Universities have taken steps such as deactivating their biometric systems to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Amid infrastructure backlogs, funding for students and governance issues, universities such as Fort Hare and the University of Zululand (UniZulu) are outperforming some of their better-resourced counterparts.
This was revealed recently in a presentation by the department of higher education and training in Parliament before the portfolio committee on higher education, science and technology.
The presentation focused on the completion rate of the 2013 cohort who should have completed their studies in 2017.
The report showed that the completion rate for students who started studying at Fort Hare in 2013 stood at 65.8% and 71.6% for UniZulu. This compared more favourably than the University of Pretoria and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where only 53% and 57.9% of students respectively completed their studies.
The presentation comes after the department had appeared before the committee in August giving a report about governance and infrastructure development at some universities.
But members were unhappy that the department did not give a report about all universities.
So, three weeks ago the department’s officials returned to Parliament to give a presentation about the status of all 26 universities including— among other matters — the institution’s financial health, completion rate, infrastructure delivery and governance.
The presentation revealed that all the universities rely on state subsidies to function, however, the levels of dependency vary. The two institutions that heavily rely on the state — and this is largely because they are the newest universities in the sector — are University of Mpumalanga and Sol Plaatje University, whose dependency on subsidies is 76% and 72.5% respectively. Both universities were established in 2014.
Even the previously white institutions, that are seen to be wealthy, still depend on state subsidies, albeit not to the same degree as historically disadvantaged universities. For example, the dependency of the University of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela University, Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria is about 30%, whereas it is only 21% for Wits.
The Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU), Central University of Technology (CUT) and the University of Western Cape’s dependency on state subsidies is in the region of 50%, and the rest of the institutions are closer to 40%.
The department revealed that infrastructure delivery was fair and good at most institutions, only flagging poor infrastructure delivery at SMU, Fort Hare, Vaal University of Technology (VUT), Tshwane University of Technology and University of Venda.
The department’s chief director for institutional governance and management support, Thandi Lewin, told MPs that the universities with good infrastructure projects had teams monitoring them, the supply chain was effective and the right people had been assigned to the relevant tasks.
She said at UniVen there were six incomplete buildings. These buildings include a 329-bed women’s residence, a 314-bed men’s residence, the school of health sciences building, the second phase of the new school of education building and a student centre. The buildings remain incomplete even though R133-million had been spent on them from a R188-million budget. The department raised poor performance and quality of contractors as a problem when it came to the incomplete buildings, but also said that it was supporting the university to complete the buildings.
According to the presentation, there are a few universities that have governance and maladministration problems. Apart from VUT and Fort Hare, which are under administration, the presentation revealed that the department was speaking to some universities about allegations relating to governance.These institutions include SMU, University of Limpopo (UL) and Unisa. The department pointed out that there are concerns about the stability of the executive management at Unisa. The department had approached Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT)to implement the findings of the independent assessor in order to restore governance at the institution. The university was investigated last year.
In its presentation to the committee in August, the department revealed that since 2000 there had been 11 independent assessors appointed at several universities as a result of poor governance and management. After the investigations by the independent assessors, seven universities had been placed under administration.
Two of the universities — namely MUT and VUT — had been the subject of investigations twice.
Other universities that have been the subject of investigations are the then University of Durban-Westville, CUT and UL, but they were never put under administration.
In 2012, CUT took the minister of higher education, Blade Nzimande, to court to challenge his decision to place the institution under administration.
The institution won the court case when Judge Johann Daffue set aside Nzimande’s intention.
The other institutions that were put under administration were TUT, UniZulu and Walter Sisulu University.