No progress on UniZulu assessment

2017-07-23 06:04
Despite interventions to deal with problems at the university, there have been repeated allegations of maladministration and mismanagement. Picture: Gallo Images

Despite interventions to deal with problems at the university, there have been repeated allegations of maladministration and mismanagement. Picture: Gallo Images

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Almost a year after he advised the troubled University of Zululand (UniZulu) council of his intentions to intervene and restore proper governance, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has still not appointed an independent assessor to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement at the institution.

Since 2010, the university has been dogged by repeated allegations of maladministration and mismanagement, despite two interventions meant to help deal with the problems.

Most of the students who attend UniZulu come from low-income backgrounds,

The delay in appointing an assessor has left Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education wondering why the institution’s council was not being held responsible for its administrative troubles. The committee had referred the matter to the minister.

City Press learnt this week that Nzimande has not acted on the matter. This is despite having received a response from the university’s council to a letter he sent in September, in which he asked the council to inform him why an independent assessor should not be appointed to scrutinise the institution.

The department previously intervened in 2010 and 2011 with the appointments of independent assessors, Professor Hugh Africa and later Professor Chris de Beer, to administer the university.

At the time, Nzimande announced that he had appointed De Beer to disband and set up a new council, restore proper governance and administration, and initiate and conclude a forensic investigation into allegations of maladministration.

Allegations of sexual abuse of female students at the hands of senior academics at the institution also surfaced this year.

A female student involved in the only case that has been reported to police was allegedly raped three times in separate incidents within two years.

The latest incident allegedly happened on campus and was witnessed by another academic, who has since resigned in what his lawyer claimed was a decision made in fear for the safety of his family.

“Culture of sexual abuses”

UniZulu has no approved policy on sexual misconduct – only a code of conduct – a situation that a source said had created a “culture of sexual abuses” and had sparked allegations of sex for marks.

Sibongile Maputi, a parliamentary spokesperson, said the committee on higher education was on record in condemning violence against women at tertiary institutions. The committee also planned to ask institutions of higher learning and training to take sexual abuse cases seriously, and to thoroughly investigate them.

“The committee will therefore expect a report on steps taken to investigate, and will ask that the university council be held accountable as well as ensure that relevant policies are put in place.”

Maputi said the portfolio committee was concerned that there seemed to be continuing governance challenges at the university, despite previous interventions.

“The committee asked that minister look into this matter,” he said.

Maputi said that, following De Beer’s appointment in 2011, the committee conducted an oversight visit to assess whether progress had been made to get the university fully functional. During the visit, the committee observed that there was still a significant amount of work to be done to get the institution up and running.

Higher education spokesperson Madikwe Mabotha said Nzimande was still reviewing the UniZulu council’s responses to his letter.

Nzimande had also announced that he had asked the Council on Higher Education, a quality assurance body, to conduct an institutional audit at UniZulu.

He was still waiting for the outcome of the audit, Mabotha said.

“The previous [De Beer’s] administration did not fail. However, the transition from that period was in the hands of the new council. The minister acted in terms of the Higher Education Act.”

He said that, following the post-administration period, the minister was made aware of “old allegations”. He said new allegations of financial mismanagement had also been made against the current council and management.

“The act has been amended to enable the minister to better oversee the transition phase from an administration to a new council,” Mabotha said.

UniZulu spokesperson Gcina Nhleko-Mdluli confirmed that the university did not have a sexual offences policy.

“The university has a code of conduct that clearly outlines the model of behaviour for all university employees. A code of ethics, which is a set of principles that involves systematising, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct, is also in place. A sexual harassment policy is in the draft phase awaiting approval.”

Nhleko-Mdluli would not comment on allegations of sex for marks. She said sexual harassment was not part of university culture, but that it was a societal problem in the country.

Professor Narend Baijnath, the chief executive of the Council on Higher Education, said the institutional audit of the university was still under way and reports were currently being written.

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