Merger funding dries up

The education department will not provide merged universities with additional special funds to assist them with their progress.

This is according to Dr Molapo Qhobela, deputy director-general of higher education. He told higher learning that R3-billion was budgeted to support the restructuring process.
By March this year the funds had been used as intended.

‘Included in this amount was R800- million to recapitalise the balance sheets of qualifying institutions and R1.8-billion for direct costs of the merger, such as the integration of academic and administrative structures, improvement in overall information communication technology functionality as well as upgrading of facilities.”

He said that it is the intention of the department of higher education and training to ‘continue to invest in the higher education system to realise the objectives of enhancing access, equity and quality.

The total allocation to higher education for 2009-2010 is R19.3-billion, which is R4.1-billion (or 27%) more than for 2007-2008. ‘A significant amount of the increased investment is in targeted areas such as the national student financial aid scheme and improving infrastructure.”

The department’s refusal to provide merged institutions with more special funding signals a departure from the stance of the previous education minister, Naledi Pandor. She told higher learning in April that she had wanted to motivate for more funding for merged institutions.

She said then that government had not set aside enough money or time for the process. ‘I believe that the government has to rethink the fact that the funding for merger costs essentially comes to an end from this financial year and the new financial year assumes institutions don’t need additional resources. My argument is that they do,” Pandor said.

She emphasised the need for a ministerial committee or commission to look into the mergers and report on their efficacy.

Qhobela explained that there were no plans for a commission to review the mergers. ‘We haven’t looked at a holistic study. We are embarking on a process to capture the work we did in the five to seven years and will record it.” He also said there were no plans to de-merge any universities.

Last year there were calls in some ANC quarters to de-merge the University of Limpopo, a merger of the University of the North and the Medunsa campus, which is a distance away.

Qhobela said the education department had recently allocated R278- million to the University of Limpopo, of which R75-million had gone to the Medunsa campus in Garankuwa. ‘The funding will be used to appoint more staff and to provide a solid and strong academic platform.”

Meanwhile, an independent team (led by former University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Stuart Saunders) that assessed the progress of four merged institutions has warned that diploma qualifications must be protected.

The study focused on the University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal (UKZN), Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), University of Johannesburg (UJ), as well as the University of Fort Hare’s incorporation of the East London campus of Rhodes University.

Saunders said that comprehensive universities such as UJ and NMMU need to ensure that diploma qualifications are protected. Focusing on degree programmes will have serious consequences for the human- resource needs of the country.

‘Diploma programmes should not be replaced with degrees. The country needs people with diploma qualifications. Not everyone needs to be engineers. We need engineering technologists as well.” He said that while the mergers are ‘done and dusted”, ‘no merger is easy”.

While they brought together different cultures ‘real efforts” had been made to deal with cultural clashes. But there is still tension among staff. For example, former technikon staff believe that they are ‘viewed differently” by university staff.

Saunders says ‘the four institutions all managed to cope with the restructuring of the faculties. In the case of UKZN overlap of programme offerings was reduced: having one law faculty meant degrees were not being duplicated. One of the big problems is that UKZN and UJ are very large. They have different structures and only time will tell if this works.”

He says that at Fort Hare there was competition for resources among campuses. ‘One campus thought the other was getting more. But this was dealt with pretty well.”

Fort Hare needs to fund property acquisition in East London and to consolidate its campus. ‘Not enough has been done here.”

The multi-campuses at Fort Hare, UJ and UKZN have resulted in difficulties in moving students around. If they are on a campus on which the dean and administration staff are not based, there are delays in resolving problems.

‘Special consideration should be given to help multi-campuses. They need funding for shuttle buses to assist students,” says Saunders. Other outstanding issues for these four institutions include bringing staff on to the same salary scale. “The department of education did not give sufficient funds to achieve this.”

Saunders stresses that a major challenge is to encourage universities to differentiate themselves from each other. ‘Not all universities have to do the same thing.

Some will emphasise research to a greater extent. Some will do teaching and there is nothing wrong with that. ‘Not everybody should be looking to be doing ground-breaking research in nuclear science.”

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