Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande wants the chairperson of the council of the embattled University of Zululand to tell him why he should not appoint an independent assessor to look into the institution’s affairs.
Nzimande told the chairperson, Cyril Gamede, that an assessment of the report by the vice-chancellor, Professor Xoliswa Mtose, as well as the academic enterprise that is threatened by alleged qualification fraud and changing students’ marks, and the developments playing out in the labour court and in the media suggests “the university is not functioning optimally”.
In a seven-page letter to Gamede, who is the chief executive of Umgeni Water, Nzimande said that since the academic project is also at risk, he had requested the Council on Higher Education (CHE) to conduct an institutional audit of Unizulu.
He expressed concern at a meeting with the council on November 13 last year that the establishment of a multidisciplinary task team meant to provide “post administration” support to Unizulu had not been set up.
The university had been previously placed under administration in 2011.
“One of the points raised by the administrator is that Unizulu was delicately poised between success and failure. I am concerned that the critical issues identified by the administrator have not been adequately addressed,” Nzimande stated in his letter, dated September 2.
He said he was particularly concerned about the slow progress on matters that affect the governance, management, student life and the academic enterprise of the institution. Among others, these included:
- The number of vacancies in academic and executive management positions;
- The lack of progress and outcomes of disciplinary hearings of a number of key executive members;
- The termination of the audit process for Unizulu by the Higher Education Quality Committee (HEQC) because the university was not in a position to make progress with respect to the audit recommendations;
- The vice-chancellor’s report being silent on how the university was addressing relationships between staff, students, management and unions to enable an institutional commitment towards good governance and sound administration; and
- The vice-chancellor’s report being silent on progress made on the revision of the staff housing policy and the transfer of state properties to the university.
According to Nzimande, there was also “a high level of dissatisfaction” in the CHE and the department about the delivery of the teacher education programme, which was affected by the high staff turnover in the education faculty.
He said his director general, Gwebinkundla Qonde, had sent a letter to Gamede in December 2014 highlighting the department’s concerns on teacher education and had offered to work with the university to develop and implement a plan to strengthen teacher education.
“The DHET [department of higher education and training] envisaged putting in place a strong support team to strengthen teacher education at the university. Despite two meetings with the vice-chancellor, nothing has come out of this offer.”
Nzimande was told that several programmes at the university had not yet been accredited because they still had to be cleared by the department’s programme and qualification mix committee and evaluated by the HEQC.
“I have noted with concern and disappointment the newspaper articles reporting on alleged financial irregularities and flouting of supply chain management processes committed by senior management of Unizulu,” his letter added.
“That the department was not apprised of these disturbing developments despite requesting council to keep the department informed is also a major concern.”
Nzimande said the majority of Unizulu students came from poor and working-class families, adding: “As an institution which has the responsibility to educate and nurture some of the most vulnerable students in our higher education system, it is of critical importance that the university’s academic enterprise and financial management is fully compliant with all legislation and regulations.”
Diane Parker, the deputy director-general for university education, said the department was awaiting a response from the council.
Asked whether the department would be appointing an independent assessor, she said: “The minister will apply his mind in terms of the response of the council as required by the Higher Education Act.”