Universities under Administration: update by Department of Higher Education and Training; Africa Institute of South Africa Act Repeal Bill [B6B-2013]: adoption

NCOP Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture

14 August 2013
Chairperson: Ms M Makate (North West,ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Education and Higher Training briefed the Select Committee on Education and Recreation on the status of all universities that were put under administration. The briefing described the background leading to the decision to place the universities under administration and the reasons for this. The progress of the universities and the various challenges they faced on the road to financial and governmental rehabilitation was highlighted. The Department explained how it managed the universities that had being placed under administration and what the specific financial implications were for the state.

Members expressed several concerns to the Department regarding the briefing. A Member asked why only white males appeared to be selected as administrators to run the universities and she noted a lack of female representation. A Member asked for more information on the staff members and students who had being dismissed from these universities after disciplinary action was taken. A Member asked if the Minister had received the Central University of Technology’s independent investigation report. A concern was raised about the lack of quality and the inadequacy of several Vice Chancellors and members of University Councils who had been replaced. The Member asked if performance appraisals were done on Vice Chancellors at institutions and on what criteria were they judged. Other concerns raised by Members included the legal action taken by the Central University of Technology against the Minister and the costs of these court cases. A Member raised a concern about the R3.15 billion to fund the turnaround strategy at Walter Sisulu University and asked for an explanation of the high costs. A Member asked if the turnaround strategy had considered all the factors that contributed to an institution being placed under administration. Members inquired about the status of the various institutions and if they were back on track and running normally.

The Select Committee on Education and Recreation unanimously adopted the Africa Institute of South Africa Act Repeal Bill after deliberations. The objective of this Bill was to provide for the disestablishment of the Africa Institute of South Africa; to provide for the transfer of the assets, liabilities, rights and obligations of the Institute; and to repeal the Africa Institute of South Africa Act, 2001.

Meeting report

The Chairperson welcomed the delegation from the Department of Higher Education and Training that was to brief them on the status of universities under administration. She noted that the Committee had done an oversight visit to the Walther Sisulu University. She expressed the wish that the presentation would capture the challenges facing these universities under administration and how they would be dealt with.

Status of Universities under Administration
Mr Gwebinkundla (Gwebs) Qonde, DHET Director General, noted that the legislation provided for intervention only when the institutions were at rock bottom. Only when the institutions were in ICU, then the department went into salvage the situation because legislation did not allow it to intervene earlier.

The institutions under administration were all characterised by erosion of the culture of teaching and learning and a mismanagement of finances. The destruction of the institution had a negative effect on the quality of learning. Corrupt practices and poor administration manifested itself in such institutions. This affected mostly the poorer students from the first generation of parents sending their children to university. He noted that these interventions cost government millions of rands and were not always appreciated by the institutions.

Ms Pearl Whittle, DHET Director, then presented the briefing on the status of the five universities that had being placed under administration by the Minister. The briefing explained the factors leading up to the decision to place the university under administration, the terms of reference of the administrator, the turnaround strategy employed and the progress made in each institution.

University of Zululand
Background: A new Vice Chancellor was appointed in 2009. She found a Council and institution riddled with corruption and reported it to the Minister. The Minister appointed Prof Hugh Africa as an Independent Assessor (IA) to investigate the situation. The IA report revealed serious weaknesses in governance and management and gross irregularities in finances and procurement.

Progress: The Office of the Registrar has been restructured and policies and procedures to facilitate staff recruitment were developed. The code of ethics was revised and employees had to declare interests. A forensic investigation was undertaken and several staff members and students were dismissed. An institutional Improvement Plan and implementation strategy was developed and implemented. A new Council was being appointed and recruitment of suitably qualified staff for senior management was underway.

Tshwane University of Technology
Background: The Minister appointed Dr Vincent Maphai as an Independent Assessor to investigate the root causes of ongoing strikes and discontent. The IA found serious problems in the governance and management of the university. Prof Themba Mosia was appointed on 15 August 2011 as the administrator. The terms of reference of the Administrator included concluding the recommendations of the IA and the appointment of the Vice Chancellor.

Progress: Prof N Ogude was appointed as Vice Chancellor and the issues of poor governance and absence of ethics was addressed. Procurement and financial policies were reviewed and implemented and a new Council took office on 1 December 2012. TUT is stable and progressing well.

Walther Sisulu University
Background: WSU was in a financial crisis unable to pay its salaries and the Council requested assistance from the Minister. Prof Daniel Ncayiyana was appointed as an IA on 5 th August 2011. The IA reported that WSU was in a crisis with a collapse of systems, governance and financial management. The IA recommended an Administrator - Prof Lourens Van Staden - be appointed to the institution to take over governance. The terms of reference of the administrator included talking over Council and management and steering the University back to operational and financial stability.

Progress: Financial stability has been achieved and WSU had no bank overdrafts. Disciplinary action was conducted and several dismissals were effected. A turnaround strategy was submitted to the department and a suitable governance model was embedded in the proposed new statute. The feasibility study in April 2013 motivated an R3.15 billion injection to fund the turnaround framework. The first legitimate SRC elections were held in 2012.

Vaal University of Technology
Background: Persistent problems relating to opposing factions within the university, administration, governance and management were identified. Adv. Music Shikhakhane was appointed as Independent Assessor on 10 Th February 2012. The Independent Assessor reported that the Council had failed to provide strategic leadership and the Statute was not effective and must be replaced to ensure that the Council is properly constituted to lead the University. Professor Patrick Fitzgereald was appointed as administrator on 17 July 2012. His terms of reference included appointing a new Council and drafting a new Statute. He was also mandated to restore proper governance and administration and conduct a forensic audit on procurement, management of student residences, tenders including the appointment of MPL (Ltd)

Progress: The University is well managed financially and clean audits are been achieved. The Vice Chancellor was found guilty of misconduct and given a final warning. The Administrator promulgated new statute and started the process of appointing a new VC.

Central University of Technology
Council was requested to investigate allegations of corruption and abuse and report back to the Minister. They failed to respond and the Minister appointed Prof Julian Smith as the Independent Assessor. The Independent Assessor recommended an Administrator be appointed but the Council rejected this. The Minister appointed Prof Stanley Ridge as administrator on 20 June 2012. The CUT locked the Administrator out and a legal battle between the CUT and Minister ensued.

Current Situation: The judgment on 13 August 2012 found the Minister had not acted lawfully in appointing the Administrator. The situation is that none of the outstanding matters have been resolved and a copy of the CUT’s independent investigation was requested by the Minister who would respond to this.

The Chairperson requested the more detailed report from the Department be given to her. She noted that some of “our laws are disempowering us”.

Ms R Rasmeni (ANC North West) noted that all the appointments of Administrators were all white males and wanted to know if there were no females that met the requirements. She added that the results seemed promising in returning all these institutions back to normality. She wanted to know how many people were found guilty and dismissed at the University of Zululand.

Ms Rasmeni asked the Department for clarity on the ethics issues at the Tshwane University of Technology.

Ms B Mncube (ANC Gauteng) wanted to know who were the students and staff dismissed from the institutions. She asked if the Independent Assessors who introduced the turnaround strategy for these institutions took into account those factors which contributed to the university being placed under administration in the first place. She noted that there was insufficient capacity building for members of University Councils and asked when the term of office ended for the administrator at Tshwane University of Technology.

Ms Mncube asked if there was any mechanism for the Vice Chancellor and Council to warn the Minister about potential problems developing at the university.

Mr W Faber (DA Northern Cape) asked if the Minister had the right or not to appoint an administrator to the Central University of Technology and was the Minister’s appeal granted.

On the question of Walter Sisulu University he asked how much were the funds that the Department was contributing towards the administration of this University and whether the University banking accounts were merged.

Mr De Villiers (DA Western Cape) wanted to know the amount that was budgeted to help the Independent Assessor to do his work at the University of Zululand and what were the current Council vacancies at University of Zululand.

He asked if the University of Zululand was appropriately constituted and what was the current status of the University. He noted that Tshwane University of Technology was stable and progressing well but asked what problems were there.

On Walter Sisulu University, Mr De Villiers asked what had helped the Independent Assessor address the overdraft in one year and he asked for more information on the feasibility study motivating the R 3.15 billion cash injection to fund the turnaround at the University.

Mr De Villiers noted that the Minister lost his case against the Central University of Technology because the Independent Assessor did not supply enough evidence to support the Minister’s case. He asked if this was correct or not.

Mr De Villiers asked how much was spent on the court cases between the Minister and CUT and which party carried the costs. Lastly he asked if the Minister had a received a copy of CUT’s independent investigation.

Mr S Plaatje (Cope, North West) noted that things pointed to the dissolution of the University Councils and the taking over of them. He asked what other factors contributed towards these universities becoming so dysfunctional. What measures were taken by DHET to rectify the situation when there was a total collapse of all teaching and education in these institutions? Lastly, heasked if the relationship between the newly appointed Councils and the Administrator were working well.

Ms Mncube (ANC) noted a lack of capacity in University Councils and Vice Chancellors across the board. She asked if any performance appraisals were done on the Vice Chancellors and what were the criteria.

Ms Rasmeni (ANC) asked what the R3.15 billion cash injection for WSU was for.

The Chairperson asked if a lack of experience had led to the old University Councils been dissolved and what measures had been put in place in the new Councils to prevent this happening again. She asked how the administration was handling staff and student complaints at the universities.

Department response
Mr Qonde, Director General, stated that a university was established in terms of the Higher Education Act and the management and governance was a function carried out by the Councils of the institutions. Government had no say on how Councils governed the University as this was done by the Council structures.

In cases of maladministration, the Minister must put the allegations to the Council who must investigate them and then give the Minister feedback. As the situation unfolds, further complaints may also require the Minister to ask for more questions and the whole process could take eighteen months to resolve. The Minister than made a decision to choose an Independent Assessor.

The Assessor did not have any powers to subpoena but the new amendment to the Act had sought to give the Assessor powers of subpoena. The Minister only acts within the confines of the Assessor’s action and within the terms of reference and the law. The appointment of the Assessor is a predetermined appointment by the Council for Higher Education who has a list of administrators. The Department looked for people who wanted to do this type of work since not everyone did.

Mr Qonde stated that fifteen officials and three students had already been fired at the University of Zululand and this was increasing.

Mrs P Whittle from the Department stated that mainly staff had been dismissed at Tshwane University of Technology.

Mr Qonde noted that when the administrator pulls out he discharges his responsibility and this must culminate in the appointment of a Council.

Regarding the constitution of Council members, he stated that the Department has limited power as they are appointed on contract and the Minister may only appoint five Council members and the Council appoints a Chair. He stated that there was a societal responsibility to running a Council. Mr Qonde noted that Council then appointed a Vice Chancellor and executives whose responsibility was to manage the university affairs.

When the administrator leaves the university, there is no guarantee that the situation may not revert back but this depended on the quality of the people that were appointed.

Mr Qonde responded on the Central University of Technology stating that the Vice Chancellor acted unlawfully by disallowing the Administrator to assume and discharge his duties on the campus. The Department had to seek legal recourse. The judge said that the Minister had the right to appoint an administrator to take over the functions of Council and management. The Council was not successfully dissolved and that is why the Department appealed. However legal counsel indicated that an appeal by the Minister would be an academic exercise in light of the enactment of the Higher Education and Training Laws Amendment Act, No 23 of 2012.

Mr Qonde noted that the Minister had requested the findings of Central University of Technology’s independent investigation into allegations of staff abuse and the resultant demoralisation of the staff which had compromised the teaching and learning functions at the institution.

Mr Qonde referred to the Members’ question on the significant amount of funds been injected into Walter Sisulu University, saying that the Independent Assessor had advised that an amount of R3.10 billion was needed immediately to keep the institution going. R858 million was allocated for payments of salaries and creditors of this University. The WSU had now broken even financially and was functioning well.

On the conditions at the University of Zululand, he stated that the new university statute had been submitted for approval to the Minister and the current Council was being finalised. The current Administrator was relinquishing his post.

The DG noted that the Tshwane University of Technology was stable and functioning and the Vice Chancellor of the University and his team were competent.

He stated that when the Department administers any institution they put systems in place and performance management was one of these systems implemented.

The Chairperson asked if the Minister had the power to approve the administrator.

Mr Qonde replied that the Minister had the power to approve the administrator after following due process.

Ms P Whittle from the department stated that an amount of R16.7 million was made available for salaries and operational budgets to cover the five universities.

Mr Qonde responded to the question on the post administrative measures for universities stating that they had to report back at least twice a year on their performance.

In terms of their procurement procedures all the universities had to provide a list of all service providers to ensure that the measures undertaken were not undone. The Department also paid site visits to universities to inspect infrastructure service delivery.

He stated that the Department transferred funds from one central fund and the universities were compelled to allocate these funds to various different accounts, for example, infrastructure. These different funding streams were ring fenced. The Minister made funds available on condition of institutional accountability and if the conditions were not addressed, the Minister reduced the university’s funds.

Mr Qonde explained the R3.15 billion cash injection for the Walter Sisulu University: R2 billion was for infrastructure and maintenance costs; R859 million was to address the infrastructure backlog and R1.1 million was necessary for the demands of teaching and learning.

Mr de Villiers asked if there were any systems to ensure University Councils reported timeously.

Mr Qonde replied that such a policy existed within the ambit of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

Africa Institute of South Africa Act Repeal Bill [B6B-2013]: deliberations and adoption
The Chairperson stated that the Committee would read through each clause of this Section 75 Bill:

Clause 1 Definitions
The Committee unanimously agreed to this clause.

Clause 2 Disestablishment of Institute
The Committee unanimously agreed to this clause.

Clause 3 Transitional measures, savings and dissolution of Council of Institute
The Committee unanimously agreed to this clause.

Clause 4 Repeal of Act 68 of 2001
The Committee unanimously agreed to this clause.

Clause 5 Short title and commencement
The Committee unanimously agreed to this clause.

Mr M De Villiers (DA; Western Cape) then asked for some clarity from the state law adviser on whether this Bill was a Section 75 or Section 76 Bill.

Mr H Smuts, Principal State Law Adviser, replied that the State had considered the question and expressed the view that it was correctly tagged as a Section 75 Bill.

Mr L Sopela, Parliamentary Legal Adviser, agreed that the Bill was a Section 75 Bill.

The Chairperson asked the State Law Adviser if there were any other legal issues before the Committee voted on this Bill.

Mr Smuts replied no.

The Chairperson then proposed a mover for adoption of the Bill.

Mr W Faber (DA Northern Cape) moved for adoption of the Bill and it was seconded by Ms B Mncube (ANC Gauteng)

The five provinces present at the Select Committee all supported the motion and this Bill was then adopted unanimously by all the Members without any objections.

The Chairperson then signed the Committee Report on the Bill and adjourned the meeting.


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