The state of governance at universities in South Africa has become a topic of increasing concern. Numerous issues and challenges have emerged, prompting stakeholders to question the effectiveness and transparency of university governance systems across the country.
One primary area of concern is the lack of accountability and transparency in decision-making processes. There have been instances where key decisions, such as the appointment of senior administrators or the allocation of resources, have been made without proper consultation or consideration of diverse perspectives. This has led to allegations of favoritism, nepotism, and a lack of inclusivity in the governance structures.
Another issue is the perceived influence of external actors on university governance. Some critics argue that political interference and pressure from external interest groups have compromised the autonomy and independence of universities. This interference has raised concerns about the integrity of academic freedom, research integrity, and the ability of institutions to uphold their core values.
Financial mismanagement is also a pressing concern. Reports of misappropriation of funds, irregularities in procurement processes, and inadequate financial controls have raised questions about the financial sustainability and responsible stewardship of university resources. These issues not only undermine the credibility of the institutions but also have a direct impact on the quality of education and research.
Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the lack of representation and inclusion in university governance structures. There is a need to ensure that diverse voices, including those of students, faculty, staff, and local communities, are adequately represented in decision-making processes. This requires proactive efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the governance frameworks.
In response to these concerns, there is a growing demand for greater transparency, accountability, and participation in university governance. Various stakeholders, including student organizations, faculty associations, and civil society groups, have called for reforms that promote democratic decision-making, ethical leadership, and the active involvement of all relevant stakeholders.
Addressing the challenges faced by South African universities’ governance will require a multifaceted approach. It will involve strengthening internal governance mechanisms, enhancing oversight and accountability structures, and fostering a culture of transparency and inclusivity. Additionally, there is a need for collaboration among universities, government agencies, and civil society organizations to develop and implement effective governance reforms.
Unisa Vice-Chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula was accused of poor management, maladministration and displaying an authoritarian management style, in a damning 309-page report compiled by assessor Professor Themba Mosia.
The independent assessment of the mismanagement of Unisa revealed a cauldron of instability characterised by a culture of fear, intimidation and bullying, instances of maladministration and financial irregularities.
Others include human resource failures, a fragile and troubled ICT environment, poor student services, academic malpractices, leaked confidential records, and questionable management and council decisions.
Following the work and damning finding by the independent assessor and the recommendations made, the department said Nzimande had received a response from the council on Monday this week. He would consider the response and decide on the appropriate action.
University of Fort Hare
The University of Fort Hare was placed under administration in 2019, following the dissolution and resignation of the council.
The UFH administration ended in November 2020, when a new council was constituted.
The minister reported to the committee that the situation at UFH remained “fragile”, citing safety concerns of university staff, poor stakeholder relations and the allegations and investigations of tender fraud and other criminal elements compounding the fragility.
Council chairperson Bishop Abrahams resigned in March this year. Deputy chairperson Dr Siphokazi Koyana is the acting chairperson.
The department told the committee it was concerned about the poor stakeholder management.
The department said it had noted that governance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has been stable even though it had been “rocked by some scandals”.
Earlier this year, the university warned of individuals who falsely promise landlords, and property owners of student residences, contracts in exchange for money. Reports showed that members of the university, including students, were behind the scams.
In March, it was exposed that a network of UKZN staff and former student leaders allegedly extorted as much as R80 million from private accommodation providers.
Three UKZN staff members, two former SRC presidents and one SRC member at the Howard College were arrested. Investigations are ongoing as court hearings proceed.
By addressing the concerns raised and taking decisive actions to improve governance practices, South African universities can regain public trust, enhance their reputation, and ensure that they fulfill their vital role in providing quality education, conducting impactful research, and contributing to the social and economic development of the nation.