Merger headaches

Four years into university mergers, students and staff are still grappling with problems such as transportation between campuses, mistrust, downgrading and freezing of posts, and ‘neglect” of township-based campuses.

Students at the University of Limpopo’s Medunsa campus told higher learning that the university is believed to be experiencing a financial crisis: cars are allegedly not being repaired at Medunsa and security staff do not have uniforms.

There are also complaints that the Student Representative Council (SRC) does not have a budget. The university declined to comment on these issues.

Management remains centralised at the Turfloop campus in Limpopo and student complaints are ‘unceremoniously shoved off” as irrelevant, according to one student.

A Medunsa campus SRC member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that students had requested meetings with the former education minister, Naledi Pandor, to discuss problems, but nothing was forthcoming. He said students remain interdicted from holding protest marches on or around the campuses.

‘This defeats the entire purpose of having an SRC if students cannot exercise their rights.” However, Thapelo Sambo, the National Education and Health Workers’ Union (Nehawu) Medunsa branch chairperson, said when the merger took effect some staff members’ posts had to be downgraded to achieve equality of status.

He said most vacant posts were still frozen. ‘No one is giving staff correct information [about the filling of posts] and this has resulted in many of them being afraid and sceptical of the merger,” said Sambo.

Meanwhile, Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) central SRC president, Lincoln Morgan, said distances between the campuses of the former Technikon North West, Pretoria Technikon and Technikon Northern Gauteng were ‘a huge impediment” to academic progress as it was making it difficult for students to attend lectures. ‘We have problems with accommodation and transportation [because of the] relocation of faculties,” Morgan said.

TUT comprises nine campuses in four provinces and more than 40 000 students. ‘TUT has entered into public partnerships in an effort to raise funds and to bring about the much-needed transformation at the university and to provide equitable facilities across all campuses,” said TUT spokesperson Willa de Ruyter.

Meanwhile, a staff member of a Gauteng-merged university complained that white staff from the former technikon were clinging on to old traditions. There was an agreement that the merged institution would use the internationally known graduation anthem Gaudeamus igitur, but the old Afrikaans song which was sung at the technikon is still being used.

‘We don’t know what this technikon song represents. It has alienated blacks as they tend not to attend graduation ceremonies.”

At Unisa, Nehawu is the only recognised union on the campus. Staff are concerned that the others, including the National Union of Tertiary Employees of South Africa and Solidarity, are not recognised by the university. Jaco Kleynhans of Solidarity says only 26% of Unisa staff are represented by Nehawu and the rest don’t have a say.

Solidarity is taking legal action against Unisa. Unisa spokesperson Doreen Gough said: ‘The Academic and Professional Staff Association has had discussions with management. So far there is no official outcome. Some staff also belong to Solidarity, but I am not sure of the percentage since they are not officially recognised and therefore statistics are not available.”

At Durban University of Technology (DUT), a merger between ML Sultan Technikon and Natal Technikon, staff complain that ‘ML Sultan took over Natal [Technikon]. There is huge staff unhappiness. ML Sultan staff rule. Things are done their way, even if it is not best practice.

There is nepotism and the university is losing staff to other universities and to industry. Vice-Chancellor Roy du Pré is aware of the problems and is trying to sort them out.

Nomonde Mbadi, the executive director of corporate affairs at Durban University of Technology, said: ‘Like all other mergers in this country and elsewhere in the world, DUT experienced a number of challenges in the period immediately after the merger. ‘The merger process is a distant memory — with the focus now being on establishing DUT as a university of technology. Even though merger processes take many years to unfold, we are not aware of any mergerrelated issues that have not been attended to or resolved.”

A ministerial task team investigation into North West University last year found that white students on the Potchefstroom campus view black students as guests, not equals.

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