Mangosuthu University of Technology & University of Zululand latest developments

Higher Education and Training

13 September 2017
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) and the University of Zululand (Unizulu) appeared before the Committee to shed light on recent developments at these institutions, some of which had resulted in negative media publicity.

MUT reported that that there had been serious issues at the university, and the resignation of six senior staff members had dearly crippled their capacity, but the new executive had a sense of optimism going ahead. The challenge with the appointment of senior executives was due to the non-implementation of the delegation of authority policy within the university, but this would be reviewed at the next Council meeting, and a revised organogram that would take care of human resource staff deficiencies would also to be tabled then. Squabbles over the infrastructure-roll out would be addressed with the appointment of a director of infrastructure projects and other associated posts.

The Department for Higher Education and Training (DHET) said that the challenges at MUT had started with governance-related disputes, and the prime mandate of learning, teaching, research, community engagement and innovation should be the key issue in dealing with all of these squabbles.

The University of Zululand said that the university was aware of the challenges they were facing, and were making a collective effort to rectify the situation and counter the bad press they had received. Allegations being made about Unizulu were problematic and based on lies. The allegations about corruption and mismanagement were false, including the issue of manipulation of marks. The matter of degrees for sale had been dealt with and numerous staff members involved had been dismissed. The administrator that the university had been placed under in 2010 had greatly helped with student affairs and general university life. The institutional governance and senate sub-committees were all functional and reporting properly to designated authorities. Unizulu had a transformation plan which had been approved by Council, and which covered a range of issues that were vital to university life.

The DHET said it had engaged with the university on several occasions and had involved external stakeholders to ensure the issues raised by the administrator’s report were resolved. Efforts to institute a multi-disciplinary task team that would work hand in hand with Unizulu to resolve them had not been accepted. The Minister was waiting for a Council on Higher Education (CHE) report, after which a decision could be properly made on how to engage with the institution.

Meeting report

Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT)

Prof Marcus Ramogale, Acting Vice Chancellor: Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), said that the purpose of the presentation was to share with the Committee the progress on the appointment of senior executives and the infrastructure roll-out plan for the university with regards to challenges and strategies taken to mitigate them.

In February 2016, six senior executives had been put on special leave by the executive committee, and there was to be a forensic investigation as communicated to the Minister in March 2016. The vice chancellor and some executives had left the university during the course of the investigation and the report had been released in July 2016. Subsequently, other senior executives had also left and this had created capacity constraints in the university. Council had expressed its displeasure with the executive committee for their actions, but these had been ratified. There had also been a challenge of inconsistent delegation of authority at the university. From April 2017, they had begun to reconstitute the Council and were revising the charters. What was left was for the Council to elect a chairperson and a deputy. There was a sense of optimism that the problems of the past were behind them.

Prof Nokwethemba Ndlazi, Deputy Vice Chancellor: Planning and Resources, MUT, said that progress on the post of vice chancellor was that the executive committee was finalising the appointment of a recruitment agency to expand the pool of applicants, but at the moment there was an acting vice chancellor. The posts of deputy vice chancellor: resources and planning, executive director, senior director: finance, senior director: operations, senior director: legal services and senior director: institutional planning and research and dean of students, were all vacant due to resignations. All of these vacancies had not been filled, but the process for senior director: institutional planning as well as dean of students had been finalised and was awaiting Council approval. The post of senior director: legal services had been frozen for the year due to budget constraints. There were other vacancies below senior management, and the university was working towards ratifying these. They were hopeful of positive progress at the next meeting of council on 15th September 2017. She said that the challenge in the appointments was the non-implementation of the delegations of authority policy within the university, but this was to be suggested to Council and a revised organogram that would take care of human resource staff deficiencies would be presented to Council as well in order to ease this bottleneck.

She said infrastructure roll-out was based on a needs analysis that had been done for the university and they had devised a master plan which started in 2014, having received grants. An external project management firm had been engaged to assist with the roll-out of the project. The master plan consisted of eleven projects and some had been finalised. There was a project on student housing that had started in 2014 but was at a standstill due to persistent squabbles, but a task team had been instituted and had reached a conclusion over engaging with the original contractor to resume work, and this was to be tabled at the next Council meeting. A project on an engineering laboratory had stalled due to litigation from the piling and earthwork contractor, and the arbitrator had ruled against the university, which had paid the contractor R5.6 million. The university had since restructured the project and would re-tender the contract. A student centre project had been terminated and was to be restructured and re-tendered due to the incompetence of the contractor. There was a bulk infrastructure project, due to the need for a sewer system and power supply upgrade, and the university had engaged the municipality to help with this.

She concluded by saying there had been the appointment of a director of infrastructure projects. A post of contact officer had been created as mitigation of these issues. The process towards a senior director: legal services, was seen as progress to mitigate the litigation issues.  

Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, Director General (DG): Department for Higher Education and Training (DHET), said that he was grateful to the Committee for engaging with these institutions. The challenges at the MUT had started with governance-related squabbles. The problem with the various posts that had not been filled was because Council had taken upon itself the responsibility for filling the posts without a workable system of delegation to ensure the full operation of the university. He was concerned with what the price of these anomalies could be on the prime mandate of an institution, which was teaching, learning, research, community engagement and innovation, and he urged the Committee to assess the institution based on the prime mandate.

Discussion

Mr N Khubisa (NFP) asked how all the issues of resignations, incomplete infrastructure and disputes had impacted on the general life of the university with regard to the core functions of teaching, learning, research and community engagement, and whether it had contributed to student revolts, lecturer sit-ins and union dissatisfaction. He also wanted to know in detail whether the DHET had had engagements on these matters, as it would be expected for them to send a delegation on the ground to look into these issues.

Mr M Mbatha (EFF) said that initially there had been a sense of happiness at the seemingly pending plans of the university in 2014 when they were last engaged, but he felt the entire nation had been let down by the collective of the representatives of the institution. The fact that the Council had not elected a chairperson and a deputy made it look devious, and was contrary to the by-laws of its establishment. He also requested a moment for the chairperson of audit to shed light on how and why things had fallen apart. He asked for the progress on the commitment they had made in the previous two years for their deans to acquire PhDs -- how many had acquired them, as it was a condition for their hiring. He also wanted to know the status of the deans as the head of the academic project. He enquired on the whereabouts of the registrar, as the chairperson of council. He had noted that the intervention of the executive committee (EXCO) was an after the fact intervention, as the human resources (HR) head provided the prescribed procedure of appointment for available vacancies. He wanted to know why EXCO had acted after, and had not run the head hunt together with advertisement.

Dr B Bozzoli (DA) requested a copy of the forensic report and the main findings of the report to be sketched out. She was surprised that the chairperson of Council was not available. She asked for details of the effect that the senior management instability had had on teaching and learning. The history of instability at MUT needed to be drawn up, as a department financial report seemed to show that they were in debt, not able to generate enough money for sustainability and had spent more funds on Council compared to the average for other universities.

Mr C Kekana (ANC) wanted to know the situation with regard to performance, and requested a five-year comparison of pass rates so that they could have an idea. He did not understand and believe that such massive vacancies could not be filled and that there were no suitable candidates, in light of the many graduates in the job market. If anything, the candidates could be groomed for PhDs and he disputed the lack of candidates. He also asked if the tender committee had not checked the capacity of the contactor, as it was a requirement to have this checked to ensure completion.

Ms J Kilian (ANC) said it appeared there were serious squabbles within the institution and that survival chances under such senior management were very low. She was overwhelmed and had serious concern about these posts standing vacant for so long. She had concerns on the powers of EXCO to do certain things, and wanted to know how much the contractor for the student centre had been paid, as it was only 30% complete. Was the performance of students monitored over the previous two to three years, and had there been a dent due to these squabbles? She asked the DHET if they had monitored the impact on student passes, and why the university was not responding to the Minister’s request. What did the DHET do to ensure that there was adequate management capacity when infrastructure money was allocated to universities? What had the cost to the nation been due to this wastage of funds?

Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA) asked when the university had last adopted an annual report, as the last one on the internet was for 2014, and had had several issues pointed out by the auditors. He wanted if know if all those issues had since been addressed. Had the university put funds aside for the residence that was being built, as well as for the staffing and interim security until completion? What did the university do with regard to private accommodation for students, and what had been done to maximize the utilization of lecture rooms to ensure that the capital available was fully employed?

Mr E Siwela (ANC) asked if the resignations were related to the requirement that the PhDs had to be obtained, had not been met. He also wanted to know if there had been an improvement in the number of qualifications issued to date. He asked how tenders were issued in the first place, as the money issued to universities was public money and there had to be accountability. He lastly asked about the progress on the marine facility that was to be established, and if this had been affected by the issues.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) said that she was greatly concerned with the issues, as optimal functionality of the institution served the rural community. With regard to the issue of not finding a suitable candidate, she wanted to know what particular candidates they wanted, as it felt like the positions were being kept for particular people. She asked if the forensic report had made claims against the vice chancellor who had resigned, and what these claims were. The institution had been placed under administration in 2014, and she wanted an assurance with regards to its optimal functionality, and that it would not regress to the prior condition that had led to that situation.

Prof T Msimang (IFP) said the issue of MUT was grave, as it held great historical significance as the first technical institution for many African people in KZN, and there was great disappointment about this. He asked for clarity on what had led to the appointment of the administrator and if the irregularities that were there had been corrected. He also asked for the forensic report. He questioned the lack of suitable candidates, as he believed the pool of graduates made this seemingly possible.

The Chairperson suggested that the university should hand in a copy of all the decisions that they had made that were adverse, and the costs associated with them.

Response

Mr Qonde said that the DHET’s functionality was mainly a supportive role to councils, management, teaching staff and students, to ensure the fulfillment of the prime mandate of institutions. They did not seek to be a critic, but a supporter. They emphasised that an institution was as good as its appointments. The issue with MUT was because the Council was getting involved in general management and operational activities. The DG had met with the former vice chancellor and there had been engagement with the Council by the Minister. The interim management had also met with the DHET, and the overall assessment had been that the interim management was doing everything it could to ratify these issues. The DHET was working with the MUT management. With respect to infrastructure, each institution had its own dynamics and the problems manifested themselves differently.

Ms Pearl Whittle, Director: DHET, said on oversight of infrastructure programmes, the Department had a process where they visited the site, got reports and did analysis to recommend further funding. Some of problems particular to MUT were linked to challenges on the ground in relation to the procurement of contractors. The DHET in 2014 had divided institutions, based on how they managed infrastructure projects. The problems with MUT were linked to management. The DHET was in the process of finalising a macro-infrastructure project. The bulk infrastructure problem had resulted in on-going discussions with the municipality, and the DHET had advised MUT that they could come up with a support project on the university’s engagement with the municipality.

Prof Ramogale said there had been great governance and management challenges, and as an acting team they had frustrations due to the lack of support from the Council, but fear of the imminent collapse of the institution had kept them going. The situation had had a great impact, but there had been good conduct by the students and unions, and the core business of the university had progressed fairly well. He remarked that teaching and learning was going well, and the average pass rate for the previous five years had been 80%. Three deans had obtained PhDs, and one had retired and another had left but had since been replaced. He said that there was no Council-approved framework for the appointment of a vice chancellor, but there was a devised framework to be tabled at the next meeting to expedite this appointment.

He said the absence of implementation for the delegation of authority had impacted progress. The Council was involved in procurement processes and the Minister had made them aware of how improper this was, and they had since left this issue to management. There had been a recent annual report that was submitted to Council, but he could not respond on the issues raised in the 2014 audit report, as he was not aware of exactly what they were.

He said they did use private accommodation and also leased their facilities to the community as additional income for MUT. Maritime engineering had not taken off due to capacity and infrastructure constraints. He acknowledged the findings against the former vice chancellor in the audit report. He reiterated the new sense of optimism due to the changes at the senior level.

The Chairperson and Mr Mbatha advised the new chair of audit to pick up questions that had been asked, as he was new in the role and had not followed up on the issues that had led to this situation.

Dr Bozzoli followed up on three questions that had been not answered, with particular emphasis on whether the resigned executives had been charged.

Ms Kilian followed up on the costs of adverse decisions on infrastructure projects.

The new chair of audit committee said he needed to look into the issues, and he would then be in a proper position to address the questions.

The Chairperson suggested that the Committee draw up all queries that they needed to be addressed by him, and give him an opportunity to follow up and come back on them.

An MUT Council member said that involvement of the EXCO in many issues was the main bone of contention, and the political dynamics had made progress hard, but the new members had newly-found determination to rectify the issues and sufficient motivation to forge in the right direction. She said a comprehensive and extensive framework for appointments was being put in place to ensure fast progress in the resolution of issues. 

Prof Ramogale said the executives had not been charged because they had left the university and were not part of their workforce. These were not Council-driven matters.

Ms Kilian said that consequence management was very important, and suggested that the chair of audit should follow up on people who had left and take the matter to the police. She added that as the Committee recommended transfers to universities, it was going to be uncomfortable for them to approve institutional funds if people did not take responsibility.

Dr Bozzoli asked the MUT to give a report on all people implicated in the forensic report, what they had done and what was being done about it.

Mr Mbatha said that when a person resigned, it had to be followed through as an institution, and charges had to be laid. He urged that those involved should be institutionally charged, and have it placed on record even in their new workplaces.

Council and Management of University of Zululand (Unizulu)

The Chairperson communicated to the Committee about the absence of the vice chancellor and the chairperson of the Unizulu council, as they had sent letters and doctors’ notes to her.

Prof Gideon de Wet, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research and Innovations, University of Zululand, said that he viewed the platform as an opportunity to clarify a number of issues that had come up in the months leading to the meeting, and the bad press that they had been receiving. The university did not have a recognised union at that time. According to the scorecard that they gave themselves, they had been performing well despite a plethora of issues they still needed to work on. They were keen to partner with stakeholders and rebuild a culture of trust in the organisation.

Teaching and learning were all intact and were going very well at the time, in spite of serious challenges. The administrator they had been placed under in 2010 had left in 2013, but there were still many challenges that were left. The institutional governance and senate sub-committees were all functional and reporting properly to designated authorities. The student union elections were under way at that time. There were a series of new policies that had gone through all the proper internal procedures and were constantly being renewed to maintain governance. There were numerous culture building aspects, and Unizulu was hoping that the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) would back them.

The University had a transformation plan which had been approved by Council, and which covered a range of issues. The administrator had greatly helped them with regard to keeping campus life intact and dealing with student affairs issues. Staff houses had been an issue, and they had engaged the Department of Public Works (DPW) to help with this, and were hoping to get these houses on their books soon.

Prof De Wet said the allegations being made about Unizulu were problematic and based on lies. The allegations about corruption and mismanagement were false, including the issue of manipulation of marks. The issue of degrees for sale had been dealt with and numerous staff members involved had been dismissed. With regard to the three cases involving the former chief financial officer, Ms Josephine Naicker, the court had ruled all of them in favour of the university. He had inherited the issue of the missing R11.5 million from the previous administration, and it was being investigated by the Hawks.

He concluded that it was time to concentrate on the core objective of the institution and to put students at forefront. Unizulu was aware of the challenges they were facing, and they were making a collective effort to rectify the situation and counter the bad press.

Mr Nhlakanipho Nkwanyana, member of the Unizulu Council, said that their invitation had indicated that the Portfolio Committee had noted with great concern the negative publicity, and he had construed it as the basic premise behind the invitation. He said the numerous issues raised had their roots in the various media reports, and he was concerned about a suspicious element of collusion.

Mr Zenzele Mzimela, Executive Director: Finance, Unizulu, spoke on behalf of the audit committee, and said that KPMG had been appointed as auditors for the university.

Institutional Forum of Unizulu

Mr Sifiso Mvubu, Institutional Forum, Unizulu, said there were areas of concern, as some forum members thought that the forum was playing the role of a labour union, and that some members were trying to influence the forum for their own benefit.

The Chairperson suggested they move to the next presentation due to time constraints, as the Members could easily read through the forum presentation.

NEHAWU Unizulu

Mr Thulani Maphosa, Chairperson of NEHAWU, Unizulu, said that the allegation that people charged with regards to the missing R11.5 million were NEHAWU members was false. He said it was NEHAWU that had brought the issue to Council. He also refuted allegations of a 40% salary increase demand, and the claim by the vice chancellor that its members had threatened her. He said that progress had not been made following the last Committee oversight visit, with issues like the termination of the recognition agreement by the university, and the university rejecting all attempts by the union to resuscitate the relationship.

DHET

Ms Whittle said the administrator that had been placed at Unizulu had been requested to address all issues, and he had submitted a report to the Minister in 2012. One of the issues had been a cultural problem that had to be immediately addressed. The administrator had cautioned that there was a daunting task ahead for the new management, and that they had to refocus on the academic mandate. There had been a suggested focus on the implementation of an institutional plan, the alignment of programmes offered and academic enterprise. The DHET had offered support to the Council then and had engaged with the university in the implementation of these measures. It had engaged on a number of occasions with the university and met with stakeholders to ensure the issues raised by the administrator were sorted out. They had agreed that a multi-disciplinary task team should be established to help deal with the issues raised. This had not come to fruition, as they had not got cooperation from the university, and the Minister had engaged with the university to give reports on progress in respect of the issues raised by the administrator.

Issues were continuously arising, especially in the media, and the DHET was not sure how to follow up on this, but the Minister was waiting for the Council on Higher Education (CHE) report. After the report, a decision could be made properly on how to engage with the institution.

The meeting was adjourned.

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