VUT’s troubles further exposed

The Vaal University of Technology (VUT) is in a dire-situation and requires an emergency response, before it crashes financially and academically. (Oupa Nkosi)

The Vaal University of Technology (VUT) is in a dire-situation and requires an emergency response, before it crashes financially and academically. (Oupa Nkosi)

The Vaal University of Technology (VUT) is in a dire-situation and requires an emergency response, before it crashes financially and academically.

This is what VUT’s administrator Professor Ihron Rensburg told staff and students at two imbizos that he called last week to address them about the state of the university.

The Mail & Guardian has seen the speech that Rensburg made at the imbizos.

The former vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, Rensburg was appointed by the minister of higher education, science and technology, Blade Nzimande, as an administrator at VUT in August.

This was after independent assessors, Professors Barney Pityana and Rocky Ralebipi-Simela — who were appointed by former minister of higher education Naledi Pandor in May to investigate the affairs of VUT — provided Nzimande with an interim report which advised him to appoint an administrator.

Last week, the M&G reported that Nzimande is expected to receive the final report from the assessors at the end of October.

In his address, Rensburg mentioned that it was worrying that in two decades the university has been under administration three times. He said this showed the “deep-seated, multiple and unresolved troubles”.

In his assessment of the institution since he took over two months ago, Rensburg said he had found an institution that is run by factions, with no decision making authority, lack of accountability and a university whose student success rates are declining and is no longer the first choice of study for prospective students.

“It is deeply faction-ridden, and this has enabled rogues to capture and to paralyse procurement, infrastructure projects and staff appointments…Decision-making had collapsed and executive decision-making had been deferred upwards, and into the confusing maze of decision-making structures,” he said, adding that despite management holding meetings regularly decisions were not implemented or followed through.

Rensburg also said recruitment processes were not followed at the institution and that some people were hired informally.

“Moreover there are reported instances of people being hired in exchange for sexual favours,” he said.

He also pointed to the shocking state of student residences, which he said where in a “atrocious state” because they were not being maintained and “as a result, residence are neither learning nor living communities and environment for students”.

He also spoke about the dire financial state of the university and that it was operating without proper financial management — and that there was no financial planning for sustainability. He said that as a result of this, the university management approved salary increases for 2019 without knowing where the money would come from and that the decision has now triggered a deep cash flow and financial crisis. And that this has led to critical academic, professional and support staff vacant posts being frozen “causing debilitating institutional paralysis”.

“We are in an emergency and this requires an emergency response. If the institution crashes, financially and academically, what happens to our students, and to our economy. And what will happen to our staff? We must now come to our senses and wake from this two-decades long bad dream. We have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and put our shoulders to the wheel if we are going to turn this dire situation around,” said Rensburg.

He also outlined the steps he has taken so far to try and turn things around at VUT, and these include improving student access through implementing and early warning and tracking system, rehabilitation of student residences, reviewing and phasing out non-feasible academic programmes, insourcing of protection services staff over the next five years, giving staff who have been on contract for more than one year three year contracts.

The university will also start a process of filling three deputy vice-chancellor vacancies and it hopes they will be filled by January next year. And the vacant posts of chief finance officer and director of student housing and accommodation are expected to be filled by December.

Last week, the M&G reported that former vice-chancellor of VUT, Professor Gordon Zide resigned in July after serving two of the five years of his contract.

READ MORE: VUT vice-chancellor retires early

In his resignation letter, Zide bemoaned how council failed to assist him in leading the university and in taking important decisions such as filling vacant posts and dealing with the institution’s bad financial situation and high levels of corruption. He also alleged there were death threats against him.

He also said he was leaving before the end of his contract because what was happening at the institution was also taking a toll on his health and that he was burnt out, his blood pressure was high and his sugar levels had not been stable.

In the story, the M&G also revealed how the bad state of VUT was laid bare in August at Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology, in a presentation by Parker — the deputy director at the department of higher education, science and technology.

She said the department had received a lengthy list of allegations from the university community.

These included: Improper relations between Zide and certain officials; financial mismanagement and corruption relating to infrastructure projects; the council chairperson’s involvement in operational matters; the existence of groups planning to overthrow Zide; the existence of a group called the “Zide defence force”; and Zide receiving death threats for the stance that he took in addressing corruption.

Bongekile Macupe

Bongekile Macupe

Bongekile Macupe is the education reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She is an award-winning journalist who has extensively covered both basic and higher education in South Africa. Her coverage includes #FeesMustFall, the case of Michael Komape and education in rural areas.  Read more from Bongekile Macupe

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