higher Education Act 1997 is the statute which governs higher education institutions – essentially universities, university colleges, and technikons. It set up the Council on Higher Education, which determines and implements policy, gives advice (on a wide variety of aspects relating to higher education) to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, and basically administers the Act.

A. Authority to provide higher education

The ‘National Qualifications Framework’ is a system set up by the NQF Act1 and is organised as a series of levels of learning achievement. It comprises three different sub-frameworks: General and Further Education and Training; Higher education; and skills development in Trades and Occupations.

In terms of the NQF Act, any education or learning programme that leads to a qualification, or part-qualification, must be registered (on the Framework) in accordance with the Act. So there is a higher education ‘sub-framework’, which sets the framework for qualifications at a higher level: degrees and diplomas. This is established by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) and the Council on Higher Education.

All learning programmes for a higher education qualification must be registered in accordance with the NQF Act, and to provide this higher education, an institution must either be a public institution (and gets its funding from Government) or is must be a private institution which is registered under the Higher Education Act.

  1. It is a criminal offence for a non-public institution to provide higher education if it is not registered under the Act.2

  2. You may not offer, or pretend to offer any higher education programme if you do not have the authorization of a higher education institution. It is a criminal offence to contravene this provision.3

  3. It is also an offence to pretend to confer a qualification of a higher education institution without its authorization.4

  4. In fact, if you pretend to perform any act on behalf of a higher education institution, with its authority, you commit an offence.5

B. Registration on the National Qualifications Framework

  1. It is an offence to offer, award, or confer a degree, higher education diploma or a higher education certificate if it is not registered on the sub-framework for higher education.6
  1. National Qualifications Framework Act 2008. 

  2. Section 66(1A) read with section 51. 

  3. Section 66(1)(a). 

  4. Section 66(1)(b). 

  5. Section 66(1)(c). 

  6. Section 66(1A) read with section 65D(1).