/ 20 September 2023

Actually, Unisa is in good shape, says vice-chancellor

Puleng Lenkabula
Unisa vice-chancellor Puleng LenkaBula said on Tuesday that academic facilities at the distance learning institute were “intact and solid”. (Twitter/Unisa)

Unisa vice-chancellor Puleng LenkaBula said on Tuesday that academic facilities at the distance learning institute were “intact and solid”. 

Her statements, made at a press briefing, come amid reports about financial irregularities and a court battle between the university and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who wants Unisa to be placed under administration, which the institution is opposing.   

LenkaBula said there was “good work, especially academic work, happening at Unisa in spite of some of the challenges it is facing”. 

“One must also add that these challenges are not unique to Unisa, but are the same challenges faced by many, if not all, institutions of higher learning in South Africa.” 

While a custom audit by the Council on Higher Education (CHE) identified areas for improvement, it found that the university’s plans and contributions had recorded a “significant growth in its core functions and overall good practices,” said LenkaBula. 

The audit found the university was functional in 10 out of 16 standards. 

“The financial health and sustainability of the university remains very strong” and it had attained unqualified audits for five consecutive years from 2017 to 2021. 

Under the current leadership, Unisa’s reserves have grown from R9 billion to about R17 billion since 2021, LenkaBula said. 

The department commissioned an independent review of the university after allegations of mismanagement, poor financial controls and fruitless and wasteful expenditure. 

On 4 August, and following reports by an independent assessor, Professor Themba Mosia and the ministerial task team, chaired by Vincent Maphai, Nzimande informed the Unisa council chairperson of his intention to appoint an administrator. 

The 309-page report into the university highlighted allegations of financial irregularities, including that 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 Mail & Guardian reported in early August that a task team conducted an independent review of Unisa’s “mission drift” that 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 associated disruptions and shifts would affect many aspects of the academic mission, academic programmes, markets and operating model of Unisa. 

Nzimande gave Unisa seven days to respond to the allegations of mismanagement. 

LenkaBula said that while Unisa’s management cooperated during the review processes and respected the reports, “it differed with the findings of both reports that the institution was collapsing”. 

As for being placed under administration, LenkaBula said the matter “is currently the subject of a court process and that is where the university’s position will be ventilated”.