/ 6 October 2023

High court stops Blade Nzimande from placing Unisa under administration

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande

The Pretoria high court has ordered Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande to withdraw his notice of intention to place the University of South Africa (Unisa) under administration.

Judge Harshila Kooverjie ruled that Nzimande’s notice of intention was “in breach” and ordered that he immediately stop any steps to publish and implement the notice or to take any decision of whatever nature to implement the notice.

“The minister is interdicted from taking any action in respect of his notice and he is ordered to pay the cost of the applicant on an attorney and client scale,” Kooverjie said.  

In August Nzimande gave Unisa’s council seven days to respond to a letter stating that he planned to place the distance learning institution under administration. This was after reports by independent assessor Professor Themba Mosia and a ministerial task team chaired by Dr Vincent Maphai flagged poor financial controls, fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and mismanagement.

A statement from the higher education department on Thursday said the minister had delayed making his decision on mutual agreement, giving the council an extension to 4 September to respond. 

“The minister awaited the response of the Unisa council and nothing of substance happened more than a month, instead the council is going about its business as if there is no pending decision to be taken,” the statement said. “As a result the minister cannot wait indefinitely without taking a decision.”

The representative for higher education for the Democratic Alliance, Chantel King, said she believed Unisa should be placed under administration.

“Because of the challenges they are facing, they should be placed under administration for a period of two years, so they can be able to find the suitable people to manage the affairs of the institution,” King told the Mail & Guardian.

The standing of the qualifications offered by Unisa has come under scrutiny in recent years. Last year, in the wake of media reports on the status of Unisa programmes, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) issued a statement confirming that it had not withdrawn its accreditation of the university.

But the SAICA said it had during a recent visit to Unisa identified areas of improvement for which the university had already submitted a plan to address the matters raised.

“Institutions of higher learning have previously been in a similar position and have successfully implemented the relevant remedies,” it tadded.