Qualification certificate. Picture: ISTOCK
Qualification certificate. Picture: ISTOCK

The ANC is pushing through an amendment to the National Qualifications Framework Act that will have severe effects on job creation, the smooth running of business and the government, and access to educational opportunities.

The act was initiated during arch-centraliser Blade Nzimande’s time as higher education minister and has now reached the final stages of parliamentary approval. It ostensibly seeks to reduce qualifications fraud by exposing and recording the hundreds of people who falsely claim they hold particular qualifications to obtain jobs, and the many institutions that offer qualifications without the necessary accreditation from the SA quality assurers. However, it will do this by creating an immense database and forcing, by law, every employer and educational institution to use it.

The implausibly huge database will contain details of every single qualification ever offered legitimately in SA as well as who offers it; every single qualification that has been falsified, the name of every single person who has obtained a qualification (both domestic and foreign); the name of every single person who has attempted to commit fraud through claiming qualifications they do not have; and every single institution that has fraudulently offered a qualification. Creating and managing it will be a monumental task.

All employers and educational institutions will be required to consult this database in respect of every applicant for a job or educational place in their institution, and to report apparently fraudulent ones. If 400 people apply for a job, for example, all 400 will have to be checked on the database and if their details do not appear on the database they will have to be sent in to the SA Qualifications Authority (Saqa) for checking. In the end, should Saqa prove that their claimed qualifications are illegitimate, their names will be put on a publicly available list for all to see.

Needless to say, the problems that arise are the capacity of the government  to create and manage an accurate, up-to-date database of this scale; the imposition on every employer and educational institution the requirement that they should present every qualification presented to them for evaluation; and questions of privacy around the submission of details and the placement of names on a public list.

Private training providers have long struggled with the state’s lack of capacity to evaluate their applications for accreditation (and therefore the right to offer training) within acceptable time limits. These expanded requirements will undoubtedly lead to far greater opportunities for error and for the unintended consequences of this to be greatly increased.

As banking group Absa said in its submission to the portfolio committee on the bill, they deal with about 44,000 job applications a year. And SA has between a quarter and half a million businesses, many of them small  enterprises with limited bureaucratic capacity. The scale of the demands upon the businesses and educational institutions, the database and the bureaucracy, and Saqa will be vast. In addition, individual universities receive up to 100,000 student applications a year, many of which are already checked through existing systems. The law would entail a duplication of effort that is entirely unnecessary.

It is incomprehensible that the ANC government believes Saqa will not stagger and possibly fall under the weight of requirements this bill will impose.  It seems oblivious to the negative effect the imposition of yet more red tape on business will have on job creation. But  it seems determined to push it through regardless.

 It will thus create yet another gigantic IT obligation upon a bureaucracy that is notorious for its weaknesses in this respect, and place yet another imposition on our beleaguered private and public sector institutions. SA cannot afford additional red tape that will harm job creation and the promotion of its skills base.

Of course uncovering and exposing instances of fraud is a worthy aim. But it should not require this degree of centralisation, bureaucratisation and administrative complexity. It should not place the legal, moral and ethical burden of exposing such fraud upon our job creators and educational providers. And it should not create yet another state function that is unlikely to succeed. Surely  higher education minister Naledi Pandor can come up with something less gargantuan than her predecessor.

• Prof Bozzoli is shadow higher and education and training minister and Van der Westhuizen deputy shadow higher education and training minister.