SAQA’s National Learners’ Records Database (NLRD), the first such system in the world, holds the key to tracking crucial information for human resource development in South Africa. It is the NLRD that underpins the publication of important information and research tools, such as SAQA’s second edition of “Trends in Public Higher Education in South Africa,” which allows governmental research and decision-making in terms of the labour market and education. The NLRD was launched in 1999 when SAQA set about fulfilling its national mandate by obtaining learner data (past and new) and capturing data on qualifications and unit standards.

This is according to Yvonne Shapiro, the Director of the NLRD at SAQA. “The first edition of Trends in Public Higher Education in South Africa (1992 to 2001) was published by SAQA and launched by the Minister of Education in 2004 with the second edition (1995 to 2004) released in 2007. It shows some clear areas of progress, as well as areas of concern that require renewed focus from our top policy makers. On a positive note, it shows that the number of black people graduating from South African higher education institutions exceeded the number of white people for the first time ever from the mid-1990s onwards, and rose to 60% of the total by 2001,” explains Yvonne. See diagram 1.

The Trends publication also illustrates that, in many sectors key to South Africa’s development, there are smaller numbers than are required, with white people and men still in the majority, especially at the higher levels. Examples of this are:

  • engineering graduates: below 9 000 per year; black people in the majority for the first time in 2001 (52%); women still 33% of the total,
  • accounting graduates: approximately
    6 000 per year; black people in the majority for the first time in 2001 (52%); women 50% of the total for the first time in 2001,
  • medicine and surgery: approximately 2 000 per year; black people in the majority for the first time in 2001 (52%); the number of women and men has never been equal (women currently about 48%), and
  • for nursing, the figures paint a very different picture, with black nursing graduates in the majority at least since the 1980s (78% by 2001), and the proportion of women always well above 90%. However, this represents only the nursing graduates who attend higher education institutions (under 2 000 per year).

At the same time in dealing with information in broad brushstrokes for trends analysis, SAQA is also focused on individual learners, and offers a service for the verification of learner achievements. Learners can verify their own achievements on the NLRD, and potential employers and employment agencies are also able to verify the achievements of potential employees.

When verifying their own information, learners receive the full record of what is held concerning themselves. This is a free service. However, when clients verify the information of a third party, the exact query must be given (i.e. which qualification, from which institution and on which date), and the SAQA response is a “found”/“not found” concerning the supplied information only (lists of learners are never released).

Where the information has not been found, it is made clear that this is not necessarily fraud (although this possibility cannot be ruled out), as there are some instances when the NLRD’s data suppliers omit records in error. The verification service concerning a third party is charged for, on a subscription basis. Large batches (bulk verifications) are done using an electronic template.

Other services available from the NLRD are commissioned data analyses, for example, a request to analyse the total number of engineering graduates 1990 to 2004, by gender, population group, age and geographical area of education institution, and downloads in XML (eXtensible Markup Language) of the data contained in SAQA’s searchable databases of qualifications and unit standards (also a subscription service).

For higher education learner data, the Register of Graduates of the HSRC (Human Sciences Research Council) was absorbed into the NLRD, a total of 600 000 records dating back to the early 1990s, with current data being obtained annually from the HEMIS (Higher Education Management Information System) of the Department of Education. Senior Certificate information is obtained from Umalusi, and ABET data from various sources such as the Independent Examinations Board.

All ETQAs submit data at least twice a year. (The Council on Higher Education, itself accredited as an ETQA, has commissioned HEMIS to submit data on its behalf.) This has proved a major challenge to some ETQAs, and SAQA has invested many resources in assisting them with this. The ETQAs in turn gather data from their accredited providers of education and training, of which there are 26 000 recorded on the NLRD.

The contents of qualifications and unit standards are captured on-line by a team of experts within the NLRD Directorate, who ensure that data integrity is maintained while dealing with extremely large volumes of data. Included in this team are people on the information administrator Learnership, which was instituted to resolve the shortage of specialist skilled personnel in this field.

For more info contact: SAQA Strategic Support +2712 431 5149.

Diagram 1: Graduation trends 1992 to 2001 according to population group:
all public higher education institutions