Varsities must come clean over 'stashed' cash, MPs hear

2016-02-16 15:03
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Cape Town - Universities should come clean about how much money they have got stashed away, the Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) said in public hearings in Parliament on Tuesday.

During a presentation to Parliament's higher education committee on the Higher Education Amendment Bill, HETN chairperson Dr Ingrid Tufvesson said the organisation backed giving the minister of higher education much needed powers to intervene in some of the functions of universities, such as transformation or unfair treatment.

Universities had had years to "get their act together" on transformation and were also secretive about the amount of money they had, much of it carried over from the apartheid era.

They cherry-picked research and recommendations on transformation to the extent that in 2013, of the 2 174 full professors and 1 860 associate professors, only 303 were black.

Of the black professors, 43 were women.

Financially, there were sometimes unexplained transfers of money and no detail over who the shareholders were in spin-off companies that the universities own, and few details on how their money was invested.

According to a document provided by HETN, universities hold billions in reserves carried over from the apartheid era.

This should be declared back to the national fiscus and used to fund the annual allocations of the state and the entry of poor students into the systems through the recapitalisation of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

Retained profits

It is currently possible for universities to redirect public funds to private subsidiaries with no oversight, she said.

Retained profits in reserves and investments are according to HETN: 
- R3.7bn in investments for the University of Cape Town, and R6.1bn in reserves;
- R10m in reserves at the University of Johannesburg;
- Over R45bn in investments and R9bn in reserves at the University of Pretoria;
- R7.9bn in investments at the University of Stellenbosch;
- R3.3bn in reserves at the University of the Free State;
- R1.7bn in investments at the University of Witwatersrand.

She complained that former University of North West Vice Chancellor Theunis Botha was not reprimanded for transferring R10m to a private company and the managers paying themselves a salary from it.

She said authorisation for the transfer was made retrospectively.

UCT Vice Chancellor Max Price and the SA Parastatal and Tertiary Institutions Union preferred a more arms-length approach by a government minister, worrying about the possibility of political ideology interfering in their functioning.

They preferred disputes to be resolved through the law.

They were concerned that issues that the minister could intervene in - such as disputes over fairness, and transformation - had not been properly defined in the proposed amendment, leaving it open to potential abuse.

Read more on:    education  |  parliament 2016

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