Concerns Raised About Serious Governance Issues At Unisa

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Over the years, South Africa’s largest distance-learning university has been severely criticised for its alleged lack of good governance. The university has been urged to make changes amidst the issues arising in its administration.  


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Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande has laid bare a number of challenges relating to the governance crisis at the country’s higher learning institutions, one institution in particular is the University of South Africa (Unisa).

In 2021, Minister Nzimande appointed a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to conduct an independent review of Unisa, focusing on the strategic mandate and purpose of the university within the South African context. 

The MTT found serious governance and management problems and recommended the appointment of administrators.

The Council has dismally failed Unisa, as it has not equipped itself, or the Management Committee (MANCOM), with the range of skills and competencies necessary to provide the appropriate strategic guidance and direction to a modern ODeL institution in the 21st Century.

The final report concluded that the Council of Unisa is the "root cause of the problems at the university based on a number of observations". 

Council’s Failures

One of the essential responsibilities of a governing body is to protect the reputation of the institution, but the report lamented the failure to ensure a robust, modern and secure ICT infrastructure, which has not only been damaging to the university’s reputation with respect to administrative competence, but also to its academic standing.

In addition, the report also mentioned that the council has not demonstrated the knowledge, skill, and experience to guide and direct the production of a comprehensive strategic plan for a modern ODeL institution in the 21st century.

“Unisa should be a national centre of excellence in ODeL. It could and should be a major presence in the OER [open educational resources] movement, nationally and internationally. It is neither.”

The MTT pointed out that the Council has failed to ensure the basic assurance services and functions necessary to secure effectiveness of governance, risk management and control processes. This places the institution at significant risk. 

Other concerns raised include human resource failures, a fragile and troubled ICT environment, poor student services, academic malpractices, leaked confidential records and enrolment targets.

Unisa has failed to make adequate provision for dramatic change in the profile of the student body. Enrolment targets were unrealistic and, in some cases, even irresponsible, considering the lack of the institution’s capacity. It therefore admits more students than it can support, thus prioritizing access over success.

MTT recommendations

Based on the evidence presented to MTT the following recommendations were made: 

  • The Minister should issue a directive on account of a reasonable belief that the Unisa Council is involved in financial impropriety and/or otherwise mismanaged and/or is unable to perform its functions effectively.
  • The Minister should dissolve the Council and appoint an Administrator to whom the VC should account. In addition, the Minister should appoint a multi-disciplinary team of management experts (in Enrolment Management, Facilities Management, Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology) to assist the Administrator.
  • A new Council to be re-constituted with a revised set of rules and regulations in respect of the composition and appointment of new Council members.

Meanwhile, in the response the Council of Unisa submitted, it welcomed a number of conclusions and recommendations from the report. These conclusions and recommendations include the call for national commission on higher education and the business model and strategic positioning of the institution. 

In the response the Council affirmed that a new strategic plan, is underway, including processes to review the delegations of authority framework to ensure that Management is properly empowered to implement strategic objectives.

Independent Assessor 

In light of the MTT report and it findings, Minister Nzimande commissioned Professor Themba Mosia, an independent assessor to look into Unisa’s affairs in September 2022.

The Independent Assessor's report dealt with functioning and efficacy of the University's governance and management structures. It also looked into allegations of misconduct and mismanagement against the Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, Puleng LenkaBula. 

The report findings cited several allegations of maladministration and tender irregularities and recommend that the Minister considers appointing an Administrator as it found financial or other maladministration of a serious nature or a serious undermining of the effective functioning of the University.  

The report stressed, "Unisa experienced poor governance for a long time, and the process for the appointment of members of the council should be strengthened."

Minister Nzimande received a response from the Council on 12 June 2023 regarding the investigatoin and he will consider this response and decide on the appropriate action to take based on the Higher Education Act and taking into consideration the interests of Unisa. 

 

Suggested Article:

Unisa holds education fair amid damning report allegations

A damning report from an independent assessor found a public university dysfunctional, recommending for it be placed under administration. The institution has admitted to serious government and operational problems but claims that it is far from collapse.

 

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