Latest developments at UCT, UNISA, MUT & VUT; with Deputy Minister

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

16 November 2022
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee met virtually with the Minister, Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), University of Cape Town (UCT), University of South Africa (UNISA) and Vaal University of Technology (VUT) to receive updates and latest developments about four institutions on matters that have come to the Committee's attention.

There had been widespread media reports about recent UCT governance challenges. The Minister had requested a formal report from the UCT Council a month ago, which was yet to be submitted. The UCT Council agreed to the appointment of a panel to investigate the challenges leading up to the governance crisis. The terms of reference were also agreed to by the Council. It is anticipated that the panel, that includes three judges and two other members, will start its work soon. While the events at UCT are of serious concern, the Council remains in place and the Department will continue to watch developments at UCT.

As for the Vaal University of Technology, its Council was appointed in August 2021 following the expiry of the term of office of the Administrator. The new Vice-Chancellor started in February 2022. The Minister received a close-out report from the Administrator on his departure and this was shared with the new Council. Following a strategic planning session, the Council responded in detail to the Minister on the plans for taking forward the Administrator's recommendations and work. DHET is aware of the October 2022 resignation of the Council Chair and the matters surrounding her resignation and is monitoring the situation and continuing to engage with the university.

The Minister had appoint an Independent Assessor, Prof Themba Mosia, for UNISA in September 2022. The Minister had engaged with the UNISA Council on the findings of the Ministerial Task Team Report of 2021. The appointment of the Independent Assessor was due to the persistent tense and volatile situation at the university following conflict between NEHAWU and the university leadership and allegations of mismanagement. The overall purpose of the investigation is to advise the Minister on the source and nature of problems and measures required to restore good governance and management.

Mangosuthu University of Technology was placed under administration and an Administrator, Prof Lourens van Staden, appointed with effect from 28 September 2022. This came after the Independent Assessor report by Prof Anthony Staak was not implemented by the MUT Council. The Council for Higher Education (CHE) analysis of the MUT Council response was that the Council merely approached the Assessor's report from a legal as opposed to reflective perspective. That response was not persuasive enough to challenge the Assessor’s findings and recommendations. CHE noted the Council’s inability to take some responsibility and take meaningful action to address the multiple and intersecting problems at the institution. This provided the Minister with reasonable grounds for the dissolution of the MUT Council.

Committee members were not pleased with poor governance at higher education institutions because important matters such as curriculum, the impact of qualifications offered by the sector and its core business were unable to be discussed. Instead the Committee is always confronted with addressing corruption allegations, maladministration, poor financial management, governance and stakeholder relations. Members welcomed the appointment of an independent assessor at UNISA instead of placing the institution under administration. The appointment of the MUT administrator was also welcomed. The VUT Council appointment after the conclusion of the period of administration was pleasing but Members were concerned about the VUT Council Chair resignation and the reasons surrounding her resignation. It was noted that a new Council Chair had been elected in November 2022. The Committee requested the Ministry impose a deadline for the submission of the UCT Council report.

Meeting report

The Chairperson noted several concerns have come about four higher education institutions and the Committee would receive a Department briefing on Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), University of Cape Town (UCT), University of South Africa (UNISA) and Vaal University of Technology (VUT).

The Committee would like to be brought into confidence on what is happening at MUT – the institution does not have a council but an administrator; there was work done at UNISA but the Committee had received several concerns from the workers about unfair dismissal; at UCT there have been concerns about the council and the Minister had elaborated on how far the Department can go concerning UCT and there is a limitation on how much information can be shared with the Committee; and lastly, at VUT, Members had seen the resignation of the council chair and there are also other matters that have been raised when Members conducted an oversight visit at the institution. Concerns around student housing infrastructure development projects were prevalent, but when there is no stability in governance and management in the institution, how do Members ensure that all these concerns are resolved?

Deputy Minister remarks
Mr Buti Manamela, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, stated that at MUT the Minister has appointed Prof Lourens van Staden as the administrator for 24 months. He has taken over the role of the council and the former council was dissolved from the date of his appointment. MUT has seen serious challenges in governance which affected and influenced learning and teaching. The relationship between the council and Exco was strenuous and saw much debate between the two structures; hence, the administrator's appointment. The presentation will go into detail on this matter. The intention is to stabilise governance at MUT.

On the University of South Africa, due to various media reports and concerns raised by some in the university community, Members will recall that the Minister in 2020 had appointed a Ministerial Task Team to review UNISA. Thereafter, there were fresher challenges UNISA faced, and the Minister has appointed an independent assessor to review the state of UNISA. One of the things that Prof Themba Mosia would be looking at will include the allegations levelled against the Vice Chancellor; an update on learning and teaching and the stabilization thereof; and the alleged unfair dismissals of UNISA employees. The Minister will study the report and the recommendations of the independent assessor and advise on the way forward.

On the University of Cape Town, the Department was made aware of the issues through media reports and by some Council members. Subsequently, the Minister wrote to the council chairperson to ask for a report, and it is solely based on that report that the Minister will act. The Department is still awaiting the report from the university council. The Ministry is unable to provide any further report on this. Once the report has been received by the Minister, he will study it and determine the required interventions.

Lastly, a new vice chancellor at the Vaal University of Technology was appointed in February 2022, after the end of the term of the administrator. The Department will highlight the progress in the implementation of the administrator’s close-out report and interventions made by the Department to prevent regression. The request for this briefing was triggered by the resignation of the council chairperson. The Department will report on progress in the appointment of the new council chairperson and on stability, amongst others.

The Department is concerned about the situation in all four institutions. The Ministry and Department remain alert to these matters. He understands that governance challenges may influence teaching and learning but he was confident that interventions at MUT, UNISA and VUT had no effect on teaching and learning or the core function of the institutions. The Minister also received assurances from UCT that teaching and learning continues unaffected.

MUT, VUT, UCT, UNISA latest developments: Department update
In his briefing, Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General: Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), covered the oversight of public institutions by the Department through the Higher Education Act; background and appointment of MUT administrator and the terms of reference; UNISA Ministerial Task Team report findings and recommendations; appointment of the UNISA Independent Assessor and scope of investigation; responses to matters raised about the Vaal University of Technology and the University of Cape Town (see document).

The Chairperson said it was concerning to be in the current state where governance and management were unstable across different institutions. To continue having independent assessors, administrators and investigations are a waste of money and time. Time is not on our side given the high unemployment rate, inequality rate and levels of poverty in the country. The narrative that must be changed about African democracies speaks to the lack of time we do not have. We cannot afford to have a sector with the current challenges it is inundated with. It is as if every month the Minister appoints an independent assessor or administrator and with too many reports that must still be studied but this continues to happen in a way that should not be happening.

She asked how Profs Mosia and van Staden were finding the start to their mandate and if there is cooperation and if they believe the timeframes (90 days and 24 months, respectively) inspired confidence to finish the work. Without interference with the process, Members must ensure that they are given the needed support to complete the task given to them.

She recalled when the Minister briefed the Committee about MUT, there was great appreciation from the Committee. Members agreed on what CHE had recommended, particularly, the dissolution of the MUT council. In the last engagement with that council, Members were appalled by the arrogance and its inability to agree with CHE to take responsibility for its contribution to the current state of the institution. There was total disregard for the recommendations that came from various investigation reports before the council was dissolved. She welcomed the idea of a five-year development plan for that institution. One looks forward to what would come out of the administrator’s report and what the five-year development plan would entail. The Committee is clear that the administrator must have 12 to 18 months to fill the vice chancellor position and for council as soon as it is practicable but why is there no clarity on timeframes?

The Chairperson raised a concern about the state of the council and its attitude. Members of Parliament are permitted to conduct individual oversight visits without prior notification to the institution they are visiting. It becomes concerning when an institution writes to the Chairperson asking if she was aware of a Member of Parliament conducting an oversight visit. Members do not need to obtain permission from the Chairperson but inform her as a courtesy. Any Member of Parliament is allowed to do so regardless of whether they are a Committee member. She has received letters and cc’d in email threads where Members of Parliament are insulted, and their reasoning for wanting to conduct oversight visits is questioned in a highly belittling manner as if Members did not understand their responsibilities. It is insulting and disrespectful and undermines the role of Parliament. This frustrates the Committee because there is no capacity to visit every entity, institution or department under its portfolio due to time constraints and how wide the portfolio is. When Members conduct these oversight visits, they are assisting the Committee because they report back. VUT’s attitude towards individual member oversight visits is a concern and it needs to be addressed. The council does not want to account to Members, but its house is not in order. When a young woman responsible for leading a council resigns, it becomes very concerning for the Committee.

The Committee received a letter from the Minister as part of his meeting apology indicating that there is work that the Ministry is doing at UCT as it had requested on 11 October 2022 that the council chairperson explain what is currently happening at the institution. There were no specific timeframes in the letter to Ms Ngonyama on when the report must be sent to the Minister, although he requested the report to be submitted as soon as possible. The Minister also wrote to the Committee requesting some time to follow the prescripts of the Higher Education Act and revert with a clear way forward once he has applied his mind to the matter. The Committee appreciates this and the process of a directive from the Minister, followed by the possibility of putting in place an independent assessor and the possibility to place an administrator. This process will be respected but timeframes must be imposed. The Committee must be brought into confidence by when the UCT council would have sent the Minister this report, without the Committee infringing the Higher Education Act. Members cannot allow a situation where the Minister waits for this report forever because he must still brief and account to the Portfolio Committee.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) said that perhaps it would be fair that all the questions Members had about UCT were shelved for now to allow the Department and Ministry the space to conduct their own oversight, receive the council report and agree on timeframes. As soon as that council report is available, the Committee could schedule a meeting with UCT. This proposal should be extended to VUT as well.

Mr Letsie said VUT is worrying because it has gone into administration more than once. When the Members interacted with the institution, they got a sense that it is not far off from taking a nosedive back into administration. On 25 October, he wrote to the Minister about the challenges at UCT, UNISA and MUT and asked what active role DHET is playing to avoid disruptions at a later stage that may prevent stability in these institutions and the progress made by its interventions. He asked this question after he conducted his individual oversight visit. The VUT deputy council chairperson had questioned why he conducted oversight at that institution. He went as far as creating an impression that Mr Letsie had an interest in the institution outside the scope of his duties. He was angered by this serious allegation but exercised restraint as a Member of Parliament.

When he visited the institution with Ms Mananiso, they were stopped by NEHAWU workers who refused them entry into the institution. NEHAWU claimed that they will only allow them inside the institution if they take its memorandum it wanted to present to the Committee. This memorandum suggests that there is serious tension between management and the council. Serious allegations were made that some council members were working with management to destabilize VUT. They claimed that more than half of the university staff are on contracts, with some having contracts running over a decade. NEHAWU threatened that if these issues were not addressed it would embark on a strike as it did in 2019. Council members decided not to come to the oversight meeting with Members and wrote a letter saying that there none of the oversight questions were addressed to them and there was no need for them to come. Members pleaded with them to come based on the understanding that the council does not necessarily come to meetings where they only must answer questions, but it would be an opportunity for them to understand some of the challenges the institution faces.

The stability of VUT is under threat because NEHAWU claimed that this year there was no increment, and it is contemplating embarking on a strike. The negotiations were supposed to take place in April and that is when the increment is supposed to take effect. They are stalling because they want to make a serious impact when striking. It does not take a genius to know that they will target the registration period. The institution may be ungovernable at the beginning of the year. Having received reports from management, led by the CFO, VUT cannot afford to pay the increment, but we must assess why. If this matter is not resolved, it will never be made right.

In February 2020, the Committee visited VUT and the university’s residences were being refurbished – there was a block that was burnt during the FeesMustFall as well as others. But they were never refurbished. Meanwhile, VUT told the Committee in a formal meeting that the residences were ready to take in students but when Members visited, it was a shocking mess. Earlier this year when he visited the institution, those residences were in the same condition or worse. When Members visited it on 13 October, Members were given a progress report saying that those residences would be ready around 15 June 2023, 15 September 2023 and 15 March 2023. When asked why shower caps had not been replaced, it was story after story. The story from the community is that VUT does not want to fix the university-owned residences because the people in the institution have their own privately-owned residences that they are pushing. There is a myriad of issues at that institution, and he would not be asking any questions, but the Committee should consider inviting VUT to appear before it.

Mr Letsie said the Minister had decided not to go with the MTT recommendation of dissolving the UNISA council and placing an administrator. He thanked the Minister for taking this decision because he did not believe in an administrator. Once a person is confronted with absolute power, they are likely to crack – absolute power corrupts, as the saying goes. Once people are exposed to that much power, there is a likelihood of negative outcomes. However, the timeframes of the assessor’s period must be clear.

Intervention mechanisms are too slow and are mostly overtaken by events. For example, the UNISA council that the MTT was looking at was not the council that appeared before the Committee to report on enrolment plans. He proposed a VAR Oversight Mechanism, which is used in sports. If the referee or umpire makes a mistake, the VAR will pause the game and review the footage and decide. This fixes the problem while the game is on – you do not wait until the game is over. DHET must immediately intervene when there is a challenge. This is the type of intervention that should be considered to resolve the challenges our institutions face. The MTT report on UNISA was overtaken by events. The independent assessor period should not take long and by the time the assessor completes the work, a new council should be appointed.

Is there any improvement in the UNISA throughput and success rate for undergraduate students? Has management and council decided on the relevance of offering higher certificates? If so, what is the outcome? What was the enrolment total for 2022 and to what extent did DHET monitor the implementation of the MTT report recommendations? If so, what is the outcome?

UNISA offers short programmes and courses, and it claims that these offer credits towards formal qualifications. One certificate course is called the programme in Mathematics Teaching (ID: 70394). It offers credits for an advanced certificate in mathematics education at FET level but such a qualification is no longer offered by UNISA, yet it is still advertised. Why are such claims not corrected? Can UNISA verify that such claims for credited short courses are a true reflection of the courses offered it?

He welcomed Prof van Staden as the MUT administrator. The MUT council came before the Committee in the last meeting and insulted Parliament – they implied that they do not know what they are doing because most of the questions put to them, they were uncomfortable to answer. The council members were irritated and disrespectful. Some of the lecturers are doing sex for marks and Members asked if an investigation has been conducted into this. Students who have laid complaints have shown interest to come forward and even name the perpetrators. The council asked for time to investigate but nothing is coming forth. These council members must not be recycled because some of them are beyond redemption.

What is the status of MUT governance and management stability? The student leader also raised the state of student residences. He asked for an update on the status of renovations. What is the status of infrastructure projects in totality? Are there MUT infrastructure projects that have been abandoned? If so, what interventions have been put in place?

As reported in the 18 May 2022 Committee meeting NSFAS owed MUT some funds and there were student appeals that were yet to be finalised. Has this been resolved? If not, what are the reasons? Has MUT council and management developed an action plan for the implementation of the independent assessor’s report? If so, he asked for a copy of this.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said these reports could be discouraging at times and some people have a tendency of thinking that oversight visits are a tick box exercise. This is offensive because the role of the Committee is to ensure that a conducive environment for South Africans is created and to deliver a better life as promised by the governing party.

She agreed that timeframes should be provided for when the Committee can get the council report.

Ms Mananiso had been a beneficiary of its programmes and it is important that leaders know that this is the first university of choice for those in the working class. It is important that the Committee receive the recommendations programme of action for it to monitor and evaluate.

Department of Higher Education
Ms Mananiso asked if there is a process employed by DHET for handover from those leaving an institution to their successors? The mismanagement of funds has become a culture in many of our institutions. Are there capacity-building programmes for those employed to ensure that governance principles are upheld?

Does DHET have a specific monitoring and evaluation programme for the institutions? Are the institutions complying with that programme? Members of Parliament should be allowed to conduct their oversight visits in public institutions. Stability in these institutions is a mandatory obligation – why is it difficult for management and councils to achieve this? It is tiresome for the Committee to keep asking the same things about consequence management. Does DHET have a report of all the institutions where independent assessors have reported.

Ms Mananiso asked about the status quo of NSFAS report on MUT. The Committee will soon be interacting with NSFAS and needs to know about the issues arising on the ground at MUT. VUT should be given special attention. It must appear before the Committee for it to thoroughly interrogate what Members were met with during the oversight visit. Members were held hostage by people who believe that they understand the importance of all stakeholders as we build a stable institution.

Ms C King (DA) said that the Committee was having a discussion in a vacuum due to the outstanding reports that still needed to be reviewed and assessed.

Ms King said that there was a previous ombudsman report on the behaviour of the Vice Chancellor, which was set aside by the council. What is the need for an ombudsman if it is going to be seen as intruding on the work of the council? What then is the point of the ombudsman? She welcomed the efforts of the council to bring in retired judges to investigate the UCT matter. The media outcry taints the image of UCT but in most cases it leads to questions about a university's autonomy when we bring in these administrators and independent assessors.

She would like to see how involved the Sibusiso Bengu Development Programme (SB-DP) was at MUT and VUT. She would like to see the SB-DP intervention in all of this. We need to be mindful that our quest should not be at the expense of quality and fit-for-purpose individuals in our institutions. It will be counterproductive to put people in strategic or leadership positions merely for the sake of transformation.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) thanked DHET for the dissolution of the MUT council. They were very arrogant, and they should not be reappointed to any institution.

Ms King asked if DHET had conducted an analysis of all the institutions that had been placed under administration and if they improve or regress in governance.

Ms D Mahlatsi (ANC) asked if DHET had sufficient mechanisms to respond timeously to matters in institutions to avoid interventions, which require independent assessors and administrators. This is informed by the number of interventions being put in place. Does DHET have the necessary human capacity to deal with these challenges?

In the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) adjustments, there was significant shifting of funds from DHET Programme 2: Policy, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. What is the impact of this on programme capacity? How will this impact the performance of this programme?

The report given today reflects several weaknesses in councils and this seems to be widespread in different institutions. What interventions could mitigate these challenges without independent assessors and administrators being utilised? The MUT council was arrogant and did not want to listen and was not willing to account. Given these limitations, what is DHET doing about this?

Administrators play a critical role in reconstituting councils and management. Does the recurring problem link to the role of previous administrators? How does this impact the work of the new administrators? Does DHET ensure that the appointment of administrators is thoroughly scrutinized to ensure appointments are above board?

A key issue at MUT is the vested interest in its financial management. There was an allegation that the council chairperson was part of the report on mismanagement of funds. Given the dissolved council, will the administrator be following through on that? The mere fact that people have been removed does not exonerate them from accountability. Hopefully, the terms of reference for the Administrator includes following through on this so people are not left off scot-free.

The Auditor General South Africa (AGSA) report indicated that 11 out of 25 universities received findings on lack of compliance with legislation. This was mainly due to the university not having the required process in place for staff members to declare a conflict of interest proactively. Is MUT also facing this challenge and how is it going to be resolved?

The posture that we must create in institutions of higher eduction should be one that fosters collaboration among stakeholders.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) said that the comments about UCT in the media may lack the facts that the Committee need to understand fully what is at play. UCT is led by women, which should be applauded and the leadership that ensured this institution gets led by strong and qualified women of merit. When transformation of policies is applied, it is often insinuated that people are done favours, especially black women. He emphasized that this institution has been blessed to have women of calibre whose credentials cannot be questioned. This removes the need for speculation around their capability to run this institution. However, a question may arise on what the root cause could be of what is happening at the institution. Once DHET has received the report from the council, the Committee must also be brought into confidence on what is at play. It looks like there is disconcert and what inspires this disconcert waits to be known only at the point where facts are gathered and presented, but it does not look good.

The institutions that are not part of the previously disadvantaged cohort of institutions seem to have a similar problem of being institutional enclaves of a bygone era. There seems to be a power struggle when the transformation is supposed to be entrenched. This is an indictment of the leadership collectives appointed in these institutions. Institutions with a certain pedigree in the previous dispensation refuse to transform at the rate required by the democratic government. The argument of institutional autonomy has been welcomed in protecting the academic production or throughput that institutions need to maintain without interference from the outside world or the political world. It seems these institutions are becoming difficult to govern with the current model or structures in place; in fact, they have now become plateaus for power struggles and boardroom politicking. This is something that must be warned against.

The Committee has interacted with the institution and Members have challenges with the governance of the institution and would have preferred that the aftermath of the interventions would bring a much more stable environment for governance. It is unnecessary that an institution would move from one storm to the next as if there were no capable people who are able to lead in that space. These institutions are not secluded from the communities they are operating in. These institutions are located within communities. It appears that institutions do not have the policy to handle their locale as far as economic participation is concerned with the various infrastructure projects that are being carried out within the campuses that are located within communities. There is no semblance of policy that exists and guides interaction between these institutions and the communities within which they are located. This has been a cause of headaches for leadership within institutions and communities. The 30% participation of these communities is a serious challenge because lives get lost for this 30%. We need to have institutions adapting very quickly to avoid an unprincipled approach to dealing with these matters.

These matters derail the academic excellence of these institutions. The Committee are always discussing challenges and cases in the PSET sector. This sector is docked by boardroom disagreements. We need to have a framework that speaks to how these institutions must be insulated from personal battles that are fought by those who are appointed to lead them.

Certain behaviours you expect to get from people who are less educated without academic merit to their titles, but we see the same behaviour that one would see from a kasi stokvel carried out by leaders of institutions who have merit and are academically qualified. They carry on as if they do not carry the responsibility of the qualifications they have earned through hard work. It is uncalled for, and we must find mechanisms where we avoid stumbling from one administrator to a dysfunctional council and another administrator. Our institutions cannot compete globally because of these problems. We must focus on the work, which is to produce academic excellence.

Ms Yabo said there was a process where the institution dismissed certain employees and the report on this must be brought before the Committee to understand why this took place. Secondly, the presentation said that the university has the potential of leading in the distance learning space, both domestically and internationally, but it is not leading in either. What are the impediments holding UNISA back from entering that space?

On capacity, the presentation points out that the UNISA targets are unrealistic at best and impossible at worst due to the lack of capacity to carry the envisaged numbers enrolled at the university. What plans are in place to correct the capacity deficit when you have an institution dismissing existing capacity? The Committee should be furnished with a report detailing why this decision was made because UNISA struggles to meet its set targets for this academic year. Students receive their results very late and schedules are changed multiple times due to a lack of capacity. What has been the impact of the introduction of the new digital? What has been the rate of uptake of students through this system. How many students have been negatively impacted by the introduction of the digital system? Has the university ensured that all students are taken through the digital system and understand how to use it? What would have been the need for the university to employ a “hybrid model”?

What is DHET planning to do about the governance issues raised in the UNISA MTT report?

Vaal University of Technology
The previous VUT administrator completed and handed over a report to DHET and council. The Committee has been worried about the developments at council level, which suggests that instability is on its way. What are DHET and council doing to ensure that there is no further governance instability at the institution? When a council is appointed, what onboarding is there for them to carry out their duties? When one analyses the governance challenges and conflicts at institutions, it seems there is no understanding of what the relationship between councils and vice chancellors should be. Some of these conflicts seem to emanate from power struggles between the council chairperson and vice chancellor and even deputies.

He also lamented MPs being curtailed from conducting oversight visits at institutions. Yet the Zondo Commission has asked consistently where Parliament was when malfeasance was taking place. We will not be apologetic to conduct our oversight work and duties. This Committee is responsible for close to 100 entities and Members must be seen conducting oversight over them. Individual MP oversight visits assist the Committee in covering as much ground as possible.

The Chairperson said that there are matters that will require greater detail. The Committee will await the UCT council report from the Minister who will brief the Committee on it. The UCT council must specify the timeframe for when this report will be sent to the Minister.

There is a call that VUT should be invited to appear before the Committee. DHET said it is monitoring the situation around the resignation of the former VUT council chairperson. Serious matters are raised in the resignation letter which must be dealt with. These matters must be investigated to see if there is merit and thus to pave the way forward. Those challenges cannot be ignored.

During the discussions in the colloquium on institutional autonomy, it was made clear that they are public institutions. The sector should take cognisance of cooperative governance because there is so much that can be achieved through collaboration, but people are steadfast in holding onto the extremes of institutional autonomy. The conversations during the colloquium touched on interference and intervention. When the Committee can see an institution has issues that could potentially bring crisis, it cannot fold its arms as that is not cooperative governance.

There were allegations about renovations to the UNISA vice chancellor residence. Our understanding is that the vice chancellor requested an investigation report on who was tasked with renovations in preparation for occupation by the vice chancellor. This report has not come forth. It cannot only be the vice chancellor held to account but the people in the value chain that are responsible. The Committee requests this report to be furnished.

UNISA has an MTT report with findings and recommendations and now a report from the independent assessor is coming. What becomes the interface between the MTT report recommendations and the work of the independent assessor?

Ministry response
The Deputy Minister noted the Members' comments, concerns and questions although he was concerned that there was limited time available for sufficient responses.

Questions on VUT can be canvassed at the future meeting suggested by the Committee. He requested the Committee to detail the information needed for that meeting so DHET comes prepared. The scope of the presentation today was limited by the Committee letter of invitation – the focus was on matters that would require further reports on what is happening at VUT.

It is unfortunate how Ms Mananiso and Mr Letsie were treated at VUT. MPs have a responsibility to conduct oversight over institutions. He suggested that the Committee also involve the DHET University Branch to ensure that proper arrangements are made to avoid the unnecessary incidents that have happened. DHET will request a report from VUT council and management about this incident. The Ministry will investigate the matter.

Oversight also applied to infrastructure on the different VUT campuses and stability in governance – he assured the Committee that DHET was monitoring VUT. Issues that are out of tune with governance will be highlighted. The Administrator close-out report has been received as well as the VUT plan for incorporating its recommendations.

The University will present a report to the Minister detailing the progress in how it was addressing the matter. It would be important to indicate that at this point the Ministry cannot say what it will be doing or even formulate a perception of what is happening at UCT. The only way the Ministry can do that will be when the report has been submitted. The council will be aware that this is matter of urgency and he believes that it will be dealt with soon. He could not state the timeframes, but the Minister would communicate as he is the one dealing with the matter. The last communication with the university was that the report would be received by last week. Follow-ups are being made in the Ministry on this.

The Deputy Minister noted that the Administrator, Prof van Staden, has been there just under one month. The kind of questions that had been asked would require him to go and look for more information to present to the Committee. He requested the Committee allow Prof van Staden to respond to the specific questions in writing within the next seven working days.

It is important to appreciate that the work of the administrator would result in consequence management. If there are allegations of maladministration or corruption, they will be investigated, and action will be taken. The reason the council was dissolved was to save the institution. The work of the administrator will look at governance and any consequences must and will be carried out. The administrator will be reporting periodically to the Minister.

The details requested are in the letter appointing the independent assessor and this letter was submitted to the Committee as well as the terms of reference. The MTT review is not necessarily married to but cannot be de-linked from the role of the independent assessor. The MTT review was specifically investigating the challenges at UNISA and how best we can ensure that the institution operates. Subsequently, the independent assessor’s role arose as a result of disruptions in learning and teaching as well as allegations against the vice chancellor and the alleged unfair dismissal of staff members.

The Deputy Minister requested that UNISA respond to questions on short courses and other programmes in writing within seven days. He asked that the Committee allow the independent assessor to do the work and as soon as this is completed the information will be furnished to it.

Despite the incidents referred to, he is confident that teaching and learning was taking place. There were disruptions in some areas and a need for instant stabilisation but the Minister’s actions have led some of these institutions to a degree of stabilization; confidence amongst these institution stakeholders that action is being taken, and in the case of UNISA the appointment of an independent assessor. For MUT, there is consensus that there was an urgent necessity for the appointment of an administrator. A discussion will be held with VUT to further understand the veracity of some of the issues that Members encountered during oversight visits. DHET is engaging UCT and the report will soon be submitted.

He reminded the Committee that the entire sector is guided by the Higher Education Act. The Minister is obliged to follow that law to the letter in how he interacts with these institutions. If the law were to be ignored based on how people feel, we will collapse the foundation on which we have built society. If we believe that the law as it is, is not conducive to responding to the conditions that prevail on the ground, we should take leadership and change the law.

Institutions currently under administration are MUT, Central University of Technology and UNISA with the latter two having independent assessors. The Committee should not pluralise the extent of the challenges when generally the public universities and the entire PSET sector have experienced the most stabilised period over time. We have been through instances where all public universities were up in arms on this issue or the other. As much as the Committee zooms into these institutions and requires accountability and oversight of those given leadership of these institutions, one is also careful not to burn down Rome if only a few of its chambers are in crisis.

Thirdly, it is exciting to investigate what happens in other areas of society and hope to use those systems to intervene in universities such as a VAR system. The role of DHET and the ministry is not to co-referee the PSET sector. If we were to do that with 26 public universities and 53 TVET colleges would mean, we must stretch DHET and the ministry to co-govern these institutions. By extension, the Minister appoints council members, which is the first footing within which the Minister has in these institutions. Some of these council members have been inundating the Minister about the concerns they have in these institutions, but we can imagine how chaotic the system would be. It would even be slower – every institution would have its decision live-reviewed by the ministry. It was agreed that the sentiments expressed during the colloquium should be taken further to be expressed in law or policy if we all agree. It should not be based on what we deem a crisis in a few chambers that we need to bring the house down.

We hold an obligation and responsibility to act where it is needed in these four institutions.

DHET response
Dr Sishi noted that the Deputy Minister has covered very closely all the institutional issues raised. The Deputy Minister had provided comprehensive responses and guided how DHET would follow through with the outstanding matters still under administration. He suggested that the Committee consider this as the official DHET submission. His responsibility was to ensure that the timeframes were adhered to.

He mainly repeated and agreed with the comments by the Chairperson and the Committee.

The Minister and Deputy Minister are engaging the entire Department on a review of the legislative regime that drives its programmes to close any gaps identified. Institutional autonomy should be considered and applied through the lens of the legislation. But we need to test the legislation to identify if it is adequate to respond to the challenges of the sector. If the law is proving inadequate, then it is our prerogative to change the law to respond to those sector gaps.

DHET does not tolerate poor governance and the way some of the protests are conducted such as the destruction of the property of institutions.

DHET will respond to specific questions in writing as already requested by the Deputy Minister.

The Chairperson said that there was a need to have separate engagements with these institutions. The Committee had hoped to receive more from this engagement but time would need to be set aside for further separate engagements.

Vaal University of Technology response
Prof Dan Kgwadi, VUT Vice Chancellor, thanked Mr Letsie for his interventions at VUT. He also thanked DHET for its intervention at the institution.

UNISA response
Mr James Maboa, UNISA Council Chairperson, appreciated the invitation and inputs from Members. All the questions asked will be responded to in writing. The UNISA council reassured the Committee that it supports the work of the Assessor who will be given all the support he needs.

UNISA Vice-Chancellor, Prof Puleng LenkaBula, reiterated the support of management for the work of the Independent Assessor.

Mangosuthu University of Technology response
Prof van Staden appreciated the support of the Committee and the support he was receiving from the Director General and the entire Department and MUT stakeholders. All the questions he needs to respond to were noted and will be answered in writing and sent to the Committee.

University of Cape Town response
The UCT Council Chair appreciated the invitation and the effort that the Committee has dedicated to the issues that the university is experiencing. It is unfortunate to be here, but the board is resolute to ensure that this matter is resolved. UCT is important to the country and the continent. She assured the Committee that the board was still focusing on Vision 2030. The board is working hard to produce the report that the Minister requested, and this would be done soon.

Ms Mamogkethi Phakeng, UCT Vice Chancellor, thanked the Committee for the invitation – the institution is hard at work and the students were completing their exams this week. The academic project has continued as normal and management is committed to ensuring that UCT continues to attain sustainable success.

Closing remarks
The Chairperson said that further engagements will take place with each institution while the Committee await the processes instituted by the Minister to unfold. As DHET prepares its briefing on the 2023 academic year state of readiness, it can ensure that where there is instability in governance and management, it brings all stakeholders into confidence about the academic programme. Despite all that is happening in governance and management, the Committee has its finger on the pulse for the 2023 academic programme. There will be greater interest in these institutions. It would be important that the institutions liaise with DHET as they prepare for the 2023 academic year.

Having one institution under administration is one too many, the same applies to forensic investigations and independent assessors. Thus, the Committee will not refrain from creating the impression that "things are not that bad”, as things must not be bad at all. The Committee wants "good and functional" and a focus on the academic programme. The Committee wants to move away from always speaking about management, governance and financial issues with the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs). The Committee want to get to a point where they discuss the core mandate and business of the post school education and training (PSET) system in general, the curriculum, sector outcomes and impact on the daily lived realities of South Africans.

We need to talk about the impact of the qualifications offered in addressing poverty, inequality and unemployment. When we have an institution that does not find itself where it should be ideally, it is a problem and Members will not be apologetic about it.

On institutional autonomy, she had asked during the colloquium if it is a matter of changing the Act or of interpretation by different stakeholders. This question requires the sector collective, but to what extent can the Act accommodate Members' concerns raised today? This is the nature of the tone we should use to try and reach common ground and understanding.

Parliament oversight is not constrained to only Department administration support. In Parliament's Oversight and Accountability Model, Section 4.2.6 details oversight by an individual MP. This Model should be shared with DHET and the Ministry and perhaps it could be disseminated to SETAs and universities. It is only through engagements that we can find each other.

Members have said a lot about consequence management. An ordinary member of the public should be able to access these public institutions and should be able to hold them to account.

As for the UCT report the Minister requested it on 11 October 2022 and it has been over a month since that request. The Ministry and UCT council need to have a conversation to decide when that report will be submitted to the Committee. The decision on this deadline must be communicated to the Committee by the end of the week. The Committee will not allow infinite waiting.

After the minutes of 28, 30 September; 12, 14, 19, 21, 26 and 28 October 2022 were considered and adopted without substantive amendments, the meeting was adjourned.


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