An administrator has been appointed for the embattled Walter Sisulu University (WSU) in the Eastern Cape, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Wednesday.
He is professor Lourens van Staden, currently Tshwane University deputy vice-chancellor for teaching, learning, and technology.
Nzimande said Van Staden was a distinguished academic with over 27 years experience in higher education, who had successfully managed such turnarounds before.
He assumed duties as WSU administrator on Monday, the minister told reporters at Parliament.
He said the administrator’s terms of reference included taking over the authority of the WSU council for an initial period not exceeding 24 months.
He would take over the university’s management and steer the institution back to operational and financial viability.
This would include strengthening structures, systems, and policies to ensure good governance and restore the academic integrity of the university.
Van Staden would carry out a forensic audit of the institution to identify any corrupt practices, if any.
If necessary, he would take appropriate action within the prescripts of the law.
Van Staden would initiate the appointment of a new WSU council, and draft and submit to the minister a new statute for the university.
Nzimande said the university was “technically bankrupt” but could be rescued, and had to be rescued anyway.
The university itself agreed to be placed under administration and was cooperating fully, he said.
The department’s director general Gwebinkundla Qonde said the institution’s staff would continue to receive their salaries and benefits despite the financial problems.
Funds were available, including bank loans, provided a competent administrator was appointed to turn the university around.
WSU has about 2 300 staff members and a salary bill of some R68-million, he said.
Nzimande said the department had over the past few years been alerting WSU about its deteriorating financial position and impending financial crisis.
The department became aware of WSU’s inability to cope financially in meeting its operational obligations in 2010.
The department’s assessment in April 2011 revealed a litany of problems relating to poor financial management, poor human resources practices, inadequate/weak information technology systems, and poor governance.
By June 2011, the university had run out of funds to pay salaries and used its earmarked infrastructure grant to pay salaries without requesting approval from the department.
After meeting with the WSU council on July 12, Nzimande appointed an independent assessor.
The assessor’s report highlighted serious problems regarding the governance and financial management of WSU which was undermining the institution’s effective functioning.
After careful consideration Van Staden had been appointed administrator for WSU in terms of the Higher Education Act, Nzimande said. — Sapa