New era for Durban University of Technology

Widely respected academic Ahmed Bawa will be inaugurated as vice-chancellor and principal of the Durban University of Technology (DUT) this weekend in a move expected to bring an end to years of management dysfunction at the troubled university.

Bawa comes to DUT from the City University of New York, where he was professor of physics. Before that he was deputy vice-chancellor and principal of the Durban campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

Management meltdowns at DUT—the product of a merger between the Natal and ML Sultan technikons—have forced the national government to intervene twice in five years. Last year successive student upheavals led to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande appointing an independent assessor.
Four years earlier, the Mail & Guardian reported on then education minister Naledi Pandor’s appointment of an assessor after an investigation by her department found “allegations of high levels of fraud and corruption”.

The same investigation said the council—a university’s supreme governing body—was deeply divided and dysfunctional and should be dissolved. It also found that the university’s senior management—the vice-chancellor and his executive team—was extremely weak, partly because of council “interference in operational matters”.

But, signalling a turnaround, Pandor herself—now science and technology minister—will be the keynote speaker at Bawa’s inauguration as vice-chancellor.

New DUT council chairperson Jairam Reddy expects Bawa to usher in a new era for the university. Speaking to the M&G, Reddy said: “He is really a special person and well respected as a scholar both locally and internationally—hence our enthusiasm about the inauguration. It will not be a lavish affair—it will be an in-house, modest but meaningful series of events.”

‘World-class academic’
Academic freedom is prominent in the series of events planned this weekend to mark Bawa’s inauguration on Saturday. “The Status of Academic, Cultural and Artistic Freedom in South Africa” is the topic of one panel discussion, where distinguished academic Achille Mbembe and City Press editor-in-chief Ferial Haffajee are among the invited speakers.

Other panels will debate gender, social and economic rights, and Bawa himself will chair a discussion on science in the context of environmental degradation and climate change.

Originally from Seven Oaks near Greytown in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, Bawa’s CV shows a strong record in academic research and leadership. He holds an MSc degree from the former University of Durban-Westville (now part of UKZN) and a PhD from the University of Durham in the United Kingdom.

He is the author of more than 30 articles in high-profile academic journals and was formerly chairperson of the board of the National Research Foundation and a member of the National Advisory Council of Innovation.

“Bawa’s strategic vision as a scientist and educationist is focused on partnerships and collaborative efforts in academia and across sectors, geared towards expanding the university’s scope beyond South Africa’s borders,” the university said in a statement this week.

“He is indeed a distinguished world-class academic whose expertise has served the private, corporate and government sector, locally and internationally.”

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".   Read more from David Macfarlane

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