/ 1 March 2010

University for Mbombela

The province of Mpumalanga will get its own university, the ministry of higher education and training confirmed this week, but it did not want to commit itself to a deadline.

Premier of Mpumalanga David Mabuza announced last week in a speech at the opening of the provincial legislature that the national government has approved the establishment of an institution which is likely to have its main campus in the Mbombela municipal (Nelspruit) area.

He also hinted that the institution would provide medical training, as it would have links with an academic hospital in Mpumalanga.

Currently, the province does not have an academic hospital. However, Higher Learning learnt that a formal decision has not yet been taken by Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education and training, who still has to get a task team off the ground to investigate the details of the project.

According to the Higher Education Act, only the minister can establish a public higher-education institution.

Ranjeni Munusamy, spokesperson for the department of higher education and training said: ‘There is an in-principle commitment to the plan, but we are still exploring the type of institution, the form it should take, and its funding.”

She added that there ‘was great eagerness” in Mpumalanga to get the university off the ground, but the department could not say how long it would take before it was formally established.

Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape are the only provinces in South Africa without universities. Both provinces have higher education institutes, which assist students in those regions to access universities.

The idea of a university for Mpumalanga has been mooted over the years — going back to the premiership of Mathews Phosa. During the past two years it has gained renewed momentum, in particular during pre-election campaigning last year.

In July the board of the higher education institute in Mpumalanga met with Mabuza, who requested a feasibility study. The study found that a university for Mpumalanga was an attainable objective.

Some of the findings pointed to a need for an integration of existing campuses for higher education operating in the province, as well as taking over the activities of the nursing and agricultural colleges.

The Vaal University of Technology has a campus in Secunda and the Tshwane University of Technology has two campuses in the eMalahleni (Witbank) and Mbombela municipal areas.

The study did not include a financial analysis. At a subsequent imbizo at the end of last year where both Mabuza and Nzimande were present, Nzimande undertook to establish a task team consisting of members of the higher education institute, the council on higher education, which is a policy advisory body, and officials from his department.

However, by last week when the board of the institute met, it was not aware of progress on the matter.

Connie Mokadi, CEO of the Institute, said: ‘The national institute for higher education [in Mpumalanga] has been inundated with requests for information as to when a university would be established. The institute, however, is not mandated to proclaim on the matter as the custodian of it is the national ministry for higher education. It therefore looks like there is an urgent need for direction from the minister on this matter.”