Governance in higher education, universities under administration & infrastructure development at new universities

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

27 August 2019
Chairperson: Mr M Mapulane (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was updated on university governance and infrastructure development by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). The presentation gave an overview of governance at universities, universities under administration, and infrastructure development at the new universities.

The Committee was disappointed that the DHET did not provide an overview of all the universities, as the Committee had requested. This meant that Members were unable to ask questions about what was happening in other universities.

The Department gave a presentation on two universities that were currently under administration -- the University of Fort Hare (UFH) and Vaal University of Technology (VUT) – and described the challenges the two institutions were facing.

The Department highlighted the development of infrastructure at the two new universities -- the Sol Plaatjie University (SPU) and the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) – illustrating the progress achieved with pictures of the completed infrastructure.

Members asked for an explanation of the difference between the roles of the administrators and the independent assessors, and whether the Department was learning lessons from their involvement at UHF and VUT so that these problems would not recur. They expressed scepticism over some of the Department’s glowing descriptions of conditions at university facilities, and said a major concern was the effect of poor management on the lack of adequate maintenance of university facilities. They wanted to know how many people had been arrested and charged for irregularities, taking into account the large number of investigations that had been carried out. A Member also asserted that the country should have built more than just two new universities in the past 25 years.

The Members all agreed that the Committee needed to conduct oversight visits at the institutions.

Meeting report

The Chairperson commented that Members had received the presentation only the previous day and had not had enough time to go through the presentation and make necessary inquiries and investigation into the contents of the presentation. Furthermore, the presentation was highlighting the governance issues and infrastructure development at only two universities and not all the universities, as the Committee had requested. This was the second time the Committee has asked the Department to present on the issues each of the universities were facing.

Dr Diane Parker, Deputy Director General: Department of Higher Education and Technology (DHET), acknowledged that the presentation did not cover each university. She said the Committee’s request had been misinterpreted by the Department.

University governance

Dr Parker said the presentation would give an overview of governance at universities, universities under administration, and infrastructure development at the new universities.

Despite the acceptable governance record of many of the universities, governance at some of the universities remained a challenge. This was particularly evident from a considerable number of universities that have had to be investigated and/or placed under administration over the past two decades.


Since 2000, 11 independent assessors had been appointed for several universities in terms of the Higher Education Act as a result of poor institutional governance and management.

Some of the institutions had been a subject of more than one investigation. The Act allowed the Minister to intervene, but it was restrictive in some ways.

Seven universities had been investigated by an independent assessor which had led to their being placed under administration for a period of two years. The Central University of Technology had been put under administration by the Minister, but the institution had taken the Department to court to fight the Minister’s decision and the Department had lost. The court had ordered the administrator to be removed. The Mangosuthu University of Technology was not under administration, and the Minister was working with the University to deal its challenges.

The Department highlighted factors contributing to poor governance:

  • The inability of councils, and in some cases the Chairperson, to provide strategic leadership and direction.
  • Role confusion between governance and management.
  • Fraught council / vice-chancellor relationships, structure and composition, and size.
  • Failure by members to distinguish between the interests of the institution and the interests of the constituencies which elected or nominated.
  • Non-adherence to governance procedures.
  • Corruption.

The DHET had developed guidelines for good governance practice and governance indicators for councils of South African public higher education institutions. It had requested councils to do a self-assessment of their performance for the 2017 academic year. The analysis of the scorecards was coupled with the analysis of the 2017 annual reports on different aspects of governance. This exercise represented an important first step towards monitoring governance practices by councils in universities, particularly in a system with governance problems and failures. Councils were expected to submit again in 2019, with the scorecards assessing their performance for the 2018 academic year. The DHET had still to receive the scorecards and analyse them.

The University of Fort Hare (UFH) and the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) were currently under administration.

Normally, an Independent Assessor (IA) would be first appointed to investigate the affairs of a university and advise the Minister on the source and nature of problems facing the institution and the measures required to restore good governance and management at the university. At the recommendation of the IA, the Minister would appoint an administrator. The circumstances surrounding these institutions were such that the appointment of an administrator had preceded an independent assessment in the case of UFH, and for VUT before the independent assessment could be concluded.

University of Fort Hare

The UFH had appointed a new Vice Chancellor (VC) in 2017. There had been reports of deep maladministration entrenched in the institution. The appointment of the VC saw several senior managers and staff members suspended, some resigning and others dismissed for maladministration related cases. Problems at the UFH started when the unions embarked on an eight-week long protest around June 2018 that turned violent and resulted in the closure of the campus. The protest was allegedly a push-back by those who were facing disciplinary processes, as a way of pushing for the collapse of the university management, particularly the departure of the Vice-Chancellor.

The situation was deteriorating to the level of threats of physical harm to university officials. From the time of the strike, the university featured strongly in the media. The Department and the Minister received an influx of correspondence from people from within the university community making allegations of corruption against the VC. Adding to this chain of events, in December 2018 the University Council also found itself in a constitutional dilemma where it was unable to reach the required quorum at most of its meetings. The councils were unable to appoint a Chairperson, or follow up on the institution’s organisation of the following academic year, such as how much fees would cost in the new academic year. This had culminated in a contested Council meeting held on 12 April 2019, with six internal and two external members, after which the newly elected interim Chairperson issued the Vice-Chancellor with a notice of suspension.

The governance challenges were marred by a context of fear, threats and very real danger to certain members of the university management. The former Minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, appointed Professor Loyiso Nongxa as the Administrator of UFH on 29 April 2019.

Professor Nongxa was take over the role, powers, functions and duties of the Council for a period of 12 months, and initiate processes and initiatives that would restore proper governance at the university. He would ensure that an independent investigation was conducted into the affairs of the university particularly in light of, amongst other things, the resignations, suspensions and dismissals that had taken place, the alleged financial irregularities and other related matters that had contributed to the current state of affairs, and the collapse of governance at the university. He would also implement the process of reviewing and revising the current statute of the University in terms of Section 32 of the Act and its approval in terms of Section 33, review the Office of the Registrar, identify and initiate processes to address any deficiencies to ensure its optimal functioning in order to support the governance and management delivery of the university, and reconstitute the Council in terms of the new statute.

Prof Nongxa had requested the Minister to appoint an independent assessor to investigate and consider allegations that had been made and matters that had contributed to the collapse of governance at the UFH. The Minister had appointed Professor Chris Brink as an independent assessor, with Professor Louis Molamu to assist him in investigating the affairs of the university.

During the first month of his appointment, the IA had expedited the processing of all pending approvals, including the approval of the 2019 budget, the enrolment plan, the 2019 annual performance plan (APP), the 2018 annual report and the infrastructure investment programme of South Africa direct capital, as well as the filling of the management committee (MANCO) vacancies. The interim/advisory committees -- the audit and risk committee, finance and procurement committee, human resources and remuneration committee, and the information communication technology (ICT) governance committee -- were constituted.

A new statute was drafted, and the IA aimed to produce a final draft for submission to the Minister by the end of October 2019. A draft report on the review of the Office of Registrar, and an implementation plan for the turnaround and performance improvement plan would also be produced by the end of October.

A policy review and development process, which would include revising existing policies that had not been updated for quite a while, developing new institutional rules related to the revised Institutional Statute and reviewing and revising the charters of the Council committees, was currently under way.

Vaal University of Technology (VUT)

In July 2012, the Minister had appointed Professor Patrick Fitzgerald as administrator at VUT to take over the powers, duties and functions of the VUT Council, following an independent assessment. Since being placed under administration, the university had found itself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons in recent months.

The former Minister, Dr Pandor, and the Department had since June 2018 received correspondence from stakeholders and people from within the university community making allegations and counter-allegations of maladministration, governance and management challenges.

The allegations that were made included:

  • Maladministration, abuse of power, inconsistent and selective application of disciplinary measures by the Vice-Chancellor;
  • Human resource and procurement irregularities;
  • The flouting of the academic exclusion policy to favour certain students;
  • Improper relationships between the Vice-Chancellor and certain officials;
  • Financial mismanagement and corruption relating to infrastructure projects;
  • The Council Chairperson’s involvement in operational matters; and
  • Intimidation and victimization of whistle-blowers of corruption deteriorating to the level of threats of physical harm to certain university officials.

The information that had come to the former Minister’s attention painted a picture of a worsening situation at the university. It also became very difficult to determine from the information presented what exactly was happening at the university and where the fault lay, who may be corrupt, and what the causes were of the multiple administrative failures. The Minister had appointed Professor Barney Pityana as the independent assessor, to be assisted by Professor Rocky Ralebipi-Simela, on 15 May 2019 for a period of 90 days.

The independent assessor had been expected to submit the report by mid-August but had requested an extension until 15 September, as they still had to review the material and evidence submitted to them and to apply their minds to the recommendations. Normally, the Minister would await the Report of an independent assessor before any further intervention.

The developments at the university had resulted in the resignation of several external members of the Council. The vacancies on Council rendered it unable to reach a quorum and execute its statutory mandate. The effective governance of the university was under serious threat. There was evidence of very serious factionalism that seemed to cripple both management and governance, and the Council was failing to address the deficiencies. The independent assessors had provided the Minister with an interim report which advised him to appoint an administrator.

On 31 July, the Minister had given the VUT Council a notice of his intention to appoint an administrator for the university. Council’s response of 6 August supported the appointment of an administrator, but also informed the Minister of Council’s resolution to resign with immediate effect.

On 12 August, the Minister had appointed Professor Ihron Rensburg as an administrator to take over the role, powers, functions and duties of the VUT Council, and to take over and execute the management of VUT.

The Department had already briefed the administrator on the affairs of the University; and had formally introduced him to the University Community.

Infrastructure development at new universities

In August 2013, the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) and Sol Plaatjie University (SPU) were established by the Minister of Higher Education and Training in terms of section 20 of the Higher Education Act, 1997 through the publication of Government Notice No. 631, Gazette No. 36772.

The Department conducted oversight through quarterly or ad hoc site visits, as well as quarterly development meetings chaired by the Deputy Director General (DDG): University Education. These were attended by DHET senior managers, VCs and university senior managers. Oversight site visits were typically carried out not less than two weeks prior to the quarterly development meetings. Reports were then compiled for tabling at the quarterly development meetings. Venues of quarterly development meetings were alternated between the DHET and the universities. Meetings held at universities allowed the DDG and DHET senior managers not involved in infrastructure to also conduct site visits on the projects.

Sol Plaatje University

SPU is comprised of the North, Central and South Campuses. Infrastructure had been developed through the acquisition of existing buildings and the construction of new facilities. A 15-year spatial development plan and over R1.3 billion in infrastructure and buildings had been completed. Construction at SPU would continue until 2028.

The university had started with 125 students, and by 2018 the intake was 1 560 students. The projected enrolment by 2023 is 6 106, with a planned full capacity of 7 500 students. There were plans to accommodate 80% of students in campus residences (6 000 beds). There were 1 341 beds as of 2018.

The Department had experienced challenges in land assembly between 2015 and 2018, but the issue had now been resolved and the transfer of land was continuing. It highlighted projects which had been completed at SPU and projects which were under Implementation.

The lack of suitable student housing posed a major risk to the academic and enrolment plan. As the university developed, there had been an increasing percentage of students from outside Kimberley, and thus an increasing demand for accommodation. 1 599 beds were currently available, of which 1 070 were SPU residences, 362 contracted off-campus and 167 rental beds. The goal was to provide 7 762 beds by 2024.

High levels of ongoing maintenance were required to deal with broken or even missing fixtures, which pointed to a lack of care, and at times even vandalism. SPU was currently looking into ways of ensuring students took a more responsible approach to looking after the facilities and were held responsible for any vandalism that may occur. This may include the introduction of formal room handover check lists with inspections undertaken at the start and end of each semester.

In 2018, SPU had established an incubation project which includes a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the key role players. The intention was for specialist sub-contractors to participate in developing small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) to ensure emerging contractors participated in the skills transfer process.

SPU had also hosted an open day in November 2018 to showcase opportunities for local contractors, and the event was attended by approximately 180 people. The university library was awarded the 2017 Fulton Award for Excellence in the use of Concrete, as well as the 2018 Consulting Engineering South Africa (CESA) Award for Engineering Excellence. The residence building had received a commendation at the 2017 World Architecture Awards held in Berlin.

University of Mpumalanga

UMP was comprised of the Hill, Orchards, and Lower & South Campuses at Mbombela, with a rural campus at Siyabuswa. It was planned to have 15 000 students at the Mbombela campus and 3 000 students at Siyabuswa Campus.

The construction at UMP would continue until 2030, with over R1.6 billion in infrastructure and buildings completed. Infrastructure would be developed through the acquisition of existing buildings and the construction of new facilities.

The Department had started with 135 students, but by 2018 the intake had risen to 2 492 students. The projected enrolment in 2023 was 7 490. UMP planned to accommodate 60% of its student enrollment in campus residences. The current number of university-owned beds was 830 at Mbombela and 500 at Siyabuswa.

The Siyabuswa beds were enough for the current intake of students. UMP had undertaken a process through which they accredit smaller existing private residences for Mbombela campus students to stay in. In the longer term, private developers would be constructing larger residences which the university would lease for a short-term period. UMP had taken transfer of all the land required for current and future development at Mbombela.

The Department highlighted UMP projects which had been completed and those which were under implementation.

A director of infrastructure and maintenance oversees maintenance of all facilities at Mbombela and Siyabuswa. The team currently utilises external service providers, but was planning to develop in-house capacity to deal with routine maintenance as the volume of work increases and it becomes the more cost-effective option. Capital projects, where feasible, provide for maintenance for a set period after handover, which ensures that the service providers also have a commitment to maintain, and that any issues could be readily dealt with prior to the final handover.

UMP, like SPU, was experiencing challenges arising from students’ lack of care and at times even vandalism. It was considering the implementation of a formal residence room handover process with inspections at the beginning and end of each semester.

The university reported providing work integrated learning (WIL) to a total of 22 students between August 2016 and December 2018. This had involved bricklaying artisanship, National Diploma (ND) Building Science, ND Quantity Surveying, ND Construction Management, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Diploma in Civil Engineering, ND Civil Engineering students, carpentry artisanship and TVET Diploma in Electrical Engineering.

One graduate who obtained her ND Building Science after receiving her WIL went on to obtain a BTech Building Science through a bursary from one of the contractors, and was offered full-time employment by the same contractor. She had now been promoted to a junior site manager.

Another ND Building Science graduate was currently being trained as a site quantity surveyor.

The Department described the challenges that UMP infrastructure development was faced with.

Among the highlights of the UMP development was an on-site world class School of Hospitality and Tourism facility designed to accommodate more than 600 students in various teaching spaces, including demonstration kitchens, lecture venues, a 200-seat raked auditorium and offices. The facility also had a 25-bedroom hotel with a restaurant. The hotel was used as a training facility for students and offered accommodation to visiting lecturers.


Mr W Letsie (ANC) said that the Committee had not been given enough time to go through the presentation. This was the third time the Committee had raised the issue with the Department, and hopefully this would be the last time because the Committee was starting to sound like a broken record.

He said agreed with the Chairperson that the presentation did not give information about what was happening at other universities, and had focused on the governance of two universities only. He had hoped the presentation would reflect on the University of South Africa (UNISA) as well. 80% of the universities that were doing well in terms of governance and the 20% that were not doing well were highlighted by the presentation. However, it did not provide information of which universities fell within the 20%. The Committee was unable to assist the Department with the 20% if there was no information that indicated which universities were struggling. The DDG and the team must come back to provide full details of what was happening with other universities for the Committee to assist where they can.

The presentation had indicated that Sol Plaatjie University had been offered land to build the university lectures rooms, but not for student residences. The Department had had to buy 2 hotels and change them into student residences. Why did the Department not build the student residences from scratch? At the previous meeting, the Department had said that there was a plan to get an extra 200 university-owned beds. Were the 1 070 beds mentioned in the presentation in line with the target of owning an extra 200 hundred beds? If so, where would the Department get the beds?

Regarding Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) and Vaal University of Technology (VUT), which undergone administration twice already, the presentation did not provide enough information as to why that had happened. For example, how long were the administrators there that had resigned, and what were the lesson learned from MUT and VUT? Was the Department referring to those lessons learned in order to avoid going through the same process in five years’ time?

Mr Letsie had asked the same question to the DG at the previous meeting, but there had not been enough time for the DG to provide a response, and it had been agreed that the Department would provide a written response which had not yet been provided. The DG had said that 55 000 foreign students were currently studying in South Africa, mostly Zimbabweans, which was not a problem. However, did councils and management include foreign students? Could the Department provide a clear understanding of whether there were rules or acts that prohibit a certain number of foreign students being part of the councils and management at universities?

In his understanding, many of the institutions provided grants or bursaries to foreign students instead of the grants benefiting South African students only. Did the Department have figures showing the total percentage of money that goes to bursaries for foreign students and South African students? Was there an act to keep track of this? The country did not want to find itself in 2 years’ time, where the majority were foreign students.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said she was disappointed and disturbed by the whole presentation in terms of good governance -- disturbed in the sense that the right people that needed to lead and manage institution were not being appointed. The presentation had spoken about the capacity building of people, but the Department was busy appointing people they knew were not competent to do their jobs. She was very worried that the Department did not have proper human resources to execute services.

She was not surprised that the DHET had kept finding contraventions at the universities because the Department was all about finding and fixing faults within them and not about the services provided for universities. As had been stated by the Chairperson, the overall information of each of the universities had not been provided. It would have been nice to have received that information in order to engage by university on the scenarios that were highlighted.

With the investigations that had been done, had people been arrested for irregularities and other matters?

Mr B Nodada (DA) suggested that the Committee should put a programme together to do oversight. There was nothing better than seeing things oneself, instead of reading documents being presented. They needed to interview the relevant stakeholders, and see the conditions at the universities that were under administration.

Based on the historical trend of putting the universities under administration, what had been the success and failure rate of the process? What had been the consequences emanating from the assessor’s report? Had people been arrested, or charges laid based on the recommendations that came from the reports? If not, why?

The Walter Sisulu University (WUSU) was no longer under administration. An explanation dealing with its governance and management had been provided, which he understood. However, the biggest challenge when reading the presentation was how the governance part needed to be assessed, in sense of whether the council and sub-committees were functional.

There was a separate focus of the management aspect. Seemingly when the assessments were done, the core focus was around governance, when the reality was that it was the management of the institution which caused most of the problems. For example, if one visited WUSU, one would find three students living in a two-sharing room, the baths in the bathrooms were not working, water was blocked, and food thrown down the sinks. Lecture rooms had electric wiring falling on to students. The conditions were just appalling!

This was not a governance issue, but a management issue. When these assessments were done, focusing on governance was one aspect, but how much focus was being placed on management? Management runs the day to day affairs of the universities. For example, how much money goes to the maintenance of the buildings and the conditions that students were living under? Were they studying in conditions that were conducive for them to succeed or not? These were serious questions that needed answers.

Mr Nodada said that he had seen the specifications about what the assessment focused on, but there was nothing regarding the qualifications that were being offered. Some of the Acts guide the DHET on what inputs the DHET makes into the institutions. Regarding the scope, do they include looking into the academic space? Were the qualifications offered within the statutes and the National Qualifications Authority (NQA) in terms of their own assessments, not just the government’s assessments?

He asked what the governance indicators were targeting for inspected outcomes, in terms of the policy guidelines highlighted in the presentation. Would the Department be able to provide the Committee with those guidelines in order to assist in its oversight role? He asked for the report of the independent assessors from other institutions that had been mentioned.

He said the presentation had been brilliant in respect of the SPU and UMP, and he liked the concept of the education centre, which included TVET. However he would have loved to see a much better picture of the infrastructure and maintenance guidelines that the Department had for these institutions. Were there infrastructure maintenance guidelines where the Committee could play the role of oversight in order to ensure that the infrastructures in the universities were maintained? It was one thing to build and buy beautiful hotels, but if they were not being maintained it all became useless. Was there an infrastructure maintenance guideline, so that if the standards were not met, steps would be taken? Putting universities under administration was one thing, but if a few years later the same thing was done again, it would go back to governance and management – whether the infrastructures were managed properly to avoid causing conflict or protests.

Were the people that had committed the corrupt activities which had led to maladministration being dealt with? It was a problem if the very same people who had created the need for administration in the first place were trying to manage the universities after the administration. He needs to see the guidelines and consequence reports.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) was very confused by certain parts of the presentation. The first page of the presentation had highlighted universities that had gone into administration twice, but the presentation did not refer to Walter Sisulu University and the Mangosuthu University of Technology. What was happening at those universities?

Although the university councils had been requested to do a self-assessment of performance on the 2017 academic year, why had there been no progress reports up to now? Another issue that was confusing in the presentation related to the problems at UFH, which had started when unions embarked on a strike. Did this mean that before that there were no problems or challenges? After

Prof Nongxa became administrator of UFH, the Minister had appointed Prof Brink and Prof Molamu as independent assessors to investigate the affairs of the university. Were they investigating Prof Loyiso? She asked the Department to give clarity, as this was confusing.

Had the management vacancies at UFH been filled? It seemed the DHET was appointing anyone “off the streets” to do the work and it did not matter whether they were failing because friends were being hired. It was unacceptable that in all the universities there was corruption. Where was the management, and what were they doing?

Mr P Keetse (EFF) commented that the Committee must frequently remind the DHET that the Committee was somehow their boss, and that sometimes difficult and uncomfortable questions were going to be asked in order to get good out of the entire process. Even the Ministers, the DG and DDGs reported to the Committee, which holds them to account.

The report the Committee had received from the previous meeting indicated that there was a crisis with regard to space at universities. A report had been submitted by the former acting DG that highlighted how many prospective students every year got turned away from higher education institutions and TVET colleges because of space constraints.

The presentation had clearly highlighted that only two universities had been established during the country’s democratic dispensation. Looking more deeply into that, the presentation showed that there were no more than 4 000 students UMP and 3 000 at SPU. There were some high schools which were bigger that these universities. Was there a serious intention to extend space at universities? To increase space was not establishing a new university, because that on its own was expensive. Why was the Department not considering the establishment of satellite campuses of the existing universities, as that way the Department could save money and time? The Committee and the DHET must accept that they had failed the people of South Africa in that only two universities had been established.

The only universities that were currently dilapidated were the previously disadvantaged and predominately black universities. All the universities referred to in the presentation were mainly black universities. Maybe it was time to do self-introspection to see what made other universities like the University of Pretoria and the University of Stellenbosch succeed without being put under administration. What was it that these universities were doing right that the black universities were not doing?

Looking at governance and the structure of councils, what was the role of the DHET in relation to the councils? He was afraid that there might be a lot of “political fiddling” around deployment as far as the councils were concerned. This would lead to an administrator having to be appointed and then coming back six years down the line to repeat the same process. Could the Department enlighten the Committee about what they had learned from the previous processes? What measures were taken when appointing administrators?

Mr Keetse agreed with Mr Nodada regarding oversight needing to be taken seriously as opposed to the Department coming to the Committee with maps and showing aerial views of the universities.

He commented that he had visited Sol Plaatjie University, and felt the Department was sensationalising everything, trying to please the Committee by saying that work was being done. There was a bit of infrastructure. One of the pictures being shown to the Committee was of a residence and a dining hall, which was of no massive significance when looking deeply into it. 55% of the images shown in the presentation were of residences, and not of places where students could go and learn.

UMP had capacity for about 3 000 to 4 000 students, and there were more than 85 external residences. This meant that everyone was taking a chunk out of the accommodation -- some take 12%, and others 20%. The internal and external university residence prices were not the same. This was one of the major reasons why there had been student protests there. NSFAS did not allocate funds the same way they did with other universities. When the “landlords” of the residences billed, they charged the students consistently, which resulted in those students not being able to settle their academic fees for the entire academic year.

The Department should not bring pictures to show the Committee and somehow mislead them and say a lot of things were being done. Very few buildings existed at these Universities, and what was being shown in the presentation maps were only plans. How long would those plans take to be implemented? Oversight was important for the Committee to do.

To what extent did the Department play a role in the election of councils? What were the measures or Acts in place to ensure that the selection of councils was under way? What existed was a continual factional battle that happened at many institutions. A new administrator would come in and try to solve the same problems that the previous administrator was trying to solve. What was the Department doing to reverse this cycle?

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) commented that he had first-hand knowledge of Sol Plaatjie University, as he came from the Sol Plaatjie municipal council. He commended the DHET for how they had succeeded in creating a collective sense of pride not only in the city, but in the province.

There were some very interesting features of the nature and culture in the Northern Cape which tended to be missed, especially by the academic eye. He referred to the geological formation in Boesmans Gat which had a spiritual importance for Tshwane-speaking people in the area. There was also a wealth of indigenous Khoisan knowledge which was embedded in the ecological form, but also in human knowledge which was not acknowledged and recorded in an academic way.

There was marvellous work being done. For example, there was the McGregor Museum in Kimberley which went with being part of the university. The SPU had succeeded in connecting a lot of different threads which had been hanging loose.

He was critical of the economic impact on the communities around Kimberley, but said marvellous data was in the process of being collected at SPU for knowledge of how the cosmos was composed, and all this contributed to a sense of excellence. The Sol Plaatjie municipal council had essential challenges in service delivery, and would often be told that they were not running a “Spaza shop” because there was a university of world standard.

He responded to Mr Keetse’s comments on the successful universities, and said that a university that had a world standard did not just descend in a “space station”. When the University of Cape Town (UCT) was established in the 1800’s, it had been considered a bush college. If one could not afford to send one’s children to London to study, they were sent to Cape Town to study.

The Transvaal School of Mining, which became the University of Pretoria (UP) and the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) had been sixth and seventh grade institutions. No one who was in a good financial situation sent their children to study there.

Part of the elite who were trained overseas made a patriotic choice of “I want my children to study in South Africa. I want to contribute their ability as a student” in building up those institutions considered bush colleges. WITS was considered a bush college until the 1970s.

Many people in Kimberley thought that Sol Plaatjie was going to be part of a deployment pile. However, that had not happened. The university had a very good Vice Chancellor in Prof Yunus Ballim, who strives for excellence in every respect and that rubs off on to the community.

The emphasis was on multilingualism, so that students must be able to converse in isiTshwane and Afrikaans, while classes were conducted in English. Parents who attended the University of Free State (UFS) feel that it is alright to send their children to SPU because they consider it to be a good university. It was one of the success stories of South Africa.

Mr  Keetse called for order regarding Dr Boshoff’s views, which he felt were focusing on things that had a personal effect rather than commenting on the capacity of the students involved.

The Chairperson interrupted Mr Keetse, saying that he was a proponent of robustness. That went both ways. He had to accept when there was critical engagement of his input. Members were here to share their views.

Miss N Mkhatshwa (ANC) said that she understood the political interest of constituency when she went through the presentation by herself. When that point was elaborated on during the presentation it brought back memories of her being a member of the students’ representative council (SRC) at university, where she had been told that “she was not there to represent students, but council”. She thought that it was the craziest thing, because she had become a member of SRC with a mandate.

There was a cross cutting issue of social decay in society a lack of social connectedness. It was worrisome how things were developed and introduced, but there was no ability to appreciate them to ensure that people were connected as a society. This was something that needed to be talked about. The DHET was going to keep on building and spending money. If there was no ability to understand what the Department was meant to do and what was “wrong” and what was “right,” it needed to reach out to other organisations to create a social connectedness, where management and council performed their respective roles.

The two new universities depended on infrastructure. The Department should not forget the human touch -- the “soft power”. The students of SPU must develop their own culture that would showcase what it means to be a student or graduate of SPU. This was the culture that institutions like UCT and WITS had created. The Department needed to work on the institutional culture for an identity of these institutions to be formed. This would lead to students treating their universities with respect because they wanted to uphold the value of their degrees that they were gaining from the institution.

She asked for clarity on the inclusion of Prof Loyiso Nongxa and the recent protests at UFH. At SPU how many people had applied to the university? How many were enrolled? How many could the university take?

The presentation had highlighted projects that were not yet completed. Could the Department provide time frames as to when these projects would be completed in order to keep the relevant parties accountable?

The presentation indicated that in 2018 the student intake was 1 560, and there were 1 599 beds currently available. From which year were the 1 599 beds available, because 1 599 was more than 1 560. She asked the Department to clarify those numbers.

The idea of precincts was a very good idea and that was something that needed to be talked about. Rhodes and TUKS were to an extent places where students feel safe. They bridged a gap between universities and TVET colleges. The Department should check how many universities were having discussions about precincts. This would do away with a lot of the gender-based violence that had been occurring at universities.

Presentation referred to planned full capacity, does this refer to insourcing?

Were the ground maintenance and cleaning services at SPU and MPU insourced or not, because it was in line with the current political stance of students across the country.

She supported the idea of a mandatory checklist for residences, and benchmarking for management.

Management must stop using university money after they had gone to see what other institutions were doing, while nothing was being implemented based on what they had seen and experienced at the other institutions

Political influence would always be there, because the country was political. People who had a political consciousness were always needed and had a political will to make things happen. The issue was not about political appointments themselves, but about the nature of the political appointment -- the kind of people appointed when the appointment was political. The Department must be able to identify when the wrong people were put into a particular position.

The Chairperson commented on the aspect of lessons learned from past interventions. When the intervention was done, the institution that had gone through the intervention must be better than before. There must be experiences that the future managers and those who were going to serve on the council must learn from the experience. The presentation had not highlighted this issue.

Why was it that there were two universities, the VUT and UFH, that had experienced interventions in the form of appointment of administrators and the dissolution of council in the space of less than 10 years? The previous administrator that did an intervention must be able to prepare a close out report which would serve as a guideline for future intervention. This aspect had been misinformed in the presentation.

He was impressed by the work that had been done at the two universities. Post-colonial societies had struggled to establish institutions of their own after emerging from the period of colonial domination. The fact that in the 20-year political dispensation, the Department had been able to establish two universities was quite a remarkable achievement. The story presented had been an inspirational one. The presentation had to be criticised, as Mr Keetse had done, but while criticising one must not lose sight of the big achievement of the democratic state that was emerging out of a situation it had been in.

Department’s response

The Department said it welcomed the questions and criticism, as the meeting was an intellectual space where they continually learnt more.

The presentation had focused on overview of governance. The Department had not realised that the Committee wanted a detailed situational analysis on governance and management of each university, but it had such information available and would forward it to the Committee.

When the Department did oversight visits to the institutions, they were based on the reports provided by the stakeholders of the institution. It did not work physically at the institutions -- they did not manage the institutions, but governed them. The reports happened retrospectively, as the institutions had to provide their annual reports by July each year for the previous year.

The 2017 governance report was provided to the Department only in 2018, and the interim governance report which was received in March 2019 had been submitted to the Minister. Both reports would be provided to the Committee. Currently, the Department just received the 2018 annual report from each institution, and these would be analysed and provided to the Committee. The self-assessment report from each institution would be made available to the Department only in March 2020. That was the Department’s timeline for the reports, which sometimes came with challenges.

The DHET responded on what it had learned from previous experiences and how it had tried to integrate what had been learned. After receiving all the independent assessors’ and administrators’ reports, their input had gone into the development of “Guidelines for Good Governance Practice and Governance Indicators for Councils of South African Higher Education Institution”. A copy would be provided to the Committee. The guidelines provide an overall analysis of what the Department had learned from previous experiences. For example, when the University of Zululand was under administration and governance, it had taken an aggressive stance, but the Department could not dismiss everyone at the institution. When it had done the assessments on the institution, there had been disciplinary management, people had been dismissed, and reports were sent to authorities for arrests to be made. The Department had worked closely with the institution in solving the issues there.

In terms of the old Act, when thane administrator was finished, the new council would take over. The Minister requested the administrators, when their work was done, to provide specific directives to the new councils regarding what they must do.

The Vice Chancellor of WUSU had been appointed recently. The issues there were not necessarily with the new management. The new management was currently working on fixing the problems at the institution. There had been action taken against the guilty parties. The Department was working closely with the VC and the new management in order to assist the university.

In the 2016 review of the Higher Education Act, it was decided that the Minister must now direct the councils to work through the issues that had been identified and worked through by the administrator so that a council was not a free agent for the first year after administration. This was a significant change in the Act which the Department hoped would make an impact on the institutions currently under administration. If a new council disregarded the Minister advice, the Minister had the right to act against the council, while the old Act had required the Department to repeat the whole process.

The Department was continuously learning and trying to change how things were done, and were aware that the current problems were linked to the constitution of councils. Various stakeholders had suggested a review of the constitution of councils going forward. The Department would want the council to have members that understood all aspects of society.

Dr Parker agreed that the issue of social connectedness was an important and critical aspect of the university environment. She said that some of the issues surrounding the black universities were not always straight forward. There was a different development trajectory at the universities that had stable cultures. Most of the issues these new universities faced were social issues linked to their environments and the congested spaces, as Mr Keetse had mentioned.

The Department was struggling with how to create capabilities within the institutions to deal with the challenge of social connectedness, and the deep cultural issues. It was not a matter of funding. When an analysis was done, the government funding that went to the young universities was much greater than the funding that went to the advantaged universities.

Although there were major problems with maintenance and infrastructure in the young institutions, there had been great strides after 25 years. The Department was looking at the changes from what had been there before to what was there currently. There was a special programme that worked with the black universities to try to resolve the historical issues they faced.

The Department could take criticism directed at the new institutions for things that the Department was unable to achieve -- for example, the development of the institution. The Department had deliberately developed a long-term plan. At the beginning it had been under a lot of political pressure to establish the institutions on a grand scale, and had been told to start with 5 000 students. The Department knew that if the process was rushed, the development of the institution would not become what had been envisioned in the future for the institutions.

There had been an increase in university enrolments, which had more than doubled since 1994. There were currently 288 university campuses across the country.

The government could not expect the universities tp have answers for all the skills and needs of the country, and should not consider the expansion of universities at the expense of other parts of the education system. The strategic intent was to increase funding in universities in a slow trajectory through an enrolment planning process. The Department needed to ensure that there was funding to ensure sustainability and at the same time develop the TVET colleges and community education.

The DHET had made a strategic decision, within the fiscal constraints, to expand at its current rate, which was approximately 1.8% per annum, should funding be maintained because the plan depended on sustainability, and the fiscal situation in South Africa was difficult. It was working with this percentage to finalise its enrolment plan with the university sector.

Responding to the question of why there were two universities currently under administration she said that in terms of the Act, an administration could last a maximum of two years and could be extended for only six months.

It was a good idea to visit the different institutions during oversight to see what the differentiation looked like now. She suggested that an overview discussion should take place before the Committee did oversight. The Department would do a situational analysis of each university for the Committee to know what challenges and programmes the institution had, and so forth. The Committee could then decide which institution to visit, based on the analysis. The Department would support the Committee by providing the analysis report, as it was important for it to have that knowledge.

Regarding the understanding of assessments and the Act, Dr Parker said the Act did not allow the Department to intervene on the academic side of an institution -- only when there was maladministration and governance. The DHET worked with institutions in planning academic programmes, while the Council of Higher Education had the responsibility of ensuring the quality of the academic programmes. For example, the Department had assisted institutions in their review of their qualification programmes.

Referring to the bursaries for local and foreign students, she said the Department did not have detailed statistics of the percentage of foreign staff and foreign students at the institutions, but could provide a report to the Committee. There was an average enrolment of about 7% of foreign undergraduate students, and there were many doctoral students because South African universities were relatively better in comparison to their African counterparts. It was important for South African universities to allow international students to study here in order to have international recognition, while being careful not to neglect local students.

The Chairperson asked if there was a restriction to the number of foreign staff and students.

Dr Parker responded that there were currently no restrictions.

Only South African students were funded through bursaries. Foreign students had to come with their own funding. The DHET did not fund postgraduate foreign students, but the Department of Science, Technology and Innovation supported foreign students through the National Research Fund (NRF), which had the mandate to fund postgraduates. The NRF had a limit on how many foreign postgraduates could be funded.

Ms Thandi Lewin, Chief Director, National Post-School Education and Training, Planning Coordination, DHET, replied that the reason why the presentation had focused more on governance than the management of universities was that the Department had misinterpreted the Committee’s request.

The statistics of what was happening at each institution regarding enrolments, the race profile of students, how many were undergraduate and postgraduate students, NSFAS and so forth were quite fascinating, because they provided a basis to understand the causes of student protests and other problems at universities.

The reason why students were funded differently by NSFAS was because fee regimes and the costs of accommodation across the institutions were different. It was a big issue for the Department, and one they were working on. A fee regulation framework was currently being developed by the Department, and this would be achieved by engaging with universities regarding their fee regulations that were currently in place. The framework would provide a more sustainable fee system across universities. In 2018/2019, students had been funded by NSFAS in a subsidised form.

Often students and members of the SRC feel disempowered because they are uncertain about their role. One cannot be a council member and disregard that one is representing the students as well. Student councils that have good communications with the university about their role often help to resolve situations that arise at universities.

The Chairperson commented that there had been a discussion about increasing the number of students represented in councils. Constituencies must find structures in the university council not to disrupt the whole council, but still make sure that all the needs of the institution were met. A university was a community that was comprised of different interest groups.

Ms Lewin replied that the Department was aware of those discussions. They were also afraid of the increasing the size of councils because the quality of the engagements was more important than the size of the council.

Difference between role of Administrator and Assessor at UFH

The Department said the roles of an administrator and independent assessors could be confusing at times. The Department appoints an independent assessor to assess the situation at an institution, then makes the decision whether an administrator is needed.

Because of the failure at the governance level and the inability of council to operate at the UFH, an administrator was appointed to take over the role of council for only 12 months, with very specific terms of reference that were detailed in the government gazette. The administrator was to restore proper governance and to ensure that independent investigation took place because all the resignations, dismissals and disciplinary hearings required an independent investigation and the council was unable to do so.

The review of the Higher Education Act was related to the council’s inability to act because of the statute.

The administrator, Prof Nongxa, had then requested the Minister to appoint an independent assessor. Prof Brink and Prof Molamu had been appointed as independent assessors to conduct the necessary investigation, as it was not the role of the administrator to conduct the investigation, but the role of council. The independent assessors had investigated of the allegations made involving financial irregularities and maladministration. The reason why independent assessors had been appointed was that they did not have any interest in what was happening at the Institution.

Early closure of UFH for recess

The Department believed the early closure was related to two factors. One involved the water supply to both in the main campus and the Alice campus, which was the municipalities’ responsibility, and the Department did not have control over it. Secondly, there were appeals by 500 students that had been rejected by NSFAS.

There had been problems with the institutions on how they implemented the NSFAS funding in 2018, and NSFAS had been unable to monitor what institutions were doing. The DHET did not have specific details as to why the students were rejected by NSFAS, but believe it was because they had exceeded their period of study and were postgraduates, or were students doing their second degrees. NSFAS had a criterion to their funding, which included that they fund only undergraduates.  

Further discussion

Mr Nodada asked, when an institution was being assessed, whether the assessment looked at the academic side of the institution. Did the Department play a role in discrediting institutions’ qualifications? For example, the WUSU law degree was being discredited and the UFH accounting degree was not going to be recognised unless certain changes were made.

Who did the council assessments? Did the council assess itself, or was it done by an independent assessor?

And lastly regarding the success and failure tied with the consequence report. Asked the Department to provide a report because the report would measure if the assessments work or not.

Miss Mkhatshwa commented on the infrastructure developments at the University of Venda (UNIVEN). The Department had said that “the university now looks like a university,” while at the same time there were mobile toilets as opposed to bathrooms. This contradicted the statement that the “university now looks like a university” while such issues were happening. This was something to look at. The Department must not sleep but be proactive. It must continue oversight visits and keep the construction team accountable in order to avoid the same situation happening again, as this was what could lead to protests which affect the students’ education.

Mr Keetse strongly disagreed with the Chairperson for commending the fact that two universities had been established. This was like giving credit to a fish on the basis that it was swimming! Citizens would have expected the government to have built universities already. The Committee’s responsibility should not be a cumulative one, continuing from the Fifth Administration without changing anything. There was no structural plan to adopt in order to face the space constraint problems facing institutions. The 1.8% growth rate a year was worrisome. He asked for the statistics of how many students continued to be dumped by universities. He understood that not everyone should go to university, but others could choose to attend TVET colleges. Still, at the institutions, whether private or public, there were probably fewer than 2.5 million students, and that was something to worry about. The Department must come with concrete ideas on how to expand higher education.

Mr Keetse strongly disagreed with Miss Lewin that the size of the council was less important than the quality and effectiveness of the discussions. The reality was that the councils had been reduced to voting cabals in the institutions. The reason for the breakdown in the council at UFH had been because the members understood numerical superiority, and so numbers were extremely important. For example, one could have a council filled with only professors with their own agendas. There should be an inclusion of students who should be the biggest stakeholders, as it would relieve the pressure in order to allow an engagement to unfold progressively as opposed to what was currently happening, where if seven members did not show up, then the whole discussion falls apart. The Department needed to look at the structural aspect of how the councils were constituted.

He commented that the Committee could not continue to speak about the UNIVEN issue because it was a mess! At the previous meeting, the DG had given a report with figures relating to funding for infrastructure. He was not sure if that infrastructure funding went to only TVET colleges or to the existing institutions as well. At the University of Limpopo, Vaal University, Tshwane University of Technology and Northwest University -- the quality at all of them would leave one in shock. Things worked for only three months. This should be taken seriously.

Tenders were being given to friends who bought low quality materials to deal with the maintenance issues. If the Department did not investigate this, everyone would be going around in circles and not achieving anything.

Mr Letsie commented on the issue of consensus, where the Department played no role in the academic structure/syllabus implementation of universities. He said that the Committee must look at how they could intervene because it could not be that a structure, association or council somewhere had all those powers, while Department did not play any role.

In the report that the DHET would provide, could it highlight over the past three years how many students had applied at the two universities for spaces that were available, and those that the universities could accommodate. He wanted to make a comparison with the satellite campus issue that had been mentioned.

Regarding the infrastructure grant given to the universities, he mentioned that when he was a student at Howard college at UKZN, there was a residence called “New Res”, and 25 years later it was still called New Res. In 2010, a residence had been built at Westville and was called “New Res” as well. The university seemed like it was not moving in the direction that the Department had suggested with regard to building infrastructure capacity. He asked for statistics on this issue as well.

Did the Department play a role in making sure the VC or principals were not using the infrastructure grants based on friendships or certain arrangements that would lead to cheap building material being used, resulting in the need for maintenance every three months?

Dr Phillia Vilkia, Director: DHET, referred to the scope of investigations, and said the Department usually framed the terms of reference based on the allegations made. For example, the Department had received numerous allegations and counter allegation at UFH mainly around issues of suspension, misconduct by the VC and around the mismanagement on the academic side. Sometimes the terms of reference did not mention the academic side because no allegations regarding that were made.

Regarding self-assessments the Department understands the concern of how councils could be the player and referee at the same time. Dr Parker had indicated earlier that this was the first time the Department had asked for self-assessments to be done. The Department had recommended that the Executive Committee (EXCO) be the assessors. The reason for the self-assessments was for the council to reflect on whether they were fulfilling their mandate or not. The self-assessment would be a living document to look at on an annual basis and reflect on whether the self-assessments were working or not.

The question of the numbers serving on councils would require the culture of the councils to be looked at. Was this about voting, or should councils make decisions based on consensus?

She had asked one of the assessors used by the Department, who had been a VC in South Africa and abroad, what the difference in governance between local and foreign institutions was. He had replied that the Chairperson of council would make sure every decision made was based on consensus. That was something to be looked while considering how the councils were constituted.

Mr Steve Mamphekgo, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, DHET, commented that one must be careful when looking at the statistics of applicants, because students applied to several universities and numbers get duplicated.

Dr Parker said the Department had a strong monitoring oversight process for the infrastructure programmes. There was a website programmed for universities to report quarterly on it, and an oversight team that goes to universities to check on infrastructure and the quality provided. There was a process around the planning related to any infrastructure programme that worked according to norms and standards. That enabled the Department to assess whether they were getting value for money in terms identified problems at institutions. The Department would immediately go to a university to engage on an identified problem.

For example, at UNIVEN, the infrastructure problem became a major problem for the Department in 2016/2017. In 2017, when the Department visited the institution there had been six buildings that were under construction that had been abandoned by the construction developers. At end 2017/2018, the Department had engaged with the university and instituted an investigation into the specific causes. The report had been finalised two months ago and a programme of action would be implemented to assist the university to develop their capacity. Failure comes where the university does not have people employed by the university who are were directly responsible for the construction management, but employ a project manager who is not part of the university and nobody takes accountability for ensuring that the construction is done properly.

The Department said they were willing to do a presentation based on their micro infrastructure programme to show the Committee what was on the platform, how they manage the programme and how the Department identifies certain problems. It had a report on every institution, which would be made available to the Committee.

The Department agreed that there needed to be an understanding of the culture of the councils, as Dr Vilkia had mentioned. That was something the Department was trying to finalise, but it may require a review of the Higher Education Act, specifically the council part of the Act.

Regarding the number of blacks and women in the transformation process, Ms Lewin had been speaking directly to the capacity development programme, which was a programme that had several transformative projects. The new generation academics programme, for example, focuses on South African black women to ensure the development of South African women and not foreigners.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would continue to engage with the Department on some of the issues going forward.

In response to Mr Keetse, he commented on how post-colonial societies had established new institutions of democracy. South Africa, through these two universities, had been commended. A question should be asked on whether this had happened in the history of other liberation movements, such as in Tanzania, Ghana, Angola, or Mozambique -- whether these countries had been able to establish a new university after their independence. That was the historical fact.

The EFF subscribed to Marxism, and one of the principles teaches that analysis must be scientific and that there must be difference between what was ideal, what was practical and what was concrete. The ideal situation was that South Africa should have established 10 universities in the country, but the physical reality was that there were constraints in terms of what could be done. It was a very bold decision by the government to establish the two universities.

In future interventions, particularly regarding VUT and UFH, the Department needs to go after the people that caused the collapse in those universities and must demonstrate that it can act. Often the guilty parties were left without consequences and usually return to participate again.

He agreed with suggestion to do oversight. He was not aware that this week was oversight week. Other Committees were on oversight. The meeting should have been conducted at one of the universities. For the next oversight, the Committee would identify a university that required an oversight, and that way the Committee would not have to rely only on the information provided. The Department was not be allowed to mislead Parliament.

The Committee was interested in the profile of the universities -- not just the governance, but everything. At the next meeting, time would be allocated to go through the report.

The Department had been asked to look into the issue of Infrastructure and maintenance planning. The Committee did not want a situation where new universities were established but there were no maintenance plans.

The Department had to look at the whether there should quotas for the number of foreign students and academic staff that could be afforded in the higher education system or not, because it needed to protect the country’s institutions. It might be an important to ensure that the percentage of foreign students was below 10%.The universities were institutions for imparting knowledge to the South African population. The Department must not lose sight of that in the process while making room for diversity and allowing institutions to compete at an international level, and still protecting the south African brand.

The meeting was adjourned.


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