The University of South Africa (Unisa) has slammed Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande for placing the institution under administration, saying it is illegal, insensitive and ill-timed.
On Saturday, Nzimande announced that former University of Johannesburg Vice-Chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg has assumed the role of Unisa administrator for two years starting from October 27.
Nzimande also announced that he had dissolved the university’s council.
“In making his decision to both dissolve Council and appoint the administrator, Minister Nzimande has carefully considered the findings and recommendations of the Independent Assessor (IA) report by Professor Themba Mosia, the responses from the Council and other stakeholders, as well as the government’s responsibilities in protecting public interests in the governance and management of Unisa,” said a spokesperson for the higher education department, Ishmael Mnisi.
Unisa spokesperson Tommy Huma said while they have noted Nzimande’s announcement, they found it premature.
“The university remains firm on the view that the minister’s announcement is premature and in contempt of the Court Order of 06 October 2023 by Justice Kooverjie, which interdicted him from placing the university under administration.
“The same Order reaffirms the earlier Order of Justice Adams of 24 August 2023, which ordered the minister not to take any decision pending the finalization of the interdict application by Unisa and the Minister’s undertaking not to take any decision until the application to review and set aside the Independent Assessor’s report would have been heard. This matter has not been finalized and is still before the court,” said Huma.
He said Nzimande’s timing was also off, considering that students were in the middle of the examinations.
“This is ill-timed and insensitive. Indeed, an anti-climax to the fact that the University has just graduated more than 50 thousand graduates with six ceremonies still to take place in this year. It must be made clear that the university is not fighting the minister and the responsibilities that he has; however, the university is also of the view that all citizens need to be guided by the prescripts of the law of the country,” said Huma.
Early this month, Unisa’s principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Puleng LenkaBula, said she acknowledged two reports that led to Nzimande’s decision to place the institution under administration.
Nzimande’s decision was based on a ministerial task team (MTT) report and an Independent Assessor’s report by University of Pretoria Professor Themba Mosia.
The primary purpose of the task team was to investigate the blockages that prevent effective recruitment, retention, and progression of South African black academics at universities in the country.
It also sought to assess the effectiveness of initiatives developed to address these and to make recommendations to Ndzimande and the department on how these blockages can be decisively addressed.
Mosia’s report said Unisa’s Council failed to ensure stability, strategic direction, financial compliance, and a positive public image of the university.
He added that the problems at Unisa “have been left for too long to metastasize to a point where all sections of the university are affected in one way or another.”
“Council has not exercised the duty of care by taking the public in its confidence to be faithful and honest in the execution of the mandate to govern the university and ensuring an efficient utilization of university resources and the integrity of the academic environment.
However, LenkaBula and Unisa rejected Mosia’s reports.
“We reiterate the university’s stance on the Independent Assessor’s Report and its predecessor, the MTT Report. While the university cooperated with both processes and respected the reports, we differ with the findings of both reports that the institution was collapsing.
“However, due to the issues pertaining to the Independent Assessor’s report and the minister’s notice to place the university under administration being sub judice, the university has adopted an official position of not dealing with these issues in the public domain,” LenkaBula said.
The vice chancellor said Unisa is a national asset that deserves to be protected because it was on track towards fulfilling its missional mandate of becoming a Comprehensive, Open Distance and eLearning (CODeL) institution that produces excellent scholarship and research.
She said they also enroll over 350,000 students annually, accommodating over a third of students in the country’s higher education system and 90% of the distance learning component.
Unisa is frequently subjected to a review process undertaken by the Council on Higher Education (CHE), which compels institutions of higher learning to comply with a set of criteria, which she cited as one of the benefits she mentioned.
The last review conducted by the CHE on Unisa found that the university’s plans and contributions have recorded significant growth in its core functions and overall good practices, said LenkaBula.
LenkaBula said Unisa has qualified and accredited academic staff, with 60% of its 1823 permanent academic staff being PhD holders.