ATC091111: Report Oversight Visit to the University of Stellenbosch

Higher Education, Science and Innovation



The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training having undertaken an oversight visit to the University of Stellenbosch on the 13 October 2009 reports as follows:


1. Introduction

The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training conducted an oversight visit to the University of Stellenbosch (US) as part of its ongoing oversight function to Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s) on the 13 October 2009. The purpose of the oversight visit was mainly to interact with the University on issues such as admission and language policy, the transformation plan, and challenges to students.


2. Background

The committee made an analysis of the Higher Education and Training landscape during its Strategic Workshop in August 2009. A resolution was taken that the post -schooling system needed serious consideration given the fact that approximately 2.7 million youth out of school were neither employed or participating in any form of training. The committee intends to assist the new Department of Higher Education and Training in expanding access to Skills Development and Training during the term of the 4th Parliament. In reality, South Africa has not reaped rewards as expected from its investment in education over the past few years and the committee, together with the new Department of Higher Education and Training have embarked on a new strategy to change this perspective.


The University of Stellenbosch (US) is regarded as one of the best research innovation Institutions in Africa. The recent launch of the Sumbandila Satellite is the first of its kind from an African Institution which is the testimony to the success of the University. The committee previously had serious concerns contrary to the successes of the University. The public perception of the University as an Afrikaans Institution in the new dispensation negatively affected the image of the Institution with the majority of citizens. The poor participation of black undergraduates and the lack of cultural diversity at the Institution were among the concerns that the committee needed clarification. The committee aimed to leave the Institution with clarifications on its plans to improve the diversity and public image of the University.


3. The Delegation

Mr M Fransman Chairperson (ANC), Ms M Kubayi (ANC), Mr G Lekgetho (ANC), Mr S Makhubele (ANC), Ms F Mushwana (ANC), Mr S Radebe (ANC),  Mr G Boinamo (DA), Dr W James (DA), Ms N Vukuza (COPE) and Ms C Dudley (ACDP).


The University of Stellenbosch

Prof R Botman: Rector  & Vice-Chancellor, Prof J Smith: Vice-Rector (Community Interaction and Personnel), Prof M Fourie Vice-Rector (Teaching), Prof A van Zyl Vice-Rector (Research), Prof L van Huyssteen: Executive Director Operations and Finance, Prof T de Coning: Chief Director Strategic Initiatives and Human Resources, Dr T Fish: Vice Dean Faculty of Health Sciences, Prof M Karaan: Dean Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, Prof E van Harte: Dean Faculty of Military Science, Mrs M Moolman: Member of Council, Dr L van der Westhuizen: Member of Council, Ms E Tise: Director Library Services, Prof J Botha: Senior Director Academic Support, Dr B Leibowitz: Director Centre for Teaching and Learning, Mr L McMaster: Dean of Students, Mr M Shaikh: Senior Director Communication and Liaison, Mr G Wiese: Chairperson of the  Student Representative Council and Mr T Mvlane: Member of the SRC.


Department of Higher Education and Training

Prof C Sehoole: Chief Director for Higher Education Policy and Development Support.


4. Summary of the presentation

Prof R Botman: Rector & Vice-Chancellor led the presentation:

The committee was informed that the new management of the University was appointed in 2006 with the objective of making a difference with respect to its past. The University has the second largest number of rated researchers and is the third best performing University in terms of academic success in the country. It supports poor communities through the implementation of various projects aimed at alleviating poverty and it supports government in terms of policy advice.




  • Launch of the Sumbandila Satellite into space
  • Host three of the seven National Research Fund Centres of Excellence above any other University in the country
  •  One of the top academic and research Institutions in the country
  • Average success rate of 82% per annum
  • The only Institution with a Faculty of Military Sciences in the country


  • Only 4% of academic staff are black and 76% of undergraduates are whites
  • Low throughput rate of black undergraduates
  • Lowest recipient of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding compared with other Universities in the country
  • Limited infrastructure to accommodate more academic staff
  • Insufficient strategy to attract more black prospective undergraduates to the University


5. The following formed part of the discussion

  • The committee was concerned that most senior management posts were occupied predominantly by white academic staff and the participation of black undergraduates was low. It was argued that the vision of 2015 of the Institution was mediocre and its recruitment strategy raised concerns. It was questioned as to whether the Institution and its Council were supportive of the vision of 2015 and why the Institution failed to attract more black undergraduates.
  • It was argued that the nature of the Institution did not relate to its vision of 2015 given the challenges relating to employment equity and access of black undergraduates to the Institution.
  • A concern was raised regarding the lack of a database containing the details of all the drop-outs of the Institution. It was enquired as to whether there were any other mediums of instruction besides English and Afrikaans and how many students were assisted by the NSFAS bursary.
  • The University was commended for its TB-HIV Integration Project aimed at assisting poor communities in fighting the epidemics. It was enquired whether the University had developed a vaccine to stop the spread of TB.
  • It was observed that the public perception of the University was not positive since it was still regarded as an Afrikaans Institution and that there was under-representivity of black undergraduates and academic staff. It was questioned as to whether the culture of the Institution was conducive to black students and academic staff.
  • A concern was raised regarding the University Council’s role in monitoring the adherence of the Institution to its policy documents.
  • The committee commended the University on the absence of any crisis caused by students or academic staff as a result of its challenges. The committee enquired about the role and responsibilities of the Military Academyat the Institution.


6. Responses

  • The University acknowledged the fact that its transformation had been delayed and that not enough had been achieved to change the public perception of its image as an Afrikaans Institution. The major challenge of the University is the infrastructure capacity to accommodate more black academic staff on its premises.
  • It was noted that the University had requested more funds from NSFAS to extend its support to low income students and some students were awarded top sliced bursaries that could not meet their expenses.
  • The committee was informed that the process of costing multilingualism is very expensive and the Institution would like further assistance to increase the number of mediums of instruction to include African languages at the Institution.
  • It was argued that there were various contributing factors to the low participation of black undergraduates. Firstly, most low income students could not afford to study at the Institution given the low percentage of the NSFAS bursary awarded to the Institution annually and some were excluded due to the medium of instruction of the Institution.
  • The University Council indicated that it supported the vision of 2015 and the Rector created enthusiasm in all faculties to work towards the implementation of the 2015 goals. It further argued that it was unfortunate that the language issue received a negative public response.
  • The Military Academy provides specialised military training to students who aspire to be in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF)


7. Meeting with Student Organisations

The committee was interested to know what were the key challenges of students, the role of student leadership on Campus, the student’s culture at the Institution, the relationship between black and white students especially in residences, whether student organisations were consulted before fees were increased, students’ opinion on the language issue and whether black students participated in sporting activities.

The committee urged students to assist each other equitably and to promote a non racial Institution for prospective students. It further highlighted that in future a public forum would be created where all stakeholders of the Institution would be involved in debating its challenges.


Issues and responses raised by students

  • The SRC leadership created a Portfolio of Maties campaign as a symbol of integration amongst all students. The campaign was very successful since it was accepted by the majority of students.
  • It was argued that most black and non Afrikaans speaking undergraduates have a challenge with the use of Afrikaans as one of the mediums of instruction since it is the mother tongue of the majority students.
  • It was said that student leadership was consulted when fees were to be increased. However, other critical decisions were taken without consultation with student leadership.
  • It emerged that some lecturers spent most of their time in undertaking their research commitments than lecturing and thus affecting students negatively.
  • It was noted that fear of management was the main challenge of student leadership and a solution was required urgently to resolve this matter.
  • The students emphasised clearly that the Institution did not promote racism at all. The challenge was the dominant cultural background of some students which has attached itself to the Institution.
  • The idea of a public forum to discuss the challenges of the Institution was supported by the student leadership, since their engagement with the University management was minimal.


8. Findings

The following formed part of the committee’s critical findings:

  • The vision of 2015 targets for black academic staff and students were too low
  • The SRC voted against the usage of a parallel medium of instruction
  • The true impression of the Institution was not highlighted in its presentation and documents presented to the committee
  • The Institution required more funding from NSFAS to support low income students
  • Development and under-representivity of black and coloured students in  student leadership bodies remained a major challenge
  • The cause of the delay in employing black academic staff was due to  limited infrastructure capacity  and lack of funds
  • The institution attracted more black post graduates than undergraduate students
  • Student leadership bodies were not transparent with management regarding challenges they raised with the committee


9. Summary

The oversight visit offered the committee an opportunity to interact with both management and student leadership regarding challenges faced by the University. It was clear from the presentation and documents supplied to the committee that the pace of the transformation process was very slow. There was little sense of urgency to speed up the process, the major reasons being expressed were insufficient infrastructure capacity and limited funds. On the contrary, the success of the University is undisputed given the strong academic capacity that is entrenched within the Institution. The committee expressed the need for further interaction with the Institution and the implementation of a public forum where relevant stakeholders would be involved in the decision making processes.


10. Recommendations

The following formed part of the critical recommendations:

§         The vision of 2015 document needed urgent review if the institution desired a complete transformation

§         An inclusive Human Resource development strategy was required in order  to attract more black academic staff, without reducing white academic staff already in existence

§         Special emphasis should be placed on attracting more black undergraduates and academic support should be strengthened to ensure their success

§         The NSFAS should increase its allocation to the University to assist more needy students with full bursaries


Report to be considered


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