/ 7 August 2023

Unisa has seven days to respond to allegations of mismanagement

Unisa To Probe Negligent Exam Markers
Minister of higher education Blade Nzimande has given Unisa’s council seven days to respond to a letter stating that he plans to place the university under administration.

Minister of higher education Blade Nzimande has given Unisa’s council seven days to respond to a letter stating that he plans to place the university under administration.

This comes after a raft of allegations of poor financial controls, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and mismanagement were raised in an independent report commissioned by the department.

The department said Nzimande had informed Unisa’s council chairperson, James Maboa, on 4 August 2023, of his intention to appoint an administrator to Unisa.

Nzimande intends to exercise his powers in terms of Section 49B of the Higher Education Act, 101 of 1997, to appoint an administrator, the department said.

“The Council of Unisa will be dissolved upon the appointment of an administrator. Minister Nzimande’s decision follows reports by an independent assessor, Professor Themba Mosia and the ministerial task team on Unisa, chaired by Vincent Maphai,” the department said.

“The task team conducted an independent review of Unisa’s ‘mission drift’ — which had massive implications for the financial sustainability and future of Unisa. It also made a rigorous assessment of how the fourth industrial revolution and its associative disruptions and shifts will affect many aspects of the academic mission, academic programmes, markets and operating model of Unisa,” the department said.

“The minister is satisfied that the independent assessor’s report reveals financial and other maladministration of a serious nature which affects the effective functioning of Unisa. The report reveals that the appointment of an administrator is in the best interest of Unisa and of higher education in an open and democratic society.”

Mosia’s 309-page report highlighted serious allegations of financial irregularities, including that vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula had violated procurement policy to expedite the implementation of the university’s laptop scheme and had approved exorbitant salary increases for her office staff.

“The allegation that the vice-chancellor approved the salary adjustment of staff in her office, from 2007 [15 years] amounting to R2.9 million is proven,” Moisa’s report said.

Moisa found that the violation of the procurement policy was “done without the approval of the appropriate structures and without consultation with the established staff representatives. Her explanation that this was an HR process rather than a procurement matter, sounds absurd”.

Included in the “pertinent findings” are:

  • Personnel cost as a percentage of total expenses is unacceptably high, and increasing.
  • The growth in subsidy income is declining.
  • The growth in tuition fees is erratic and declining.
  • Third stream income is low, almost negligible.
  • Impairment of student fees is too high.
  • An inability to manage infrastructure spending.

“If not addressed, the sustainability of the University is compromised by the above matters, and those that are highlighted elsewhere in this report.”     

The report also raised allegations of wasteful expenditure exceeding R3 million to refurbish the vice-chancellor’s official residence, which she is yet to move into.

“In addition, an unqualified audit for 2021 financial statements was issued, albeit six months after the deadline for submission of the annual report, there are a number of serious matters raised by the audit, as highlighted in this report,” Moisa said.

“I believe that the council is not exercising its fiduciary duty to ensure good practice at Unisa. I have heard a lot about ‘consequence management’ at Unisa and yet many reported audit findings and recommendations are ignored by management and council.

“Hence the option for full administration of Unisa where both council and management are relieved of their duties should be considered,” Moisa said in his report.

He also recommended that Unisa revise its student governance model, review the structure of the office of the registrar “with the sole intent of making it functional and efficient” and provide intensive training for the human resources department.

Nzimande has given Unisa an opportunity to make written representations to him within seven days of the receipt of his letter.

A spokesperson for Unisa’s Tommy Huma said management was meeting to discuss the letter today before it would comment on the matter. 

Unisa said in an earlier statement issued on 8 June that the university’s council had met to “conclude some outstanding matters of governance and oversight” and to respond to the allegations in the report. Then, on 30 June, Unisa announced that it had terminated the employment contract of its registrar, Professor Steward Mothata.

“Council looks forward to the response and guidance of Minister Nzimande and is committed to any further engagements with him should the need arise,” Unisa said.

Student Representative Council president Samukelisiwe Ndlovu said the national students representative council would be meeting tonight to discuss the impact of the announcement on students before issuing a statement.