DUT suspends academic activity

The deeply troubled Durban University of Technology (DUT) closed its doors, suspending all academic activities, on Wednesday at around noon.

“Difficulties experienced during the course of this morning [Wednesday] relating to acts of violence, vandalism and fears for the safety of staff and students” led to the closure, DUT acting vice-chancellor Nqabomzi Gawe announced.

DUT spokesperson Karishma Ganpath told Mail & Guardian Education she could not elaborate on what these acts of violence and vandalism were.

On Monday, DUT students led by the student representative council (SRC), disrupted lectures at both the ML Sultan Campus and the Steve Biko Campus, Ganpath said.

The protest was in support of 2 079 students who qualify for state financial assistance but have been unable to obtain this from the state’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

“Despite all attempts by both the SRC and the university to date for additional financial aid we have not had a positive outcome,” Ganpath said. “We still await a final response from NSFAS to a recent request.”

Gawe said in a statement this week that the SRC has demanded DUT provides from its own funds to cover the fees for these financially needy students.

This would amount to R35-million, Gawe said, but “the university does not have such funds available”. If DUT tried to meet this request from the SRC, doing so would “in the long run lead to the financial instability of the university.”

“We continue to make efforts to engage the department of higher education and training in this respect,” she said.

The closure on Wednesday follows months of upheaval at DUT, which has a volatile history of management and student instability dating from the 2001 merger between ML Sultan Technikon Technikon Natal that gave birth to DUT.

In 2006, then education minister Naledi Pandor intervened by appointing Chabani Manganyi, former vice-principal of the University of Pretoria, as independent assessor.

Manganyi’s report suggested deep-seated levels of management corruption, with some student involvement, and led Pandor to appoint Jonathan Jansen (now vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State) as DUT administrator in August 2006.

This — a legally sanctioned power of any education minister — involves suspending a university’s main governance bodies, the council and the senate, while an administrator attempts to restore sound management structures.

This appeared to have been achieved after Jansen’s period of administration led to the appointment of Roy du Pré as vice-chancellor in August 2007. Du Pre is respected in tertiary circles for his time as head of the former Committee of Technikon Principals and deputy vice-chancellor (academic) of the then Vaal Technikon (now Vaal University of Technology).

But Du Pré resigned suddenly in March this year, halfway through his five-year contract at DUT.

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