State of governance in higher education institutions: focus on UCT, UNISA, Fort Hare, UKZN (with Minister present)

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

14 June 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) gave a status report on governance in higher education institutions (HEIs) including a special focus on the University of Cape Town Council (UCT) investigation report into governance and management challenges; University of South Africa (UNISA) implementation of the Ministerial Task Team and Independent Assessor reports; University of Fort Hare (UFH) and University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

On governance in the sector, the Ministry said that it was assessing and considering establishing early warning systems, an ombudsman to assist in dealing with the significant issues plaguing the sector and establishing a governance branch within the Department to deal solely with governance in the PSET sector.

After studying closely the 16 Independent Assessor reports that the sector has seen between the year 2000 and now, the Department noted that the recycling of senior managers and officials in the sector, particularly those who had been found guilty of transgressions in other institutions had intensified and required intervention. Corruption was flagged as a significant contributor to the poor governance structure of institutions – flouting supply chain management processes during procurement was now a norm. The Ministry also lamented the inexperience of council members as another contributing factor to governance failures. It cautioned that institutional challenges must not be elevated to the national level when they can best be resolved at an institutional level. Stakeholders were encouraged to engage with each other, especially management and how they should strive to engage and resolve challenges with stakeholders.

Members welcomed the update by the Department although frustrated about the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) signed by the former UCT Vice-Chancellor, Prof Phakeng and Council. The Department was at a deadlock because it could not update the Committee thoroughly on the UCT matter because the Independent Panel had not completed its investigation. Members welcomed the efforts to establish early warning systems to address governance, corruption and the recycling of officials from one institution to the next. Students, officials and council members masked as students destroying the sector to serve their own business interests was also lambasted. Outsourcing of services was suggested by some Members as the root cause of corruption and poor governance and called for its overhaul. It was resolved that the Department must assess how it may address outsourcing in the sector.

Meeting report

Minister’s Remarks
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation remarked that the Department has engaged the councils and management of HEIs on what needs to be done. At the start of the year, the DDG for University Education noted that the Department was developing an early warning system, which will enable it to pick up challenges beforehand. DHET has committed itself to establishing an ombuds system for the sector because the DHET does not have the capacity to deal with the many problems in the sector.

The system is unable to pick up troublemakers who hop from one institution to the next. The apartheid regime was very good at this, but for the perverse reason for looking for activists against apartheid. In the sector, one finds a deputy vice chancellor or a dean moving from one institution to another, even after being found guilty of transgressions. Hopefully, once the ombuds system is developed, it will have that capacity and be a reference point before senior managers are employed in another institution. Even students found guilty of serious violations reappear in another institution as if nothing had happened. This was extremely concerning.

Both South African Union of Students (SAUS) and Universities South Africa (USAf) have agreed that there is a need for consensus on the rules of engagement for disputes, disagreements, and protests. This would be necessary for the sector. We are lucky that we have an advanced labour relations system that can teach us about dispute resolution.

He noted that the focus has been on getting the sector right for access and success, but there has not yet been legislation before the Committee. Broadly, the Department was considering possible future legislation changes to strengthen the system. This may be the task of the Seventh Administration but there is a need for legislative changes.

Between the year 2000 and now, the sector has had about 16 independent assessors. These reports were studied closely and some matters were common challenges emerging in the analysis of those reports. One point is the sector continues to be faced with inexperienced council members. The council of each university consists of 30 members, and the Minister only appoints five, the remaining 25 are appointed through various processes and stakeholders. There is a challenge of inexperience although the Department has instituted an induction process for council members – which needed to be intensified.

Secondly, instability is often caused due to strained relationships between the council and management as well as poor leadership from both council and management. He gave the example of the unacceptable, counterproductive conduct of some Fort Hare council members at the last two or three council meetings were they could not agree on the agenda so the meetings did not continue. Well-functioning councils do not conduct meetings like this.

The other issue is corruption. Universities have become hubs for personal wealth accumulation by flouting supply chain management (SCM) procurement processes. Institutions of higher learning have not been left untouched by corruption.

The Ministry is reviewing the structure of the Department to strengthen governance oversight, with the possibility of establishing a branch of governance. The Department has the largest number of entities, hence the scale of the problems of governance. Currently, governance is handled in a fragmented way in the Department. There is a need for an overarching strategy for effective governance oversight.

The best solution to solve the problems is at the institutional level. There is a tendency of elevating an institutional problem to the national level. One of the focus areas is to improve capacity at institutional level to deal with these problems as that is where they are best dealt with. Management is encouraged to engage stakeholders and focus on addressing stakeholder issues. However, students and unions must also keep aloof from protesting at whim before discussions take place. He urged students to engage before considering other actions because many problems can be resolved through engagement.

The Minister stated that there is no institutional autonomy without responsibility and transformation. No one will claim autonomy to undermine the transformation agenda of the country.

State of governance in higher education institutions
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, DHET Director General, presented a HEI governance status report with a focus on UCT, UNISA, University of Fort Hare and UKZN as well as the VUT Vice-Chancellor suspension. He repeated the Minister’s point that councils will have about 30 members and the Minister only appoints five. Much work needs to be done to assist councils to do their work and improve governance. He noted the Minister made the point about tender corruption at institutions. They have been sites for struggle. Institutions are microcosms of our society and a permanent problem is understanding how they are embedded in social struggles. The response is establishing a governance-focused area within DHET in the Sixth Administration. However, the DHET organisational review has not yet been completed and that work will only commence afterwards.

Central to governance is the introduction of legislation. HEI autonomy should ensure stability and insulate the institution from external control in its daily operations. Institutional autonomy can be used to hide the lack of accountability and defend mismanagement in institutions.

The Committee has been provided with a comprehensive profile of members of councils with the names of the people appointed so that when the Department talks about councils, it is clear whom it is talking about, including the demographics. This includes the qualifications of council members. On average, most councils are stable and most vacancies were in the process of being filled. Almost all councils were fully functional.

CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) is generally a stable institution on governance matters. Its council was reconstituted in 2022. There are no governance concerns about maladministration. Where there are issues, they are being addressed – but the institution is stable.

Central University of Technology (CUT): The Minister appointed Prof Duncan as an independent assessor to investigate the affairs of the institution. The process was underway to address the issues.

DUT (Durban University of Technology) is one of the stable institutions, notwithstanding the allegations that recently surfaced on issues of governance.

MUT (Mangosuthu University of Technology) is concerning as since its establishment there has not been stability. From an analysis of all independent assessor and administrator reports, it is clear that the institutional culture must turn around. This is more than legislative – it is about working with the entire community and stakeholders. DHET must establish multi-disciplinary teams to work with the MUT council and this work is underway. Prof Van Staden was appointed as Administrator to assist with the issues and the turnaround the culture of the institution.

HEIs must take responsibility to ensure that issues are addressed at institution level and do not escalate. A trigger-happy attitude is not expected from institutions that are meant to be driven by professionalism.

At UCT, there is the ongoing panel investigation to identify the levers that could be utilized to improve and enhance stability.

Dr Sishi noted that after the death of a Fort Hare University VC bodyguard, the Minister had spoken in detail about the security of staff members. Fort Hare is in a post-administration state, and the Department remains concerned about the safety of executives and students. Fort Hare was visited and the interventions that were instituted were widely announced. Working with SAPS and other agencies, the Department understands that there must be alignment in how security is structured. With 11 000 students on campus, it makes it impossible to have only one functional police station in that community.

University of Free State has maladministration problems but it is stable.

University of Johannesburg is stable but there are issues that are being addressed in the institution.

KwaZulu Natal protests are extremely worrisome and the Department was engaging the institutions on their platforms for management and students to be engaged properly. Most KZN institutions have a high level of violence during protests. They become very disturbing where a small protest leads to incidents of arson, injuries to students and other serious crimes. The Minister is working with KZN law enforcement to strengthen security measures in and around campuses in the province.

University of Mpumalanga and Sol Plaatjie University, the two new HEIs, are improving in many respects.

The UNISA intervention by the Department went beyond what the law said and it sat with the council to ascertain the root causes of the challenges. The reports have been provided to the Committee including the Independent Assessor (IA) and MTT reports. He appealed to Members to read these reports in reference to each other. Hopefully, the input of Members will assist in leading to a solution that will be embraced. The Minister takes this issue very seriously and he did not rely on just one report. The Minister feels that the interest of education and of UNISA must be paramount. This will be evident in his assertions.

The Department is concerned about what is happening at the University of Stellenbosch and the calls for the VC to step down. These calls do not stem from governance issues but from forces that are unhappy about the slow pace of transformation at the institution. The reasons for calling for the VC to step down must be assessed thoroughly and properly. These are worrisome but the Department is hands-on on the matter.

There are safety concerns at the University of Venda stemming from mafias and tenderpreneurs.

The University of Western Cape Vice Chancellor confirmed that it met with its student body at least once a week. This shows that there are some universities that take stakeholder engagement with students seriously. There was much work to be done in many other institutions.

Prof Vilakazi as the VC at Wits needs to be assisted. When protests emerge, the Department does see the calibre of leadership. However, Wits is a stable institution and performing well in its research output.

Observations of the Department on the PSET Sector
Governance in institutions is generally problematic although there may be stability in the institution. These institutions are also business centres to others and they are not capable of dealing with these emerging external interferences.

The Ministerial Task Team report on a Comprehensive Student Financial Aid Model is crucial.

Since 2000, there have been 16 independent assessors that have been appointed to several institutions due to poor governance and mismanagement. MUT and CUT are the subjects of more than one assessment. These reports have become an instrument to develop a programme of action to turn around governance and institutional culture in institutions. DHET would like to share with the Committee what it would be doing.

At MUT it has identified multi-disciplinary teams which were new in the interventions of the Department in the sector. It was still assessing the necessary skills and expertise to turn around the institutional culture in these institutions, MUT and CUT.

University of Cape Town Investigation Report
Dr Marcia Socikwa, DHET DDG: University Branch, said issues emerged following the departure of the Deputy VC, Prof Lis Lange. The response of the Council Chair triggered more questions in the Senate. The panel appointed by the Council had not yet completed its work. Some stakeholders doubted the panel and felt an independent assessor would be appropriate. This was the relief that many were seeking at the time but the panel’s work was not yet completed.

There is an NDA signed by the stakeholders which ties the Department. However, DHET will wait for the panel report which it is looking forward to. The panel was not permitted to investigate the former VC’s personal responsibilities.

The Interim Panel Report recommended the removal of the Council Chairperson who filed an urgent application to interdict but soon announced her resignation.

After the MTT report, the Minister met with the council to discuss the report and its findings. The Department noted that an independent assessor was deemed a rational approach and thus followed that process. The Department had received a response from UNISA with files, which the legal team and Ministerial Advisory team will go through and advise on the response, considering the interest of UNISA.

Dr Sishi added that there was a violent incident at UKZN where a student stabbed another student. The matter is being addressed with the intervention of the Ministry engaging the relevant law enforcement agencies. DHET has the responsibility to write to the Committee in detail on the interactions with the students. He apologized for this omission and said it will be submitted within seven days.

[See document for details]

The Chairperson said the Committee in its work on institutional autonomy and governance was trying to see if legislation should be introduced to get these two functions to speak to each other. The current Higher Education Act could be used for what it is to resolve this matter. We are being put in a corner to amend the Act. Autonomy stems from the universities. Should we amend the Act because of personalities who think they are beyond reproach as the gods of these institutions? This is an ongoing conversation, and we need to see how much more needs to be done in this Sixth Term. It may also be included in the Committee legacy report for the next Parliament to look into this matter.

She was perplexed by the profile of councils at Wits and UNISA and sought clarity.

The matter of looking into student governance is important because if there is not a good relationship between students, labour and management it will breed instability. CPUT should be monitored more closely. DUT has seen some stability in the past two years, with fewer protests and greater synergy between management and students – the general stakeholders.

The Rhodes University students and VC at do not have a good relationship. They find the VC a bully. There is a trust deficit between students and management due to student accommodation.

When the Minister went to Fort Hare, he extended an invitation to the Chairperson, but the VC did not want to engage them whilst he has been crying out publicly for assistance. The intervention was not welcomed by the VC, but the team engaged the other stakeholders (students and labour). These stakeholders felt that a lot is being said about the institution but they knew nothing about that.

A briefing meeting on the state of security was called informed by what happened at Fort Hare and what Members saw – executives walking around with bodyguards in AK47s in a learning environment. The Minister needs to go back to Fort Hare and brief the Committee. The Committee may need to engage Fort Hare. A letter was received from the Fort Hare convocation and different stakeholders talking about being concerned about what is happening there.

At UKZN, there was a fear that the VC was being some sort of a bully on student accommodation. There was also tension between the SRC and the VC.

At University of Pretoria, she could not foresee a situation where students get suspended after one day. The person is now gone but some characteristics of institutions do not stem from one individual but the institutional culture and other high-level executives.

At Univen, the mafia feel entitled to business in those institutions and the VC continues to be threatened while trying to turn the tide.

Regarding UCT, she was confused about what was happening because how she understood the process to be one concludes an investigation and acts on the recommendations. So much happened at UCT before the panel finished its work. The hindrance of the NDA is not welcomed. A university is a public institution and whatever happens in the institution will be of public interest. It is of public interest to have black women leading these institutions. When a black woman resigns or is suspended or whatever, there will be a public interest in what happened. The former VC was reportedly given a handshake, but she was often attacked at that institution and there are a lot of perceptions of what could have unfolded.

When the panel’s terms of reference (TOR) say they will not look at what led to the retirement of the former VC but the retirement of the Deputy VC and deans; it is confusing. When we assess the reasons for Prof Lis Lange’s resignation, she should be brought back to account for those reasons. How do we ensure that this does not happen again? It would be important that the council brings the Committee into its confidence in the fact that the ToR of the panel does what is best for the institution.

Ms K Khaukhau (DA) sought clarity on VUT as she could not understand the tension between the VC, Prof Kwadi, and the Council chairperson. Given the nature of what has been happening at HEIs, it sounds very fishy that someone had died. The Department should share as much information on this as possible so it is clear if there was a hit or not on Prof Kgwadi.

Having served on the UCT Council as SRC president when Prof Phakeng was sworn in as VC, Ms Khaukhau said the turn of events is very sad. There is a miscommunication about the mess that happened at UCT. No one wants to look badly at the mess that Mr Max Price left at the institution. In his later years, the relationship with student formations was compromised on the decorum and the staff complement at the institution, which led to questionable decisions on how matters of discipline were dealt with. These are matters seen throughout the interview process of the candidate for the position of VC. Not only was UCT battling with how to show up in a transformative way, but there was also a challenge of how much transformation the institution can take at first bite, who can do that and what kind of resources and support would be necessary to support the person introducing that transformation to the institution.

The true history reveals that there is a lot happening at that institution. It is important to have a look at the entire history and how resolutions were made in favour of certain people within that institution. There were research institutes within the institution established to silence certain people and give appraisals to others and how resolutions were made in favour of certain academics within the institution. Members cannot speculate on this matter; they must be informed of the truth. She could not understand the NDA. The Committee should have been apprised before the NDA was signed. This could have easily been foreseen and required a proactive approach to ensure that the Department is covered.

The Chairperson clarified that the NDA was signed between the UCT council and Prof Phakeng. It was not the Department that signed.

Ms Khaukhau referred to the University of Fort Hare and said that a lot came out during the visit. Members have been waiting for a briefing and the Minister should go back to that institution. Firstly, she sought clarity in layman’s terms about the Office of the Minister’s relationship and the Eastern Cape MEC with Prof Derrick Swarts, former Fort Hare VC.

Secondly, there are allegations that the request for the SIU proclamation reached the Minister’s office nine months before it was approved. If this is true, why did it that long to reach that decision or if it is an absolute lie? Notwithstanding the Fort Hare outstanding report, is the Minister aware of the power of Prof Edwin Ijeoma – how he was appointed, the processing of qualifications outside of Senate approval and going under the carpet to have their own operation that excluded prerequisite qualifications?

There has been awkward communication about politicians who benefitted from ill-gotten qualifications from Fort Hare. Is the Minister able to clear up these allegations?

Mr S Ngcobo (IFP) commented on the troublemakers in the PSET sector moving from one institution to another with allegations hanging over their heads. What is the Department doing about identifying these individuals in the system and getting rid of them through blacklisting to stop causing trouble in the sector? Secondly, what does the Department think of placing institutions under administration? Is it effective considering that some have had an administrator more than once?

Is the Minister able to indicate the gaps that must be plugged in the current legislative framework?

Has there been DHET action to implement the recommendations of the UNISA IA and MTT Reports?

The UWC model for interaction between management and students is exemplary. Has this model been shared with other institutions for them to follow?

Dr W Boshoff (FF+) recently read a book by Prof Jonathan Jansen about universities, and he thought that another person used the same source material and trusted the other side with the dispute between the two sides. Very often there is tension between management and council about the academic project or acquisition of funds. These issues are never objective, and it all depended on how one looks at the “facts” presented.

There is a pervasive culture of accepting one practice in an institution but shunning it when it is done in another institution. There is a new generation of students every four years and if we do something correctly and thoroughly for the sector, in four years’ time there is no student left who knows anything about it. Part of the dynamic tension that each university needs to deal with is the global demands and local needs. A certain level of order must be established to work, yet we have a vibrant democracy. The attention towards the academic project and governance is skewed. We can have good academic content, but governance may be poor or vice versa.

We expect a good governance structure to be aligned with a good academic culture or life. We need to cultivate an indigenous responsive academic culture so that universities represent different academic traditions that contribute to the variety of the national academic offering. We cannot legislate or fund a positive academic culture into existence. The main point is that we need to progress, but we may not reach the ultimate outcome. Thus, this Committee is one that will always have a job.

Mr S Zondo (IFP) said the UKZN issues were not concocted. Everything that was outlined in the presentation confirms what he has been saying about UKZN. However, it was not only happening at UKZN but in many other institutions. Robust debate on the cap has taken place but issues prevail.

During an MUT oversight visit, he spoke about student leadership being expelled from the institution without proper investigation. After that oversight visit, it was then the officials investigated, suspended, and expelled by a council that was later dissolved. Those officials said that the expulsion was not proper and pleaded for assistance. It was now verified that these officials were expelled with no facts presented. He would attempt to bring the information to the attention of the Ministry.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) cautioned and said the meeting is about governance. It was impossible for the Department and Minister to respond to technical matters so Members should ask questions about the overview presented today.

Mr Letsie welcomed the consideration to establish a governance branch in the Department. Hopefully, the Ministry will expedite this. A dedicated team of governance experts would assist DHET. The branch must also consider capacitating newly elected SRC leaders. He was pleased that USAf and SAUS have agreed to sign a pact on the do’s and don’ts during protests.

The Committee had been informed that in one year property damage due to protests was over R100 million. He suggested an engagement in the third term with UNISA, UCT, Fort Hare Vice-Chancellors and councils.

Mr Letsie failed to understand the NDA at UCT. It may be that deals were being struck and everyone is at fault but felt that the investigation must be limited. This is not acceptable because so much money is transferred to universities. The Committee cannot sit back and do nothing. The Committee may struggle to get the former UCT VC, Council chairperson and deputy chairperson as they had left the institution. Due to time constraints, he would suggest a full inquiry into what happened at UCT. At face value, it seems there is a target for female leaders at the institution. He suggested that the UCT Council should be brought back as soon as possible. The Committee should consider engaging a legal team on the merits of this NDA and ascertain how far it can push. The Committee should be clear on what questions must be responded to on what occurred at the institution.

Mr Letsie hoped that the UNISA Council would also be invited as soon as possible due to the seriousness of the allegations that surfaced. The MTT recommended placing UNISA under administration. This was for the previous council, but the recommendations did not refer to the previous council but the institution. There was a consensus not to place UNISA under administration but go the IA route, which has since suggested placing UNISA under administration. He pleaded with the Minister to interrogate the council and management on some of the issues raised in that IA report. The report did not seem well-balanced and he was quite disappointed by it. If possible, the Committee should interrogate UNISA council and management itself.

There have been 16 IA reports in the sector. How effective is placing under administration, notwithstanding the repeat offenders which were under administration more than once? What are the cost implications for administration for the sector? Has the Department had challenges with administrators and if so, what were these? What support systems have been provided to these institutions post the administration period?

The VUT Independent Assessor’s report would have mentioned the war within the governance and management structures.

Mr Letsie said that when he visited UKZN during his younger days, the institution was well-run. He was firm and would engage student leaders before unleashing the army on students. Currently, UKZN has a Vice-Chancellor who is trigger-happy. There seems to be a very aggressive attitude by that VC. When students disagree with management, they bring in the whole army. There is a problem where senior managers of institutions believe they own the institutions. At VUT, students protested and were placed on suspension in February, but they have not been charged. They have written to the institution many times, but nothing has happened. These senior managers treat these institutions as if they are personal fiefdoms. Some of the VUT managers are implicated in student accommodation-related corruption but nothing is being done.

Mr Letsie said that Fort Hare University is a headache. When the Committee invites it to appear, it must provide a list of all students who entered Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) courses or programmes. There must not be an insinuation that those who came through the RPL belonged to a particular political party. The notion that RPL means corruption must be denounced. Those who get in through corruption must be exposed and face the music.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) said there is a common thread on governance in HEIs including stakeholders who seem to have a competitive relationship with each other in the same institution. It seems that these groups have different interests as if they were not in the same institution. They are not congruent with each other. Labour, council, management, and student leadership have prioritized other issues instead of the institution. If these stakeholders came together and worked together, governance challenges would not prevail in the sector. Councils have become battlegrounds of financial interests. The problem at these universities is a general problem in South African society. People cry out about corruption, but they are the same ones who bribe police officers to avoid fines. What is happening at these institutions is a mirror image of society.

People who are supposed to be the advanced set of society are more problematic than those termed as “bottom of the barrel”. The problems emanating from academic institutions need a thorough analysis of their root cause. We have a scourge of people who are becoming less and less morally upright. These battles are battles of “boroto” (bread). These are carried out by people with higher education qualifications in academia. These people are willing to cut any measure of decorum just to have a piece of the pie. This is often attributed to cadre deployment, but the Minister can only appoint five out of 30 individuals.

The problem of corruption is not with politicians, they do not sign off on anything that has to do with money. The people who have power, legally, flow from the Director General all the way down. Politicians have the power to dissolve. Those who are locked out want to come in, those who are inside are locking in. If we follow the money, we would see what is happening. We might as well close the sector. Is it all Dr Blade Nzimande? It is the people with PhDs that are appointed to run the institutions. The sovereignty of this nation is undermined by the elite. Students are paid; people from communities masquerading as students; there are reports that those who institute protests are not even students. The student cohort is persuasive and changes with the wind. It is a problem because at the bottom of it one would find that it is not even related to student issues. The individuals burn buildings so that they require renovation, yet the real students are thrown into prisons. The instigators are never found, and students end up taking the blame.

Mr F Shivambu (EFF) said the corruption in the tendering system is a heavy strain caused by people doing business with the sector. It is often people in the councils who decide which businesses do business with the institution. These instigators are within councils. One such council member once went to his dorm room and told him how he must destabilize the council meeting and attack a person and offered a financial cut. Such business contracts are linked to management and council members. These issues were present when he was SRC president. VCs are going to die or be removed from their positions and punished for nothing while council members are fighting and killing each other. If you refuse to take their bribes, you become a target. Council members are the problem at the core of these issues.

There are too much politics happening at UNISA – it is all about money and boroto. They want the VC out and this often happens due to resisting these forces. He advised the Ministry to act and focus on council members who are problematically influenced by unions. There is a lot of union politics at UNISA. If the VC refuses NEHAWU, NEHAWU targets the VC. If the VC finally agrees with NEHAWU, another union comes after the VC. These issues happen at institutions because of outsourcing to business. We should do away with outsourcing. All outsourced functions are infested with so much corruption. Institutions must build internal capacity to have these functions internally. When he fought to do away with outsourcing security at Univen, the security company owner offered him a bribe and he refused but today there is internal security at Univen.

Lastly, young people go to university and after graduating they must be employed. However, they are being told that students who were funded by Funza Lushaka and Mpumalanga Bursary are prioritised and NSFAS students are considered last. What is the point of NSFAS? In Mpumalanga, people in job positions are waiting for bribes because they are selling posts. Students are crying out there seeking assistance.

The Chairperson asked Members to ask direct questions to the Minister as he needed to leave.

Ms N Chirwa (EFF) asked why the Minister elected to appoint an IA at UNISA instead of acting on the MTT report recommendations – this will be an act of fruitless expenditure. Both MTT and IA reports made serious findings about UNISA enrolments. Is there an investigation or should we hold the current VC responsible for the previous council’s shenanigans? Who was responsible for the SCM deviations noted in the MTT report?

The UNISA Registrar had left TUT because of fraud and insubordination but he was able to find space at UNISA. In both institutions, he seems to be protected through the reports that come out of the institutions. She asked about Prof Mosia’s appointment as Independent Assessor at the University of Pretoria. There is a myriad of governance issues at UP, but it is cited as though there are no governance issues at UP. He is placed to investigate at another institution. Was the Higher Education Act followed thoroughly when placing Prof Mosia to conduct investigations in another institution?

Minister’s response
Minister Nzimande explained he appointed an independent assessor because the MTT was not appointed to investigate corruption. The MTT was asked to inform him of the appropriate business operating model for UNISA. The failure rate at UNISA is a significant problem. The MTT recommended that UNISA be placed under administration but it was not its call to make such a recommendation. Only after an assessor is appointed and then makes that recommendation. No one else has the capacity or the authority to make such a recommendation in terms of the law. If he had accepted this, he would have placed UNISA under administration through an indirect process meant to investigate something else.

Over-enrolment was part of the problem. If you over-enrol as one institution, you are affecting the rest of the sector. Enrolment targets are agreed to in terms of the capacity of the sector. UNISA was deliberately over-enrolling and causing mayhem in the sector. Going to court was not about preventing students from having access but about the enrolment targets. Other institutions would complain because institutions are punished for over-enrolment. This was twisted in the media as if he was challenging access when he was in fact challenging the over-enrolment. He was still studying the report and he received a response from UNISA last week. The report does highlight some positive developments, but he could not speak with authority now until he finished studying the report and the responses.

He appointed Prof Mosia based on his experience and he understands the system. He was appointed in terms of the Higher Education Act. He had been the chair of the Council on Higher Education (CHE) with a lot of experience and insight into the PSET system. He did not appoint him for any other reason. He trusted his judgment.

The status of an NDA needs to be assessed in context; the internal labour relations processes of the institution must be respected. He could not understand it any further or beyond what it is in the common law. If the Committee wants to call UCT to appear before the Committee, it is free to do so. There are certain things that irritate him. He could not understand why a former Deputy VC, who resigned a year ago, who left the institution suddenly was the point of the investigation. Is it because she is white? What is so special about her? Is it an issue of race? He found it incomprehensible that this was done and questioned if it was done because of the colour of her skin. The meeting is held with the Senate, but the investigation does not go into the Senate. What else happened in the Senate that led to the mess we are seeing now? He did not want to pre-judge the matter; hence he was waiting for the report of the panel. Some of the issues relating to UCT cannot be disclosed because the Ministry and Department were also waiting for the panel’s report.

All his advisors have professional relationships with stakeholders including Prof Swarts. He is largely based in the Eastern Cape, and he is in the economic advisor of the Premier. His participation is solely based on insights into higher education matters, along with other experts. He cautioned that Members of Parliament should not be lobbied and begin to see things that do not exist. There are people who feel like the Minister uses his advisor to make certain interventions at Fort Hare as he was the former VC at UFH. There is not so. He confronts issues head-on and never uses his advisors to get things done. He has powers in law to instruct the council and for the council to answer questions. Members should not be lobbied to present non-existing issues.

Minister Nzimande clarified that he was not the one responsible for putting Fort Hare under administration, it was Minister Pandor. She was correct to put the institution under administration and he found it that way. There is nothing that he delayed. The administration continued but he changed the Administrator during the administration due to challenges and weaknesses that he had picked up until it was complete. The council was given the instruction to assess the report of the Assessor and deal with every aspect of that report including the report of the Administrator. Fort Hare is supposed to report to the Department every two months.

He was concerned that the SIU is taking its time and it is taking too long. The institution is burning, and the SIU has been there for a long time but there is no report that has come out. This is becoming a source of instability because everyone is wondering what the SIU is doing. He raised this issue with SIU Head Adv Mothibi that the SIU gets into an institution and stays forever while all sorts of speculations and accusations are being spread around. Members should also review what the proclamation says about the investigation of the SIU. There must be timeframes because people begin to flee and evade accountability if investigations take too long. There are too many challenges at Fort Hare, and it continues to fail to spend the money that Department has given it. He would be going back to assist the institution.

He could not account for how Prof Ijeoma was appointed because that is an internal council matter of the University of Fort Hare. He intends to visit the institution to assess what the council was doing about the situation as promised. He would have to inform the council that the VC must be present because he is a member of the council.

On the MUT matter, he has had people writing to him about the issues, but he could not get involved with administrative matters. He instructed those employees to engage the Administrator and people could take the legal route for recourse.

Most problems can be solved at an institutional level. People must be creative. The Fees Must Fall campaign led to R800 million worth of damage to property in 2016. This is why it is important to have the dos and don’ts of protests in the sector that can be agreed to by all stakeholders.

RPL is non-negotiable and the investigation of corruption at Fort Hare must not be allowed to taint the importance and critical role of RPL. The SIU does not have the capacity for this. This capacity rests with the CHE and SAQA. If the Eastern Cape legislature decided to have a programme with Fort Hare, which includes RPL, there is nothing wrong with that, which is why there is a process to develop an Adult Matric Paper because an 18 and 45-year cannot write the same matric paper. However, he assured Members that he is monitoring the Fort Hare development closely. RPL is not corrupt but if there have been corrupt practices, these must be dealt with.

Not all council members were bad. Many of them were excellent and they make sacrifices to serve the country through councils.

Further questions
The Chairperson said that there is general agreement that the governance in the sector must be intact. It stems from the business interests of individuals in our institutions. This is the plague in the sector, especially in the university programme. Many suggestions have come from Members to do away with outsourcing and establishing early warning systems as well as monitoring people who are being recycled in the sector. The Committee supports the interventions proposed by the Department.

The Committee supports engaging the University of Cape Town, Fort Hare, CUT and UNISA. The UNISA report was leaked before the council could meet, which compromises the work of the council. It would be important not to act hastily and there was a consensus amongst Members about not placing institutions under administration.

We are not saying that women leaders in the sector should not be subject to scrutiny, but we cannot be blind to the realities that women in leadership face in their positions.

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked if the MUT administration would follow the same process as others and what the timeframe for the appointment of the MUT IA is.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) welcomed the presentation and acknowledged the remarks of the Minister, particularly that we cannot fold our arms but must act in addressing challenges at our institutions. On vacancies, the Department must be intentional with its decisions and ensure that these vacancies are filled.

It is important to conduct an overall assessment of all institutions and the calibre of people who were applying and appointed to critical positions at our institutions. She asked the Department to assess the status quo of administration in all institutions to also assess if this was the right intervention for our institutions.

Women’s inclusion in the sector in leadership positions needs further assessment to identify gaps that need to be closed.

We need a plan to have a standard security plan in all institutions. When students are protesting, they must be protected from those who seek to cause destruction for their own interests. The Department needs to adopt a project management approach in addressing issues in the sector such as student accommodation and ICT.

RPL is transformational and the DG must make sure that the Department corrects what is happening.

Ms Chirwa asked what the Department is doing to resolve the root cause of the conflicts at institutions, which is the tenderpreneurs. A dissolution of council or management should be treated with a higher level of seriousness and it should get Parliament involved through inquiries. If it is a criminal matter, it must be treated as such. If we have criminals in councils and management, they must be treated as such based on the IA recommendations.

Ms Chirwa said that the DG noted concerns about Stellenbosch University transformation but we do not apply the same concern when it comes to gender.

Ms Chirwa said and the NDA caused too many fights with the former Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize. The state cannot get into NDAs. The state is obliged to make available to its people information that has constitutional implications impacting citizens. People who represent the state cannot withhold information because of arrangements that are at play with perpetrators. If there is any information about UCT, it must be gradually submitted to the Committee. DHET has no authority to withhold information because of NDAs.

She asked when Prof Mosia was appointed as UNISA IA because he had left his chairmanship at CHE. There were issues emanating there. She suggested that Parliament must carry out its own inquiries once these processes have been concluded.

DHET response
Dr Sishi said that many of the Members’ questions required detailed responses in writing. In terms of the Higher Education Act, any person that has been a member of the council, against whom an independent assessor made findings, cannot be eligible for appointment in the sector. He assured Members that the correct processes were followed in the appointment of Prof Mosia.

The Department’s response was not complete because it excluded student governance and this submission will be provided in writing along with a interrogation of councils, primarily UNISA and other institutions in question, as well as an indication of where the law must still take its course.

The response to the question on the militarization of our institutions will revert to some of the Department responses presented before to assess their relevance. On the posture of senior management at UP, the noted concerns still need further review and assessment.

The appointment of Prof Dan Kgwadi as VC at VUT was not a surprise because he had been in the sector for many years. He had not been well for some time and the ongoing investigation would have picked up on his illness, which may have led to his inability to attend certain critical engagements. He has been an asset in the sector. The report is not yet out, and the Department awaits it patiently.

He welcomed the suggestion to review the history of UCT dating back to Dr Max Price’s tenure at UCT as some of the issues stem from the past.

UKZN concerns outlined by Members about students will be responded to, particularly how the Department will pursue it.

Dr Sishi largely reiterated comments by Members and how he agreed with them. The UNISA Administrator has a term of 18 months. It is a recurring issue of previous reports and how they are utilized to turn the system around.

On the reports of unqualified officials in the public sector, the Department fully intends to keep the integrity of RPL and reassert its importance as an assessment tool in the education and training sector. The DHET ‘war room’ covers communication with stakeholders. The Department was still assessing whether it might work to achieve broader issues. Whistleblowing mechanisms must be promoted. Employment of fit-for-purpose individuals is a non negotiable but once appointed, they must be supported.

The cost of the independent assessors will be detailed in writing dating back to the year 2000.

The Department’s Head of Legal replied that an NDA is tricky because it is always between two parties. As for the UCT one, when the VC approached the Minister, it was not aware that the VC had already signed the NDA. Legally, it can only be revisited by the same parties that signed it and the Minister could not intervene. The horse had bolted, and the team wished she would have involved the Minister and the Minister intervene on her behalf. The two parties are allowed to revise what is in the NDA.

The Chairperson said that Members were uneasy not knowing the NDA terms of reference. It is concerning that public money was used for this.

DHET Head of Legal replied that the Department will review what recourse it had at its disposal to get the parties to agree to open up to the Minister on how the council and the former VC resolved to sign an NDA.

DDG Socikwa replied about how to avoid regression. Councils at UFH and MUT did not want to report regularly to the Department because the officials or VCs felt undermined. However, the objective is to avoid having assessors and administrators in those institutions. Thus, regular reports are required every two months.

There was an agreement with heads of security in all institutions to ensure that security policies were developed and through this, we can standardize how we respond to criminality. Security trade unions have also been invited and involved in these engagements.

All outstanding questions will be responded to in writing. The Department must monitor the outsourcing and the successes of insourcing in institutions.

The Committee adopted outstanding minutes and the meeting was adjourned.

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