/ 18 December 2019

Management live it up as Fort Hare University struggles

The University of Fort Hare.
The University of Fort Hare.



An assessor’s report into the affairs of the University of Fort Hare has revealed how some people use the institution as a “cash cow”, while students have inadequate learning facilities and also stay in dilapidated student residences.

“There are disturbing signs of a widespread belief that the university is a kind of cash cow which everyone is entitled to milk for personal benefit. The problem is not only that this may happen outside of rules and policies. The problem is also that some of the rules and policies are quite generous in distributing university largesse,” reads the report, which was gazetted by Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande last week.

In July, Nzimande appointed Professors Chris Brink and Louis Molamu as independent assessors at the institution; and their mandate was to investigate governance issues which led to former minister Naledi Pandor appointing former Wits University vice-chancellor Professor Loyiso Nongxa as an administrator. This was after the former council had removed vice-chancellor Professor Sakhela Buhlungu in a meeting that did not meet the quorum. Nongxa now runs the functions of the council.

Brink and Molamu also had to investigate policies and procedures pertaining to financial management, supply chain management and any specific allegations of financial irregularity, and administrative issues — among other things.

Some of the things the report flagged as problematic, particularly for a university that is facing financial challenges, included how senior staff — starting from deans — are supplied with fully-serviced car with unlimited fuel to move between the Alice and East London campuses. The report said in principle it made sense that senior staff was provided with cars as they would end up claiming for mileage if they used their cars for work purposes.

But it then said: “For a university with such financial challenges as UFH, it seems very generous to allow senior staff to use university-purchased cars for private purposes, with no limit on use and all expenses paid. We were given a list of 19 vehicles assigned to senior staff in this manner, including 5 Mercedes Benzes and a Jaguar.”

The report also said students spoke about “long-term frustrations” of poor teaching facilities and inadequate accommodation both in East London and in Alice.

“Some of what we saw is shocking … In the residences we saw students living four to a room meant for two, with two of them sleeping on mattresses on the floor, in old prefab buildings. This takes place under university auspices, with the students paying full fees for accommodation.”

The report revealed that there are more students than its facilities can cope with, and this leads to students having to sit on the floor or in the aisles of a lecture room — because the chairs are broken or the lecturer halls are overcrowded.

The report also said that the Alice and East London campuses are in a state of decay and have been neglected.

“The campus is littered with old and broken pieces of furniture [chairs, beds, mattresses] which have clearly been standing or lying around gathering dust for years. Nobody seems to care, or to do anything about it,” reads the report.

“Particularly in Alice, there is litter all over campus, but no rubbish bins. In East London, where many students walk quite a long distance to lectures, there is exactly one outside tap where students can drink water, otherwise they have to source drinking water in the 15 toilets.”

Some of the recommendations made in the report include that after Nongxa’s term has ended as an administrator, the university must be subject to increased and regular scrutiny by the department of higher education for a further period of three years — if necessary.

It also called for Nzimande to consider recruiting and appointing a new chair of council through the department, instead of that person being elected by the new council members from amongst themselves.