The vice in VC

Education Minister Naledi Pandor is to crack down on exorbitant salaries earned by vice-chancellors after they failed to regulate themselves.

Pandor announced this to the Mail & Guardian after her department released a shocking breakdown of salaries earned by vice-chancellors at South Africa’s 23 public universities, which totalled more than R40-million last year.

The data shows that some under-performing institutions, which rely heavily on state subsidies, pay more than those that rely on external funding and are top research producers.

Top of the pile is the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s (MUT) suspended vice-chancellor, Aaron Ndlovu, who received a R3,68-million package last year - making him South Africa’s highest-paid civil servant. Pandor earns R1,6-million.

Runner-up is Ihron Rensburg of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) with R2,77-million, followed by Unisa’s Barney Pityana (R2,63-million), the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Malegapuru Makgoba (R2,3-million) and Errol Tyobeka of Tshwane University of Technology (R1,93-million).

Unisa has 239 000 students and an income of R2,9-billion, of which R867-million came from the state.
Tshwane, by contrast, has a mere 50 000 students.
The university received an unflattering quality audit last year from the Council on Higher Education, revealing that some academics made money teaching short courses during lecture time.

The vice-chancellors’ packages, set by university councils, include pensions, housing and car allowances and bonuses.

Pandor said it was regrettable that “there is no coherent national framework for determining the remuneration of vice-chancellors and other university executive management staff”.

This was despite the fact that the proposals flowing from an investigation led by former University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Mamphela Ramphele in February 2006 “provided the basis for such a framework”.

She was referring to an independent study commissioned by vice-chancellors’ body Higher Education South Africa (Hesa), which outlined salary ranges and guidelines. Hesa rejected its findings on the grounds that it ignored factors such as the size and external revenue of institutions. Hesa produced further guidelines, which appear to have been largely ignored.

Pandor said she had discussed the matter with the chairs of university councils, hoping the sector would adopt a policy framework. She said: “In the absence of self-regulation ... I have no option but to produce a framework policy. This is long overdue ... in terms of public accountability.”

She said pay should be commensurate with responsibilities and linked to clear performance criteria.

Ndlovu’s R3,68-million package, yet to be audited by the university’s council, was for running a campus with 9 800 students. MUT had expenses of R257-million last year and revenue of R253-million, R115-million of which came from the state. MUT is South Africa’s worst research producer and Ndlovu is under investigation after being forced to take leave a month ago.

UJ’s Rensburg, who has no record of academic publications, heads a financially stable merged university with 42 000 students, which received just R700-million in state subsidies last year. But it falls in the second tier of research-producing universities. This year it paid staff an 8,3% increase, and was hit last year by student protests over fee increases of up to 13,5% for 2008. Rensburg is to move into a new university-owned house, the value of which is more than R5-million.

Roy Marcus, chairperson of UJ’s council, said that the university merger had been successful, despite its complexity. A comparison of salaries between the vice-chancellors of different universities was a “futile” exercise, he added. “Salary scales for senior executives are based on a benchmarking survey conducted by a professional remuneration consulting organisation on behalf of the university.

“Every executive’s salary is also linked to a fully integrated performance management process, which is based on the respective executives achieving their set targets each year.”

The packages of the heads of four of the biggest research-producing universities for 2007 - Wits, Pretoria, Stellenbosch and UCT - are, by contrast, relatively low.

For example, Loyiso Nongxa of Wits University, with 25 000 students and revenue of R2-billion, R621-million in state subsidies, earned R1,6-million, while the University of Pretoria’s Calie Pistorius earned R1,55-million.

Seasoned vice-chancellor Derrick Swartz, financial saviour of the University of Fort Hare, was the lowest-paid vice-chancellor with R950 000.

The education department’s data also shows that Irene Moutlana, who headed Vaal University of Technology last year, received a R1,4-million package - 32% more than her predecessor, Roy du Pré, in 2006. University of Limpopo vice-chancellor Mahlo Mokgalong earned R1,7-million in 2007 - even though the university was beset with financial problems.

Rolf Stumpf, former Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University vice-chancellor and education consultant, welcomed the move towards a “more collective set of guidelines to inform decisions of council on remuneration practices. Such a set of guidelines would support greater levels of consistency in higher education.”

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