Metcalfe appointed higher education DG

Mary Metcalfe, former Gauteng education minister and, until recently, Wits University’s head of education has been appointed director general in the Department of Higher Education and Training, the presidency announced on Thursday.

Also vying for the position was former Health Department director-general Thami Mseleku and University of KwaZulu-Natal pro-vice-chancellor Dasarath Chetty.

‘Yes, I’m excited [about the appointment] and I know that the challenges are huge, said Metcalfe, who refused to respond to further questions about her appointment, citing discomfort with the media.

Metcalfe left Wits last month under a cloud of controversy after staff and students protested against the appointment of new head of the Wits school of education, Ruksana Osman. They alleged that Metcalfe had been forced by university management to vacate the position, to make way for Osman, whom students labelled a ‘stooge.”

This came after Metcalfe surprisingly withdrew her application for a second term as the school’s head over what alleged discrepancies in the selection process, conducted in May this year.

Metcalfe will officially vacate the post in February 2010 when Osman takes over.

Sources close to Metcalfe said she had initially showed interest in a second term as the head of the Wits school but when ‘selection proceedings stalled, she decided to withdraw her application.”

In July Metcalfe told the Mail & Guardian that her decision to withdraw was strictly private, and that she wanted to focus on new challenges and opportunities.

Before joining Wits in 2005, Metcalfe served as the Gauteng minister of agriculture and land affairs and as deputy speaker in the legislature.

She was Gauteng’s first education minister between 1994 and 1999, earning respect for putting the province ahead of others in terms of policy implementation.

Last month, a daily newspaper speculated that Metcalfe was in line for the national government post.

Sources close to Metcalfe said she was initially brought to Wits despite lacking a PhD, partly because of her government contacts and because she helped the institution meet employment equity gender requirements.

Independent political analyst and academic professor Sakhela Buhlungu said Metcalfe’s appointment was a safe option for minister of higher education and training Blade Nzimande.

Buhlungu said their affiliation to the same political party suggested that Metcalfe would not challenge Nzimande’s decisions.

‘I would have thought that there was new blood out there with new and bright ideas. In my opinion [Metcalfe] is not up for it,” he said.

Buhlungu said that higher education field did not need recycled ideas and that Metcalfe’s appointment raised serious concerns.

‘She is a civil servant — but she is a politician as well. I think the higher education sector should be concerned,” he said.

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