Transformation plans, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Department of Higher Education and Training on various policies in preparation for oversight visits, in presence of Deputy Minister present

Higher Education, Science and Technology

24 June 2015
Chairperson: Ms Y Phosa (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training attended the meeting. The University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) briefed the Committee first, on its current situation, explaining its budget deficit, giving a brief background to its merger and problems consequent on that, and on its transformation efforts. This university was increasing in academic prestige, particularly on the research side, having published the highest number of academic articles, 1 425 in number, during 2014. It was also improving on other metrics of university ranking. UKZN had experienced significant transformation over the past ten years since its merger, although these efforts to offer education and training to as broad a student body as possible had, in combination with other circumstances, resulted in a financial deficit of R1.2 billion. These other circumstances included a failure to collect student debt, liabilities from previous medical aid policies for retirees, rapidly depreciating infrastructure and backlogs of maintenance, imbalance between administrative and academic staff, and government allocations below inflation. Student debt was particularly problematic, as last year the university had to write off R100 million of tuition fees as unrecoverable, and was consistently losing about R80 million annually on debt. It had considered whether to increase the deposit required from students, but decided that, given the financial circumstances of most, it would not be viable. The attempts to embrace transformation came at a price, but the university remained committed to these principles and to broadening accessibility, and had accepted that it was consequently likely to operate at a loss for a few years. The Transformation Charter aims and objectives were summarised, and its structure and Council composition was explained. UKZN needed to harness its academic performance and potential to improve its financial position,and some of its current commercial research projects, as well as the work of the University Press, were described. It was also looking into housing more students, increasing enrolment and was particularly pleased to note that 15% of its postgraduate students were international students, and was hoping to increase postgraduate numbers. Statistics for pass-rates, staff demographics and infrastructure were given and the specific college-based structure was explained.

Members noted their appreciation for the transformation efforts but felt that more clarity was still needed on the exact deficit, particularly in the light of media reports, its challenges in improving enrolment, policies on funding and why so few students were in university accommodation. Members asked about the gender balance in the colleges and the staff, and commented that a key responsibility of universities was to enable South Africans to upskill themselves, so that it would be useful to do more research into the pricing of higher education, and the potential for electronic education and entrepreneurial improvement. Members asked whether students who had been studying mining engineering were being advised to move into other fields of study, and congratulated UKZN for encouraging its graduates to join the public health system. They asked about the loans and some were still concerned about its financial position. Members also asked for more clarity on the successes of UKZN in fostering a highly skilled black professorial body.

The Deputy Minister noted that many recommendations from the Soudien Report on Higher Education had been implemented, including improving the oversight function of the Department, but agreed that pricing of higher education would have to be considered. The Ministry was focusing on university demographics more clearly reflecting the general demographics of the country. The Department of Higher Education and Training then briefed the Committee in preparation for its forthcoming site visits to other universities, explaining the background and findings of the White Paper 3, the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion, and the recommendations of the Soudien Commission to various South African universities. White Paper 3 was adopted in 1997 as a framework for the transformation of higher education systems and both this and the Soudien Report aimed to guide the changes that universities needed to make, in terms of enrolment, staff composition and other areas. The shortcomings identified by the Soudien Report were summarised, with focus areas being the staff experience, language, student living and governance of South African universities, retention of black academic staff and need to build a culture of cohesion. One problem had been that whilst some university councils approved policies to comply with legislative and regulatory requirements, they failed to actually follow through. The various recommendations were outlined briefly, but insufficient time was available for Members to go through the report in depth.

Members asked what guidelines the Transformation Committee had for the Committee to follow through on the site visits, and asked that strategic plans of the institutions be made available. 

Meeting report

Transformation plans and administration: University of KwaZulu Natal

Chairperson's opening remarks
The Chairperson noted that the meeting would look into the finances, governance and administration of the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) as part of its oversight function, and to monitor the transformation efforts of that university in line with the Employment Equity Act, and the transformation policies of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). She commented that university education was highly important for South African youth, but there were still many institutional obstacles to their access to resources to skill themselves. The graduation numbers of UKZN were encouraging, especially in terms of female and disabled graduates. She commended the university in publishing 1 425 articles in 2014, which was the highest in the country.


University presentation

Ms Phumla Mnganga, Chairperson, UKZN Board, said that UKZN had been the result of a difficult merger. It aimed to be a leading source of African research and academic excellence, and to produce knowledge that was relevant to Africa, through African scholars. One of the important goals of UKZN was to allow for rural, black and disabled students to access the university resources.

 

Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Vice-Chancellor, UKZN, noted that the transformation efforts of the university were led by its transformation charter. UKZN aimed to achieve academic excellence in everything it did during the process of transformation. It also aimed to:

-promote high quality research

-promote African scholarship

-recognise the importance of African languages as academic languages

-reflect race and gender representation in its management structures, personnel profile and student population

-maintain social cohesion and become free of discrimination

 

UKZN recognised its current context and that it had achieved some goals, but still had much to achieve. This awareness of its context led to the university working with students and staff to produce and adopt a Transformation Charter. The Charter stated that the university shall be a place where:

-research, training, learning and scholarship are vocations for all

-race and gender representation is evident in all structures

-a socially cohesive and inclusive institutional culture would thrive

-good modes of governance are enshrined

-the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed

-advancement of the transformation agenda is regarded as the responsibility of all

 

UKZN had not achieved all of these goals and still had much work to be done in transformation efforts. The University Council held the university accountable for its performance in transformation and other areas, according to a university mandate which was informed by the Higher Education Act. The Council had 30 members, made up of student representatives, ministerial representatives, staff representatives and Council's elected members. UKZN comprised four colleges: humanities; law and management studies; health sciences; and agriculture, engineering and science. These separate colleges operated with a high degree of autonomy, which had advantages and disadvantages.

 

Dr van Jaarsveld explained that the finances of UKZN are finely balanced, and the merger that it underwent had left several institutional obstacles. The first was that of student debt, which could be linked to the university’s aspiration to be available to financially disadvantaged students. UKZN had difficulty with recuperating student debt, and had needed to write off R80 million per year as unrecoverable. Post-retirement medical aid was also a continuing issue, as previous policies gave this benefit to staff members and the university still bore this burden even though policies had since changed. The university was considering a cash offer to individuals to release it from liability, which could grow up to R2 billion. The depreciation of infrastructure also caused problems, as the university was spending R200 million annually on infrastructure maintenance, but despite this there was still a large backlog of maintenance. The university currently had an unbalanced staff ratio, as only 1 300 of its 3 200 staff are academics, and the rest are support staff. UKZN was working towards rectifying this issue, as these support staff posts were expensive. Government funding did not keep pace with inflation, which made it difficult for UKZN to maintain a positive cash flow.

 

UKZN managed to hold a small surplus annually, although the student debt issue was serious and was the main cause of the financial difficulties of the university. UKZN had considered increasing the deposit required by students at the start of their studies, but this would not be a viable way to improve payment by students who had only very limited funds available to them. UKZN had some liabilities, including borrowings related to the construction of student accommodation, as well as post retirement liabilities that made it difficult to achieve a positive cash flow. The unrecoverable student debt increased by R101 million from R178 million to R279 million, over the years, which was far too high for UKZN, especially in its current position.

 

There were several successes in the research output and innovation of the university. More than 80% of academic staff contributed to research articles, and more than 250 PhDs were awarded last year. Research productivity units had increased by 13%. Funding from the National Research Foundation increased by 7% to R60 million in 2014 and the Academic Ranking of World Universities placed UKZN in the top three universities in Africa for research. However, UKZN needed to use this impressive academic performance to improve its financial situation. Some of the projects the university was involved in, such as research into trans-dermal delivery of insulin and a power-line inspecting robot would be advertised to make use of the commercial potential of the university.

 

The UKZN Press continued to produce important works for society at large and the academic community. Much of its work has received accolades and reassurances that this work is important. UKZN Libraries was improving its accessibility and had opened the Pietermaritzburg Library Research Commons in December 2014. These libraries held several important works, including the Alan Paton Centre and the Struggle Archives.

 

UKZN housed 12 000 students annually, approximately 11 000 in university-owned and leased accommodation, and the rest in private bulk accommodation. The university would look to increasing this capacity. The Residence Life Programme was drawn up by the Department of Student Residence Affairs and offered assistance to students in many ways. UKZN was striving to improve the security and safety of its staff and students on campus and in campus accommodation.

 

UKZN had generally achieved its targets for enrolment numbers, and was looking to increase the number of postgraduate students and decrease the number of undergraduate students. UKZN had 69% black African students, 24% Indian students, and 5% white students. Approximately 15% of its postgraduate students were international students.

 

Funding for bursaries had decreased, but student funding had increased, and currently 17% of students qualified for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). UKZN added significant bursaries and scholarships and was spending approximately R700 million on funding students. Pass rates were at 80% and 74% for undergraduates and postgraduates respectively. Although dropout rates were increasing, the number of graduates produced annually was also increasing. The graduation rates were at about 20%. The staff to student ratio was currently 21%, which was close to the university’s target of 19%.

 

The permanent academic staff was made up of 28% African black, 30% Indian and 28% white. The profile of the academic staff did not reflect the profile of the student body, and UKZN would move towards improving this. The staff was 52% male and 48% female. Less than 40% of staff held academic posts, and this needed to be increased. The number of permanent academic staff with a PhD had increased from 47% to 50%.

 

UKZN had 540 buildings, with an overall gross floor area of 717 865 square metres and a total replacement value of R10.3 billion. UKZN had created an infrastructure master plan, which would determine the most pressing infrastructure improvements, as the budget was not sufficient to accommodate the backlog of required improvements. This plan had been submitted to Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET or the Department) in anticipation of the 2016/17 allocations. UKZN required an investment of R62 million to make the campus accessible to disabled people, and it would also need R1,27 billion for backlog maintenance over the next nine years. UKZN would need to discuss with the Department how funds should be balanced between launching new projects and maintenance of existing infrastructure.

 

UKZN had launched a process of integrated facilities planning development and maintenance, and had used the Westville Campus as a pilot. This campus was made up of approximately 140 different properties, which paid different rates. These kinds of issues needed to be resolved so that the university could operate in a unified manner.

 

The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mr Mduduzi Manana, who had arrived late to the meeting.

Discussion

Dr B Bozzoli (DA) thanked the Vice-Chancellor and commented that it was clear that he had changed the negative direction of the previous administration. The Transformation Charter of UKZN looked promising, and concerns about collegiality and human rights were well placed. More clarity was, however, needed on exactly what the university needed to do to repair its reputation. The Committee was told that UKZN had a deficit of R1.8 billion, but after several questions from the Committee this figure was still not clear. UKZN was moving slowly to remedy its student debt issues, and there needed to be more clarity on the deficits of the university.

 

Mr E Siwela (ANC) said that UKZN should be commended for its increasing production of graduates and students. He asked what were the main challenges for UKZN in improving enrolment further.

 

Ms M Nkadimeng (ANC) raised the issue of enrolment of students over and above the targeted number in 2014, and wondered how this had affected the resources and capacity of the university. She also asked what policies UKZN had adhered to in its allocation of funds to students. She noted that UKZN had only 27% of its students staying in its own accommodation and asked if it was comfortable with this number.

 

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) asked about the entrance requirements for undergraduate degrees, and whether NCV certificates were considered sufficient qualifications for entrance to the university. She enquired as to the trends for 2012-2015, of local and international postgraduate students. She asked why the number of NSFAS-funded students had increased over the past few years?

 

Mr M Mbatha (EFF) asked for more information about the enrolment achievements, specifying the colleges, and the race and gender of newly enrolled students, and asked if UKZN had significantly increased its proportion of women across its colleges, or mainly in humanities. He commented that UKZN had experienced political strain, especially in its admission of rural students into its medical college. Increasing of fees or deposits paid by students should not be a solution for the cash flow problems of the university, because these students needed to be supported. Enabling young, unskilled South Africans to upskill themselves needed to be a key responsibility of South African universities, and he repeated that increasing of their fees would not be in line with this. Research had to be conducted into the pricing of higher education.

 

Mr C Kekana (ANC) asked what the university considered as possible investments for the future, and what the role of electronic education might be for UKZN. The innovative research done by UKZN scholars needed to be matched by further investment, and the potential for entrepreneurial improvement should be considered. He asked what jobs could be created through investor support of this research.

 

Ms Mnganga said that UKZN had achieved a lot over the past ten years, contrary to the negative media reports that Dr Bozzoli had referred to. The new institution, after the merger, had improved in almost all of its areas, including the introduction of a Zulu language course as a compulsory module at the university, among others. Problems of imbalance of staff were the result of the merger contract and would dissipate over time. The Transformation Charter was a result of the hard work that had been done by various individuals at the university. Stakeholder and collaborative governance was alive and well at UKZN. During the merger, many individuals were unhappy with the conditions of the merger, and this had given rise to negative reports in the media.

 

She clarified that the current deficit of UKZN was R1.2 billion, which included borrowings of R600 million from the development and a loan from Rand Merchant Bank.

 

Professor Renuthi Vithal, Representative: Academic Staff, UKZN, said that UKZN did not suppress any audit report. UKZN experienced a dip in enrolments during the immediate period after the merger in 2005, but since 2008 the targets had been met, as DHET allowed for a 2% deviation from the target. The figures for 2015 had not been finalised as yet. UKZN was maintaining its undergraduate enrolment, and was increasing its postgraduate enrolment to improve its postgraduate to undergraduate ratio. Over-enrolment had not been an issue, as UKZN had also remained in a 2% range from the expected target. More than 300 academics were currently being supported through the process of obtaining their PhDs at UKZN, to improve the number of academics with PhDs at the university.

She noted that UKZN housed 25% of its student body in its own buildings and buildings that it leased, which was actually a considerably higher proportion than most other universities. She conceded that admission into undergraduate programmes needed to be worked on further. UKZN would require first-year and second-year students to have a laptop next year, because all courses would operate online, and certain resources will only be available in this way. The different colleges would enroll 10% to 15% of its students from quintile 1 schools, and special provision would be made for these students. 17 000 students were in the Humanities college, which was the largest, and, in order of size, this was followed by the Law and Management Sciences college, then the Science college, and finally the Health Sciences college. The highest proportion of African black students was in the Humanities college, but this was changing. Dropout and graduation rates had been improved beyond the national average, through quick and responsive measures for students whose marks fell suddenly.

 

In 2014, UKZN provided loans to the value of R270 million to just over 5 500 students, bursaries to the value of R376 million to just under 10 000 students, and scholarships to the value of R108 million to about 5 000 students. The total value of funding offered to students was about R700 million, to about 10 000 students. UKZN had funded about 70% of the tuition fees of some students who had passed all their courses, but had to leave for financial reasons,and their remaining 30% tuition fee was covered by a loan that the students would pay back.

 

Mr Bulelani Mahlangu, Chief Financial Officer, UKZN, said that reports of a UKZN R1.8 billion deficit were inaccurate. Over time there had been an operating deficit of R1.2 billion, but this included many outstanding loans and the post-retirement medical aid that the university was still carrying. UKZN could not reasonably hope to pay off its deficit in the next few years, and its deficit would hopefully peak at around R1.5 billion or R1.6 billion. Much of the deficit was also related to the costs of new infrastructure that would assist UKZN in further growth. UKZN charged 20% less than other SA universities at its academic level. Most students staying in residence paid about R22 000 per year.

 

Professor John Mubangizi, Vice-Chancellor and Head of the Law and Management Sciences College at UKZN, also said he was surprised by Dr Bozzoli’s statements about the negative impact of recent administration efforts. UKZN needed to be evaluated in its own context, and its administration has shown many successes that should be emphasised over its struggles. The transformation efforts had been successful, as over 25% of professors at UKZN were South African black academics. He reiterated that UKZN attempted to make itself accessible to financially disadvantaged and rural people, but the admission policies could be reviewed to further enable these people to access education at UKZN.

 

He felt that the college model, which was unique, had not been sufficiently explained. The separate colleges had semi-autonomous power. There were some disciplines that would lend themselves to national economic and social development imperatives, and the colleges were designed to reflect this. The Minister of Higher Education and Training was passionate about the humanities, and had done much to improve the state of humanities, which was reflected in the high number of students at UKZN’s Humanities College.

 

Dr van Jaarsveld said that it was worth re-examining the costs and nuances of paying for university education, as costs were a serious obstacle to many students. UKZN needed to balance its books, but also needed to support the accessibility of underprivileged peoples to higher education. Technological innovation needed to be matched by disruption, which meant making new technologies viable for mass production, and using innovative research to create jobs.

 

Professor Bozzoli said that UKZN clearly had many financial problems and was not financially stable. More clarity was needed on the loans from the RMB and Development Bank. Other universities, such as the University of Fort Hare, had struggled with students not paying fees and had become financially non-viable as a result. UKZN was clearly taking these issues seriously.

 

Mr Mbatha said that UKZN should be commended for encouraging its graduating health specialists to move towards the public health sector. He asked if the loans from RMB and the Development Bank had been approved by the Minister of Higher Education and Training.

Mr Siwela said that it was commendable that UKZN was increasing its proportion of postgraduate students.

 

Ms Mchunu asked for more clarity on the successes of UKZN in fostering a highly skilled black professor body.

 

Mr Kekana asked about UKZN’s position on the increasing unemployment rate of mining engineering graduates, and what could be changed to address this problem. He wondered if these students should be advised to study something else.

 

Ms Mnganga said that universities who were genuinely embracing transformation policies paid a price, for there was no real benefit currently for universities who attempted to accommodate underprivileged students, and they would struggle to balance their books if they were truly committed to transformation. Different sets of employees had different sets of benefits due to transformation efforts, and this was only one example of the difficulties that transformation presents. The sincere efforts of UKZN in terms of transformation should be considered when looking at its financial struggles.

 

Dr Vithal said that 84% of graduates from UKZN were being employed within six months of graduating. UKZN had 14 African professors and 11 female African professors, which was 10% of the professors at this University. White professors constitute 41% of all professors.

 

Professor van Jaarsveld acknowledged that mining jobs, along with other resource extraction jobs, were declining globally and that UKZN should train people to be dynamic professionals who could operate in a changing economy.

He thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present.

 

Deputy Minister's input

Deputy Minister Manana firstly apologised for arriving late. He said that White Paper 3 set the tone for transformation and that since its publication and implementation, there had been improvements in various sectors in terms of transformation. Many recommendations from the Soudien Report on Higher Education had been implemented, including improving the oversight function of the Department. He commented that various successes of UKZN must be attributed to the previous administration of Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, as the current Vice Chancellor had been in office for less than a year. It was true that the pricing of higher education needed to be reconsidered. There should be more progress in terms of university demographics reflecting the demographics of the country, and the Minister had stated that his term of administration would focus on this agenda.

 

The Chairperson thanked the delegation from UKZN and commended the efforts of transformation and increased access for underprivileged individuals. Fee increases should be sensitive to the inability of many young South Africans to pay for these increases. The efforts of UKZN in funding the education of almost 10  000 students were impressive and showed a good attitude towards accessibility and transformation. The university administration must be aware of its potential of the increasing deficits to damage the university, although she also commented that they could also be misinterpreted, and needed to be addressed. UKZN had to continue to offer value for money to its students. The Chief Financial Officer needed to create a clear debt management structure for the future.

 

Preliminary information for Committee's site visits: Department of Higher Education and Training briefing

A delegation from DHET was invited to brief the Committee to give some background information to the Committee, prior to it undertaking site visits to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and University of Stellenbosch (US)

 

The DHET had examined the White Paper 3, the findings of the Ministerial Committee on Transformation and Social Cohesion, and the recommendations of the Soudien Commission to various South African universities. The delegates explained that White Paper 3 was adopted in 1997 as a framework for the transformation of higher education systems. It had a vision of a non-racial and non-sexist social order and system of higher education in all these institutions. The statements in it were to guide the changes that universities needed to make, in terms of enrolment, staff composition and other areas.

The Soudien report had many recommendations directed at institutions of higher education and DHET. Some of the recommendations were not specific to institutions, but in general former Afrikaans and other types of South African universities were given advice to further their transformation efforts. This report, dating back to 2008, found that the state of transformation was painfully slow and that racism was endemic to many institutions. Forums at these institutions were not being used successfully to accelerate transformation, and numbers on gender and race transformation were disappointing. While some institutions had made some strides, the transformation of the institutional culture at many universities had still not changed sufficiently in accordance with the political and financial focus placed on this issue. The focus areas recommended for improvement by the report were the staff experience, language, student living and governance of South African universities. The failure to retain black academics in SA universities had been linked to racism and discrimination, and a culture that was not welcoming to black academics. There was a culture of silence from many black academics about these issues because they feared being victimised and alienating themselves from the dominant culture of these SA universities. Many institutions failed to build a culture of true social cohesion. The issue of language difference caused many of these issues. The issue of student living problems at various previously-Afrikaans universities across the country had been insufficiently addressed, as there was still much discrimination at these universities. Often, alumni of these universities who often had inappropriate political standpoints and attitudes to transformation were still making important decisions for many of these universities. Some University Councils approved policies to comply with legislative and regulatory requirements, but failed to actually follow through with these policies, which resulted in limited change.

 

The recommendations of the Soudien Report should have been followed, and should still be followed, by all Higher Education Institutions. The recommendations of this report included that universities should:
 

-find additional funding to support and mentor staff upon their entry into academia

-hold Vice-Chancellors accountable for transformation efforts, along with an employment equity sub-committee chaired by an external member of Council

- abolish racial segregation and discrimination in racially defined room allocations in student living

- entirely remove power that senior students had over junior students

- ban all initiation ceremonies and activities

- develop a clear transformation framework

- develop their own transformation charter, in the absence of a general transformation plan

- establish an independent office of the Ombudsman, to improve the capacity of these institutions to deal with transformation complaints

 

The Chairperson noted that insufficient time was left to allow the Department to take Members in detail through the rest of the presentation, and asked Members to study the document in their own time, in order to allow questions to be taken.

Discussion

Dr Bozzoli asked whether the transformation committee had guidelines that could be considered by the Committee during its site visits.

 

Deputy Minister Manana said that the transformation committee had given briefings to the Department, and that notes and guidelines could be drawn up from these briefings. However, the White Paper 3 from 1997, the White Paper on Post-school Education and Training, the Soudien Report and the briefings from the transformation committee should be used concurrently by the Committee in its site visits.

 

Mr Y Cassim (DA) asked whether the Deputy Minister could give the Committee clear guidelines from DHET on what departmental policies the Committee should consider.

 

The delegation from DHET said they would make strategic plans for individual Higher Education Institutions available to the Committee.

 

Deputy Minister Manana, in his closing statement, congratulated the Committee on taking these issues and the successful transformation efforts of UKZN seriously. He noted that DHET was establishing a sub-committee on transformation to support further efforts.

Other Committee business
The Committee adopted minutes from the meeting on 17 June 2015.

The Committee also adopted its annual report.

The meeting was adjourned.

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: