Only Blunders and Frustrations: 10 Years After the University Mergers

2013-05-01 08:38

We are within the period of 10 years since the  great merger of South Africa's universities and technikons. One of the first mergers happened in 2002 when Technikon Natal merged with ML Sultan Technikon to form Durban Institute of Technology which is now called Durban University of Technology. Others mergers followed in 2003 to 2005. But the question to ask after this 10 year period is: has the quality of education improved? Has the legacy of apartheid dealt with as this was one of the reasons for the mergers?

Looking at the situation comprehensively almost all the merged universities and technikons had become worse with unclear incoherent strategic thrusts. They have fallen short, deficient and fundamentally flawed: limited in their ability to meet the moral, social and economic demands of the new South Africa.

I was actively involved in the merging of three technikons in Pretoria (Tshwane) area to form Tshwane University of Technology. Tshwane University of Technology is the results of the merging of Technikon North-West in Ga - Rankua, Technikon Northern Gauteng in Soshanguve and Pretoria Technikon that was operating in the city centre. The administration of Tshwane University of Technology is based at the former Pretoria Technikon, which is reasonable considering that this was the former previously white institution with all the resources it had.

Before the merger each of these institutions had established endemic brands that was unique and distinctive and serving their markets fairly well. There were problems but these were not chronic as they were contained. On this case I can speak about Technikon Northern Gauteng since I was working for it before we merged. Technikon Northern Gauteng had a unique leverage in working closely the most impoverish communities - turning rough stones into sparkling diamonds. The Technikon will take students from the vast rural villages in the country and develop wide ranging diverse foundational programmes to built them up. Most of these students would have withered away into the outskirts and doldrums of mainstream life. The institution was positioned up and down to unleash the power of ordinary simple people.

Now with the merger and the formation of Tshwane University of Technology you have a mega ineffective multi-campus behemoth that is plagued with surmountable problems and lacks the spark to serve the country in a better focused manner. These multi-campuses lack learning sparks and authority, because the management and administration is centralized and stationed another campus. Students are not able to rub shoulders with the top management on the pavements and corridors of the campus as these are located at a main campus. So there is an alienation and disconnection. Top management sometimes lacks understanding of the problems from the impoverished campuses. The learn about problems not from practical on the ground experience but through reports from low level administrative campus directors.

In 2003 I attended Africa-wide conference under the theme of decentralization of education where the current Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Bonginkosi Emmanuel "Blade" Nzimande also participated. In that conference the Minister spoke powerfully about empowering local communities by decentralizing authority and power of educational institutions to the local level. This is what is needed currently.


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