Universities in firing line must explain to Nzimande

Under a cloud: An assessor has ordered the dissolution of the council of the Vaal University of Technology, but the action has been postponed until Minister Blade Nzimande has met with the institution. (Oupa Nkosi, MG)

Under a cloud: An assessor has ordered the dissolution of the council of the Vaal University of Technology, but the action has been postponed until Minister Blade Nzimande has met with the institution. (Oupa Nkosi, MG)

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has accepted urgent -recommendations to place two universities under administration as soon as he can. But he has given the two institutions an opportunity “to explain themselves” first.

The recommendations are made in separate assessors’ reports to Nzimande on the Central University of Technology in the Free State and the Vaal University of Technology in Gauteng.
Published in the Government Gazette last Friday, the reports say Nzimande should move fast and -dissolve the councils of both the -former technikons.

“The ministry accepts the assessor reports and recommendations,” Nzimande’s spokesperson, Vuyelwa Qinga, told the Mail & Guardian.

Nzimande has “requested that each council convene a meeting with him or his representative where they would be given an opportunity to explain themselves and respond to the reports and ?recommendations”, she said.

Before the curtain falls
Coming after prior communications between Nzimande and each council, these meetings will ?occur before the minister “makes his final decision” about appointing an administrator at either of the -former technikons, Qinga said.

University councils are the -highest governance bodies in all 23 public universities. A council appoints a university’s vice-chancellor, who is a member of the council and accountable to it.
But the two affected vice-chancellors, Irene Moutlana at the Vaal University and Thandwa Mthembu at the Central University, were this week digesting fates that ?would -differ radically should Nzimande proceed to implement the assessors’ recommendations.

The report said Moutlana should continue to manage the university until an administrator was appointed to take over the governance functions of the council.

Mthembu, by contrast, should be placed on “special leave” pending the fourth formal investigation in ?the past year into allegations of top-level mismanagement.

These treatments differ because the reports conclude that the management illnesses plaguing the two universities have different causes.

What went wrong?
At the Vaal University there was financial mismanagement -involving procurement practices and the council was implicated in these, assessor Muzi Sikhakhane found.

But the Central University’s -dysfunction derived from mismanagement and the abuse of power from both the council and the university’s executive management, according to assessor Julian Smith. The senior managers reported to Mthembu as the vice-chancellor.

Responding to the M&G’s questions, Vaal University spokesperson Eddie Mkhuchane said Moutlana’s management “welcomed the report ... It brings to an end a long period of uncertainty.”

The university’s “council is planning to have the meeting [Nzimande requested] in the next week”.

Central University spokesperson Dan Maritz said council members were still studying the assessor’s report “in preparation for an urgent formal meeting [with Nzimande], hopefully early next week”.

But “management has its own opinions on a number of -allegations, factual inaccuracies, -misrepresentations and misinterpretations that pervade the report”, he said.

“We are not certain which pieces of evidence were used, how they were analysed and triangulated and how the findings emanate from [the available] evidence.

“But it would be foolhardy for management to muddy the waters and comment substantively and prematurely on the report before the body of evidence has been received and council has exercised its function,” Maritz said.

Additional reporting by Bongani Nkosi

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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